This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was brining and for a couple of weeks there, it seemed there wasn’t a minute in the ELTW household that we were not either brining meat or cooking brined meat. Not too challenging in itself, our major challenge was finding the space in our fridge for meat brining containers!
We started out with the Apprentice challenge: Brine a whole chicken.
Last Thanksgiving we brined a turkey for the first time and vowed never to go back to un-brined birds ever again. It was so moist and tender, unlike any turkey we’ve ever had. Wasn’t so sure about the chicken needing to be brined – Neil does a mean roast chicken (mostly because it involves extraordinary amounts of butter shoved under the poor bird’s skin) and we wondered whether this would convert us…
Because we’re in Charcutepalooza this year to learn new techniques and perfect old ones, we followed Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for brined chicken from Ratio to a T, despite Neil’s insatiable urge to tinker with quantities and ingredients. Our chicken fit in our Le Creuset 8 quart stock pot perfectly! Where he sat overnight. And the result?
Yeah, Charlie got a little burned on top (Neil had questioned the oven temperature – and I have to say, he does know how our oven operates with a chicken inside!) but overall he was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Was it better than Neil’s standard roast chicken? No. Was it better than many roast chickens I have eaten? Yes. The brine infused a little bit of flavour and moisture into the meat but to my mind, for a small bird, it’s not something I would do again, given the fact that it takes up so much space in our fridge (like, a whole shelf – we don’t have a ginormous North American sized fridge…). For a turkey? Definitely. And I would use Mr Ruhlman’s brine recipe too 😉
The other option for the Apprentice challenge was to brine a pork chop. Then during the Twitter chat about the challenge, I saw someone mention Peameal bacon. That’s pork, too, right? As soon as I mentioned this to Neil, he was in! We followed this recipe from Ruhlman to a T also…
So, so easy. Ridiculously easy actually. For around the same price as you would pay in a good butcher store, we had our very own peameal bacon. The pork loin brines for 72 hours in the fridge, then you take it out, rinse it and pat it dry and place it back in the fridge uncovered overnight again. The next day, you roll it in cornmeal. Our cornmeal did not stick as much as I would have liked it to – not sure why but that’s more an aesthetic thing than anything else.
Meanwhile, back in the fridge, our Charcuterie challenge item was a-brining: Beef brisket to make corned beef. Again, a ridiculously simple process involving making a brine, leaving the meat in the cooled brine in the fridge for 5 days then rinsing it and boiling it using some of the reserved brining spices. What could be simpler?
At this point in the Charcutepalooza proceedings, I fell very very ill – in fact shortly after taking that last photo, I was in the hospital. My crazy vertigo and nausea took my appetite away for a good two weeks so I didn’t get to enjoy much of the corned beef or the peameal bacon
A brunch we had planned with our neighbour and blogger friend Ethan who was visiting from London, Ontario, had to be cancelled, though both were given a little taste of the brisket. Ethan devoured his on the way home in his car and said “I had to sneak a quick piece and it tastes great and exactly as it should, with a little kick! And I’ve eaten a lot of brisket over the years with 2 Jewish grandmothers!” Our neighbour, Steve, wrote me this: “ Yum- loved the spiciness and taste of cloves. My mouth was pleasantly tingling. I desperately wish I had some fresh rye bread, mustard and crisp new dills to go with it. Liked the ratio of lean to fat- I’m glad you didn’t go too lean. Let’s face it- the flavour comes from the fat (but, then so does the guilt). Also glad you weren’t subtle with the spices- very flavourful. Definitely worth the calories! Addictive. More!” So I guess you could say it was a success!
Meanwhile, on one of my first forays downstairs (people, I didn’t even SEE my kitchen for a good week, let alone cook in it), I discovered Neil taking one for the blog…
Yes, he was frying up the peameal bacon, having declared it “about to be inedible” – he was right – it had been in the fridge for a few days at that point… I commandeered a slice or two for some “lardons” that I later had him put to good use in Dorie Greenspan’s savory cheese and chive loaf, because let’s face it, everything’s better with bacon!
Later as I sipped chicken soup on the couch, I looked over to see this…
And what you may ask were they eating?
The following weekend, we invited our good friend Jane over to help us eat the rest of the corned beef (err and then I made her make the aforementioned cheese bread…). We made a “farmer’s breakfast” hash – potatoes, onions, corned beef and scrambled eggs. On rye toast.
Even though I didn’t manage to eat much of the “spoils” this month, I am totally enamoured with both the peameal bacon and the corned beef. Who knew that it was so easy????