'Viands' is for those who know that preparing food can be an end in itself, not just a means of getting something to eat. It's an irregular chronicle of play in the kitchen, emphasizing two areas: Processing techniques like charcuterie, salting, smoking, and so forth, and also the creative use of leftovers. Anyone can go out and buy everything needed to make something good, but to work only with what’s found at hand is a far greater challenge and, in the end, perhaps more satisfying.

Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday Smoke

The smoker is hard at work this morning. Today it’ll do the pork loins for Canadian bacon, some dry-cured salmon fillets, and some very small whole fish. I also have a chunk of commercial bacon to throw in for 45 minutes or so of extra smoke, which improves it considerably. I hate to run the smoker for just one thing so I usually try to accumulate items to make the effort more worthwhile.

To that end, I dry-cured a few pounds of salmon and, yesterday at the farmer’s market (the real one on Alemany Blvd, not the over-gentrified sideshow at the Ferry Building), picked up some interesting little six-inch fish. When I bought them I thought they were some member of the sardine family, but after getting them home and taking a closer look, followed by consultation with the Field Guide to Pacific Coast Fishes, I concluded that they’re some sort of silversides (smelt, grunion, etc.) They best match the description of grunion, and since those are running south of here and are in season right now that seems most likely.

At any rate, they were gutted, washed, and brined for a while before being rinsed and left in the refrigerator to dry overnight. Never having smoked such small fish before, I have no idea how long they should stay in the smoker so I’ll have to check them out fairly often to see if they’re done.

The vendor adjacent to the fish truck had live chickens and rabbits on offer. I was tempted by the latter (after tasting last week’s duck confit I’ve been planning to make some from rabbit), but my 11-year-old son vetoed that possibility. His position was quite clear: He’d be more than happy to help clean them and eat them if they were already dead, or to shoot them in the field if they were wild, but he felt strongly that butchering these pet-like domestic bunnies at home was out of the question. To be honest, I think I agree with him.

Last week's bresaola is out of the cure and ready to hang downstairs for three weeks or so. The aroma, full of herbs and wine, tempted me to take one of the two pieces, soak out almost all the salt, and try braising it as a sort of pot-roast. I think that might be very good, but in the end decided to stay with the original plan.

I'll let you know how the dry-vs.-brine Canadian Bacon competition comes out.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Canadian Bacon - Dry vs. Brine

I've never been a big fan of 'Canadian bacon', which is not called that in Canada at all; there it's called 'back bacon', as opposed to the 'streaky bacon' which is standard here in the U.S.A. 'Back bacon' is a better description anyway, since it's just a cured and smoked piece of the loin having little to do with Canada.

In reality, most commercial Canadian bacons, at least the samples I've had over the years, might better be called simply 'ham', because that's what they look and taste like. By the way, if bacon really interests you, be sure to check out, which will tell you far more about the subject than anyone but a true fanatic might want to know.

I've never been a big fan of brine cures, either, preferring to dry-cure almost everything I make. Now, however, I'm going to give both product and process a fair chance. Half a pork loin is resting in a dry-cure while the other half soaks in a comparably seasoned brine. When the curing is done, they'll be hot-smoked at the same time and may the best loin win.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


The recently made bresaola is so good that I’ve decided to try to keep some of this cured and dried beef on hand most of the time, for use as an appetizer and to eat as a snack. It’s just fantastic when served on a bed of arugula, drizzled with a little good olive oil and garnished with shaved parmesan.

It needs a week to marinate and then close to a month to hang, which means that I’d better get going on a second batch. One of the two original pieces is mostly gone, and I'll be cutting into the other (which has now had an extra week of hanging) very shortly. It’ll be interesting to see if the additional drying time makes it different from its sibling.

I’d concluded earlier that the red wine should be reduced, and after a lot of consideration and tasting of the commercial product purchased at Oakville Grocery, I’ve also decided to use only about half as many juniper berries as in the last effort.

The two sections of eye of round were picked up yesterday. At the left you can see them being introduced to the various ingredients of the cure.

Once the various parts of the cure were processed and mixed, in went the pieces of beef.

Now it’s time for a week in the refrigerator, with occasional interruptions for massage and rearrangement. After that they’ll be prepared for hanging. Since they’re already dead I doubt if that prospect concerns them.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Duck Confit

All ducks are not created equal. Being in a hurry on Tuesday, I had stopped at a Chinese market in the Sunset to pick up a duck for the confit. This was a mistake. Being parked illegally (often unavoidable in that part of San Francisco), I didn’t examine it closely when it was pulled out of the case, and what I got was a very skinny duck of the type used in Chinese BBQ, one with lots of skin but much less meat than the typical domestic Pekin or Muscovy type. By the time I disjointed it, the whole thing hardly seemed worth the effort but I decided to go ahead anyway.

After salting the breast and legs away I rendered out as much fat as possible from the remainders. The poor emaciated bird didn’t provide much fat, so I added in some tasty goose fat I'd been hanging onto, and, to make up the necessary volume for cooking, a fair amount of lard. After 24 hours in the cure, the duck parts were washed to remove the salt, dried, and placed in a small dutch oven with enough fat to cover them. First they were brought to a simmer, and then spent the night in a slow oven (about 180 degrees).

This morning they were looking good! Tender but firm enough not to fall apart, they were transferred to a crockery dish and covered with the strained fat. I’ll let them rest in the refrigerator for a few days or maybe a couple of weeks before trying them.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Lunch in the Napa Valley

Business took me to the wine country on Tuesday, and with no traffic problems, I got up there about half an hour early and took the opportunity to visit the Oakville Grocery in (surprise!) Oakville. Having just made my first bresaola, I wanted to buy some there (made, as it turned out, by a company in Florida) for comparison purposes. At well over $20 a pound, I decided a few ounces would be sufficient. It was very good... different and perhaps a little better than mine. Or, maybe not. Maybe it’s just different, not better. Oddly, it was more or less rectangular in cross-section. I think that theirs lacked red wine in the marinade, which reinforces my earlier decision to use a bit less of it in my next batch.

Lunch was at Brix, just north of Yountville. With bresaola still on my mind, of course I had to have the salad which featured a slice of it as a base for greens, baby beets, and cheese. This bresaola was wide (about 4” across) and had very little flavor; I wouldn’t bother to eat it again. After that I had the duck confit salad. No, I’m actually not a big salad fan at all, despite having two for lunch; I ordered these things just to get the charcuterie that came with them! The duck confit was delicious, if a little dry, and it was another push toward making my own, something I’ve always intended to do but have never actually gotten around to it. Back in the city a couple of hours later, I stopped at a market and picked up a whole duck (head and all) as a source of parts. It’s waiting in the refrigerator now; hopefully I can work on that tonight.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lemon Confit

A friend called and asked if we could use any Meyer lemons, as their tree had produced far more than they could use. We were expecting a bag or thereabouts but, somewhat to our dismay, received a full case! Lemons are fine, but what do you do with that many of them?

The family baker made a couple of cakes, some lemon curd, and a few other things without making much of a dent in the supply. After some research in the kitchen library, I’ve also suggested lemon vinegar for salad dressings, lemon brandy for general flavoring purposes, and perhaps some lemon jelly flavored with various herbs for use in glazes and so forth. I’m great at making suggestions so long as someone else does the work.

Since I’ve been doing more charcuterie again, I decided to expand into fruits and try some lemon confit. This is a basic method of preserving lemons in salt, often found in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. Various herbs and/or spices can be added if desired, and the lemons can be cooked in olive oil prior to preservation. I decided to leave them plain and uncooked, with no added flavoring, in order to maximize their future utility.

The first step was to sort through the supply and select a group of similarly sized lemons, washing them thoroughly.

After that it was time to cut. Some people suggest cutting the lemons in quarters without going all the way through to the bottom (something like a radish rose), others like to score them about half an inch deep, but I just cut them in half the long way.

Next, I coated each piece with canning salt by shaking in a plastic bag for uniform coverage. Taking a sterilized wide-mouthed plastic container (don’t use anything reactive or the lemon/salt combination will eat it up!), I then covered the bottom with kosher salt and began packing in the lemon halves, keeping them as compact as possible and well-covered with more kosher salt as the packing process continued. They released a lot of juice as this went on, and when the container was full I topped it up with a little additional juice so that everything was covered. An additional topping-up was required a day later as more salt dissolved in the liquid and thus occupied less space in the jar.

Now we wait, letting the container sit quietly in the dark while the lemons swim in their salty juice for a month or so. I’ll check it out in a week or two and let you know how things are progressing.