This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge (binding) was one I have been simultaneously dreading and looking forward to at the same time. I knew that terrine and headcheese and pâtés would be coming up and had my fingers crossed that this might be the challenge that I got to do whilst in Paris. For one, I knew it didn’t really require any special equipment (like a Kitchen Aid which are ridiculously expensive in Europe and which none of my friends own over there so I knew I wouldn’t be able to borrow one). On the other hand, I don’t like to cook with liver and I certainly balked at the idea of making head cheese with all sorts of pig head parts (that’s more Neil’s thing than mine!). So when the challenge came out, I breathed a sigh of relief at the “no need for special equipment” factor but inwardly shuddered at the idea of working with liver. Still, that’s what Charcutepalooza is all about, right – pushing yourself…
I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow an immersion (stick) blender from friends with the promise of a jolly apéro terrine the day I brought it back to them. Friends, fellow Francophiles and meat lovers from way back, Robbie and Samantha obliged and send me off on the metro with their scale and blender, looking a little perplexed at the whole affair.
I scouted around for the ingredients (and some cute terrine dishes – 2€ each at Monoprix – on special!) one (of many) rainy days but my timing was off a little and when it came time to purchase the dreaded livers, the boucherie was shut. Because you know, who doesn’t take a 3 hour lunch break, right? I was kind of annoyed at this because I had myself all psyched up to go in there and had even looked up a little butchery/ poultry vocabulary to be prepared. When you live in another country and are headed off into unknown realms of vocabulary (doctor, dentist, hairdresser, pedicure, procuring livers) one does well to prepare the expedition in advance.
Speaking of being prepared, I had no printer and needed constant access to the recipe when I was making this. Having no counter space in the tiny kitchen (see photo below), I had to prop Mrs Wheelbarrow up in the next closest convenient position…
So off I went to see if I could find livers elsewhere so I wouldn’t chicken (liver) out. I truly lucked out because I found preserved chicken livers in the local supermarket (preserved in goose fat, no less) and decided these would absolutely do… I couldn’t figure out whether they had been cooked or not from the way they were packaged and the indications were to poach them gently or pan fry them to cook so I figured they might have been preserved sous-vide, which turned out to be the case. The goose fat worked well because it meant I could cut down on the butter a little when I cooked them up and it gave an added layer of flavour and richness to the finished product.
In all honesty, I was shocked at how easy it was to make this terrine – about an hour’s work and then it just went into the fridge to firm up overnight and voilà! I probably had to mix mine longer than those of you who used food processors but I was really happy with the way it came out. When I was buying ingredients for the terrine, I also bought a tiny piece of terrine (because I do like to eat them in small doses) so that I could check the texture of the one I was making. It took a few goes of the immersion blender but it worked out just fine.
I made two – one in the mold lined with plastic and one in the mold with no lining so it could be spread like butter. I took the plastic lined mold to Robbie and Samantha’s and we paired this with fresh baguette and a nice bottle of rosé (because what doesn’t work with rosé, I ask you!). I even brought a backup in case this tasted awful. Which stayed in the fridge. Mine was pretty darned good, if I do say so myself. A perfectly smooth consistency with a lovely rich flavour (though I would probably use even more Cognac and apples next time) that again shocked me (all of us actually!) in how it tasted like it was supposed to! I know, I know, no reason to doubt Cathy’s recipe but I will never cease to be amazed when things work out in the kitchen for me!
The other one I enjoyed over the course of about a week because, even though I halved the ingredients, this stuff goes a long way (it’s rich) – especially when you are on your own for the most part to eat it.
I emailed Neil the day the challenge came out just to show him, not expecting that he would be getting to take part this time around. A pity since this food is right us his alley. But being on his own for over a month and dealing with ridiculously high temperatures and a cellar construction/ basement renovation by himself, he barely had time to eat, let alone cook. But there’s something about Charcutepalooza that draws you in as is evident when I would wake up in the morning to gruesome pictures of pig parts.
In any case, I will let Neil continue from here but I am very proud of our joint Charcutepalooza effort this month. There are not many people who would go around hunting down pig’s head unless it was absolutely necessary….
Yes, it was a rather hectic time for me – and that, perhaps an understatement. However I must admit to something beautifully gothic about a man alone in a home with power tools strewn about, temperatures in the high 30s, experimenting with various animal parts. And Mardi and I always try to complete BOTH challenges: for the sake of Charcutepalooza – I went in whole hog. So to speak.
In fact, the gothic drama started on the eve I attempted to gather the pig’s head. Living in a Polish area of town with numerous butchers, I thought this would be fairly easy. Not so. I had come home a bit late from work, so was racing up and down the high street before the last of the butchers were closing, temp still 34C. As I was still in my suit, I use the term “racing” advisedly. The looks I garnered when asking for a pig’s head ranged from comical to concerned. I managed only some frozen feet, and a couple of brined tongues.
So off to – of all places – our local No Frills. Situated on the edge of the Portuguese district, I thought it would be a good possibility (and open late). No luck. Well, not entirely. While no pig’s head, they DID have various fresh body parts. I kid you not. Rooting in the cooler, I came out with a few feet, two ears, two snouts, some shoulder hocks. Mr. Neil created his own Mr. Potato Head (™) pig! I must say, it was the grisliest shopping bag I have ever left a retail establishment with…
From there, the balance of steps were, in fact, quite simple – if messy. Pig parts safely dropped into broth mix in our biggest stock pot: as this was the weekend before my own departure for France, I added a few other bits and bobs from the vegetable crisper for added flavour.
Straining the brine to get the gelatine, I had an alarmingly large mixing bowl of sundry limbs and appendages. While the next step was messy, it’s what I personally love about Charcutepalooza, and much cooking: seeing and understanding the origin of your meal. Anyone who knows me, knows I am an avowed carnivore, and was brought up with all good English delicacies such as kidney and liver. So as I was pulling meat from a pig’s snout, or peeling the skin off the a tongue, I found myself thinking “thank God Mardi isn’t here” amidst the mess, but quite enjoying that base feeling of creating a dish, and being at one with the animal. (Okay, perhaps the moment wasn’t quite so lyrical as that…)
Our one neighbour had a quick break and helped me polish off a small one with baguette during the Monday-evening photo shoot. I must say, I found it delicious. Two further dishes were given away to neighbours, with positive feedback. The teeny Bunnykins eggcup is waiting at home, for Mardi to try
on Blog Post Day as we both return after we both recover from the gastronomic extravagance of the previous two weeks… Ahem.
Verdict? A bit much work to create, but at the same time simple. I wouldn’t do on a regular basis, but if we were having company over who enjoyed, I think having some home made terrine and head cheese would be a wonderful addition to a meal.
(FYI, Neil and I took these photos completely separately from each other – obviously! I did not see these until he arrived with them on his camera in France and he did not see mine until I was editing them. Great minds huh?)
So there you go – even an ocean separating “Team eat. live. travel. write.” and the temperature not being on Neil’s side and the French butchers’ being inconveniently closed just when I had worked up the courage to go in and get my liver, we still managed to complete both challenges. We’re unstoppable! Bring on the pâté!
** Did you enter my “Mad about Macarons” cookbook giveaway (open to everyone, eveywhere)? Simply leave a comment on this post (there’s also details on the macaron class I will be teaching in Toronto on September 30th).