Monday, September 18, 2017

Real Sauerkraut - AWESOME!

In this short video, I show you how to make real sauerkraut, from scratch (as always).  I grew up on real sauerkraut, and it has been a part of traditional Southern food for a very long time - both French and German immigrants brought kraut to the Carolinas in the 1600s.  This is nothing but cabbage and salt.  It is lacto-ferment... sour, rich, deep flavor.... supposed to be good for your gut health, too.... all around, super awesomeness!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bread Isn't Rocket Science, Part 3: Scoring, Baking and Tasting the Loaf

This is the final part on my Sourdough sandwich bread series. In this one, I show the bread having risen. I score the loaf and bake it. I cool it on a rack and slather it with butter. I cut a slice and taste it, and it is soooo good! You can make great bread at home, easily and for about .50 cents a loaf.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bread Isn't Rocket Science, Part 2: The Recipe, Mixing, Kneading and Shaping the Loaf

In this video, I combine the Sourdough Starter with 3 cups of all purpose flour, 1/2 cup water, 1 Tablespoon melted butter, 1 and 1/2 Tablespoon sugar and 1 and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  I stir it up  into a dough.  Then, I knead it, shape it into a loaf, put it in a buttered bread pan and leave it to rise.  I tell a few stories and generally have a good time making bread... join me!  Making bread can be easy and relaxing; not complicated.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Stewed Okra

Good, old fashioned, Southern Stewed Okra.  This is okra, simply chopped, and cooked in bacon fat.  It is mighty good!

Recipe: Tender okra, stem cut off, cut into rounds about 1/2 inch long.  Bacon fat, heted to about medium.  A dash of salt...... Yes, it is that simple.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Bread Isn't Rocket Science, Part 1: Sourdough Starter

I love bread.  I love sourdough.  I love fermented food.  For years, I hesitated to get into sourdough baking due to the very technical nature of many recipes.... "Cooking is art; baking is science." One day I picked up a book by George L. Herter, and realized that I could bake sourdough, simply... without scientific measurements or regular feedings like a high maintenance pet.  My bread does not measure up to that of a professional baker, but the home cook can make good sourdough, without digital scales or metric measures.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Fried Corn Bread

This is my family's recipe for fried corn bread.  This recipe goes back well over 300 years in my family.  It was taught to me by my mother, and to her by her mother, etc., etc... back to the 1600s on the coast of SC, NC and VA.  This is not baked corn bread; this is crispy, lacy, fried cornbread - simple goodness.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Cooking Real Grits

This is how to cook real, stone ground grits in less than 10 minutes, even on a lousy stove.  Real grits are a wonderful thing.... "quick" or instant grits are evil.  Cook real grits and eat real food.  I serve mine with butter, diced fresh tomato and sharp cheddar cheese.... and a fried pork chop.

Real Grits Basics

Here are my basics: 1) Buy only stone ground real grits. Never, ever purchase instant grits, quick grits or any grits that are the consistency of cream of wheat. As the late and brilliant Lewis Grizzard said (paraphrased), "Southerners only serve lumpy, unsalted, instant grits, without butter to yankees as revenge for burning Atlanta." 2) Salt the cooking liquid generously. 3) Use only real butter as your fat. The cooking ratio is 1 parts grits to 4 parts liquid. The liquid can be plain water, broth or stock. I always use plan water for breakfast grits, shrimp stock for shrimp and grits, chicken broth for cheese grits, etc. For a breakfast for two or three people, bring 1 cup of water to the boil and salt it to taste. Add 1/4th cup grits. Reduce to a simmer and stir occasionally to prevent lumps (stone ground grits rarely lump). Simmer until the grits have absorbed about 90% of the water (so they don't dry out on the plate). Serve with butter and black pepper. I grew up on the NC/SC line, in the eastern part of the state. The local tradition in that area is to chop fresh, home grown tomatoes and cucumbers onto your plate, with soft scrambled eggs and spicy country sausage. You mix all of that into the grits and eat everything with a big spoon in one hand and a home made biscuit or fry bread in the other, which aids in pushing everything onto the spoon. Then, you eat the biscuit or bread with honey or grape hull preserves. A breakfast like that will certainly carry you to lunch!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Knife Skills Part 1.5, Cutting Onion and Beef for Country Style Steak

I actually did this video before I did the video just showing how to cut onions. I made a couple of verbal mistakes on this one and my plate was off camera.. and the camera was at the wrong angle.... and then a friend brought me some fish filets.... so, Cooking Country Style Steak was postponed as fish is more perishable. I think I actually handled the knife better in this video though. I'm having fun in the kitchen on this one, just doing what I love to do and sipping on some bourbon. I'll cook some Country Style Steak soon, but for now just consider this a bonus to Part 1 of the Knife Skills.

Knife Skills part 1, Cutting an Onion

In this video, I show how to cut an onion in two ways and discuss some basic techniques for using a chef's knife.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How to Make Kombucha

In this video I show how I brew Kombucha quickly and easily. I make around 2 gallons of Kombucha every week or so and drink a pint a day. I believe that it has made a big difference for my health and along with Water Kefir, has improved my asthma symptoms dramatically.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

How to Choose a Chef's Knife

In this video, I give advice on what you should look for in a Chef's Knife. More expensive knives and new knives are often inferior to older, used knives. Most importantly, the knife must fit your hand.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Water Kefir

After guest hosting on Tim Roper's podcast a couple of weeks ago, I received several questions about Water Kefir and Kombucha.  By request, here is a video about Water Kefir and how to make it.  Future videos will be more focused on making Southern Food and Wine.  I hope y'all enjoy this one.  Please comment here or email me with any questions or comments.

Friday, July 14, 2017

New Name, New Mission

Reclaiming Southern Food is now Southern Food and Wine.  Please adjust your bookmarks and favorites accordingly!

Why the name change?  Well, I want to make my blog more accessible.  My mission, from day one, was to not only preserve Southern Food traditions, but to encourage and educate people to eat real food and cook it using real, traditional techniques.  I think I have been fairly successful in presenting those arguments.  However, feedback over the past couple of years has been mixed.  Some folks seemed to find my blog too academic, too complicated or intimidating.  I got a lot of comments along the lines of, "I just want a simple recipe."  Of course, I have included simple recipes all along, but I think many potential readers stopped at the name.  Hopefully, Southern Food and Wine will be less intimidating.

The new mission is to make the blog as accessible as possible.  This not just a name change.  In the coming weeks, I will be offering free video cooking lessons.  This will begin with the most basic techniques.  These techniques will be applied in good Southern recipes, that I will walk people through, step by step, in videos.  As the seasons progress, there will also be instruction in gardening, livestock, fish and game, wine and cider making, pickling and food preservation, etc.

I hope to be able to do weekly videos.  However, I will be relocating to another state soon.... if there is a break, it is because I'm moving and setting up a kitchen.  Reader feedback will be most welcome, and encouragement appreciated.  A good way to encourage me, is to show me that you support my efforts - all that takes is clicking an ad... even if the ad doesn't interest you. Google vets the advertisers to make sure the sites are safe, so there is no risk.   When you click an ad, I make 1 cent.  Last month, I made 3 cents..... not very encouraging.  So, if you like what I do, give me a penny for my thoughts - that penny doesn't cost you anything more than a click!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Fermented Foods Radio program

I am guest hosting Tim Roper's podcast this evening. (Thanks, Tim, for the opportunity!) This is me, very plain spoken and decidedly non-PC, discussing fermented foods.... kraut, pickles, ciders, wine, hot sauces, ... all kinds of stuff, both from the aspect of delicious food and for good health. I share some good recipes and some good stories...... it is a bit of a wild ride and I hope y'all enjoy it.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Asian Style Chow Chow

This recipe began with a craving for kimchi, when I did not have all the ingredients on hand.  I used what I had, and ended up with a very tasty Asian style Southern Chow Chow!

I just removed my "make it up as you go and use what you have" kimchi from the crock and put it in an old pickle jar, which will store better in the fridge.  I tried a few bites and it is great!  So, now that I know the recipe works, I will share it.  I'm not giving specific proportions, because it all depends on big your fermentation vessel is - use more if you are making a bigger batch, less if smaller.

1/2 - 1 cabbage chopped
3 carrots grated
4 radishes grated
1 teaspoon +/- fresh grated ginger
2 dried cayenne peppers
1 teaspoon  crushed red pepper
1/2 yellow onion chopped fine
3-4 green onions chopped
3-4 cloves garlic crushed
1 teaspoon soy sauce or fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried/powdered turmeric
2 tablespoons plain (non-iodized) salt
1 tablespoon of kombucha

I chopped the cabbage, half at a time, and worked one tablespoon of salt into each batch.  I did this the same way I would sauerkraut, bruising each bit of cabbage, kneading in the salt until it was standing in cabbage juice.  Then, I mixed everything together.  I packed it tightly into a crock, pressing out all air pockets so that the juice came to the surface and the "slaw" was under its own natural water.  On top of that, I layered a few of the outer leaves that I had taken off the cabbage before chopping, and tore them to shape - these, I just use as a barrier to air.  The cabbage core, which I cut in 4ths before chopping the rest of the cabbage, I also stacked on top.  I covered it all with plastic wrap, pressed out all the air I could, secured the plastic with a rubber band and closed the lid.

Each day, I opened the lid and looked through the plastic wrap to see if the cabbage cores were darkening - that is a sign of oxidation.  The kombucha I had added was just for extra insurance against mold or bad bacteria getting into the kimchi before it had a chance to ferment.  It worked well.  By day 3, the mixture was beginning to bubble and on day 4 some liquid began seeping out through the plastic wrap and rubber band.  Fermentation was going very well.  On day 6 I noticed some darkening of the cabbage cores, so I removed them and the top layer of outer leaves.  I replaced the plastic with clean plastic. I probably could have just left it alone for 10 days, but I had a little head space in the crock which was worrisome. 

Today was day ten, and it was perfectly fermented.  It is sour, hot, spicy, sinus clearing, funky, rich, savory... really excellent!  Next time, I will make a full gallon.  I should warn you though, that this stuff REALLY stinks while fermenting!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

hors d'oeuvres of ramps, ham and blu cheese

This is one of the best Hors d'oeuvres I've ever come up with: Crackers topped with baked ham, home made blue cheese and sour cream dressing and a ramp and red pepper salad.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Southern Kimchi?

I had some storage vegetables on hand and was thinking about roasting them. I laid a nice, sweet cabbage on the counter, laid out some carrots, some radishes, storage onions, garlic... a few green onions... I noticed a string of dried hot peppers in the corner.... a knob of ginger..... I realized that I had nearly everything I needed for kimchi! I was out of fish sauce, so I substituted a couple of dashes of store bought soy sauce and a spoonful of kombucha. I'll know in 10 days if it is worth eating, but it tastes like a good Asian slaw already, so I think it is going to be good. Kimchi may not be traditionally Southern, but neither was chowchow or chutney until Southerners began making it..... I'm thinking of all kinds of substitutions using traditional Southern vegetables. Obviously, turnips could substitute for radishes, collards for cabbage.... maybe rutabaga... Vidalia onions... ramps... maybe wild ginger... cayenne peppers.. Do y'all have any suggestions?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Radish Greens

Well, I just had a head-slapping moment! I was chatting with an elderly Asian lady the other day and she was curious about Southern greens. She was very pleased to learn of our passion for turnips - apparently, that is a big deal in Japan. I mentioned that my favorite is mustard. She told me that they have several varieties of Asian mustard, and the greens are among her favorites along with radish tops. Well, I had never tried cooked radish tops. She was amazed by this ...and seemed to think it was a real shame that my radish tops had gone to the compost heap or the chickens. Well, radishes are in the same family as both mustard and turnips... so I gave it a try. WOW! Just cooked in oil and salt, they are awesome! The flavor is somewhere between mild mustard greens and spinach with butter... seriously! The flavor is very buttery. The high mineral content gives the distinct aroma of roasted oysters. The taste is not fishy, but the aroma has a strong aspect of oysters roasted in the shell. So, if you closed your eyes, you would anticipate Oysters Rockefeller. It is really a very good, mild, savory, green with a remarkable depth of flavor and aroma

Thursday, June 22, 2017

My Eggplant Parmesan

Here is my eggplant Parmesan recipe (I ate it all before I took a pic, so I grabbed these from wiki).   I make my mayo from scratch, so I use it to enrich a lot of things. I tried it one day just to see if it would help hold the bred crumbs on, and the results were fantastic. That is what got me started pressing the liquid out of the eggplant - that gives it a more meat like texture, firmness and not soggy, so that it really binds with the mayo and crumbs. The mayo gives it a richness, a meatiness and a background layer of tanginess, even though I don't use much. It is not a traditional Italian recipe - just something I came up with.

First, the sauce.... which is the most important thing, because you can use it for lots of other dishes.
Heat a pan to about medium hot and toss in enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Add about 1/2 to finely chopped medium onion (yellow or white is best). Once the onion has softened and turned translucent, toss in a 2 or 3 chopped garlic cloves. As those cook, add a pinch of crushed red pepper, a das...h of slat and black pepper, oregano, rosemary, basil and thyme ( a pinch to a half teaspoon full of dried, or twice as much fresh). Then, add one large can of crushed tomatoes. Simmer that for a bit and salt and season to taste.

The second most important thing is getting the water out of the eggplant - it is bitter and makes it hard to cook.

First, either peel your eggplant or peel off alternating strips, so it looks striped.... or leave the peel on (which is what I do). Then, lay it down lengthwise and cut of round slices about 1 inch thick. Salt the round on each side and place them on in a colander, with paper towels between each layer. Put a plate on top and a double sized can of tomatoes (or something about the same weight) on top of the plate. Leave it for an hour. The weight of the plate and the can will press the water out and the salt will really pull it out.

Then, spread a little mayonnaise on each side of the eggplant rounds and coat them in Italian bread crumbs. (home made or store bought). You can then either bake these in an oven, single layer of breaded eggplant rounds on a cookie sheet for about 30 min at 350 degrees, turning over half way, or until brown) or pan fry them in olive oil until brown.

After the eggplant is browned, put a some sauce in a casserole dish or baking pan and sprinkle some parmesan (or mixed cheese) over it, lay a layer of eggplant on that and then put more cheese on the eggplant. Put sauce on that and repeat until all the eggplant is used. Put more sauce on top, more parmesan and some good slices of mozzarella. (if you want to spice it up a little, some Italian sausage between the eggplant layers is really good).

Bake at 350, uncovered for 30 min or until the cheese is browned.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Byron Dalrymple on Cane Pole fishing

"In early 1975 I was assigned by Outdoor Life magazine to do a story about the enjoyment, the art and, the productiveness of fishing with a cane pole, bobber and bait for bass and panfish.  The research for that story took me back to boyhood.  I have long claimed that bobber and bait fishing is one of the most dramatic of angling sports.  Many a youngster started that way. Then, as it is said, he "graduated" to casting with artificials.  Nonsense!  He gave up an infinitely dramatic endeavor for one really seldom half as much so.

Part of the time while renewing my acquaintance with the cane pole, I fished on a lake that I built on a property of ours.  I suddenly realized all over again fully,  what it meant to move a boat quietly.  With a cane pole, you have to get close.  I learned over again how to be quiet myself in the boat.  And how to reach gingerly out and put a baited hook into a small pocket without disturbing the fish.  Modern, big boat anglers never learn such arts.  They zoom and carom, cast a country mile.  As a cane poler I was put suddenly, by the restrictions of my tackle, on intimate terms with my quarry.  But the real drama was brought back to me as I watched the bobber.  Of c course, you can fish an artificial fly down below the bobber.  If you move it by crawling it along you may catch something.  But, try leaving it still and it is a total dud.  A fish may nose up to it, then turn aside. A worm - any bait - however is something different.

Any fish knows that it is good to eat, undoubtedly partly from past experience, but probably mostly from the smell.  It also looks edible and when nibbled it feels right.  If fish do have a developed sense of taste, which they may,  it tastes right.  So a bait, with out any question, has several advantages that artificials lack.  Regardless of propaganda to the contrary, if fish won't take bait it's likely they won't take an artificial either.  But time and again when fish won't strike artificials, they will eagerly seize bait.  So, it is awfully hard to argue cogently in favor of artificials.  You either want to catch fish, or you don't.

Recently, in fact again, on my own lake I watched from the cover of a tree shadowed by the dam, as a bass of possibly four pounds cruised slowly nearby.  Eagerly I pitched a lure out past the fish and worked it near.  The bass spurned it I.  tried several different kinds.  The brute would not even look.  So, the heck with him.  I rigged a worm baited hook and a bobber and tossed out to catch a redear sunfish if I could.  Shortly, I had one.  As  it protested on the way in, that big bass literally exploded out of the weeds and belted it.  He didn't get it, and I didn't get him, but he certainly knew what was good to eat -  in his then selective mood - and what wasn't. 

While I researched my cane pole story, I was reminded again of the beautiful anguish of watching dancing bobber with bait below.  It lies first inert upon on a flat surface.   Then, it suddenly jiggles.  You tense, you snug the line oh so gently.  The bobber skitters aside, goes under.   You start to set the hook but it pops up again. None of this would happen if an artificial dangled below.  Further, when you cast an artificial lure and wind it in, there's a strike and you grind away.  The strike is a split second thrill.  Bait fishing with a bobber drags the exquisite excitement out almost unbearably.  Suddenly the bobber goes. You haul back.  Of course this is an art!  Of course it is sporting!"

 - from How To Rig and Fish Natural Baits

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What Fishing Equipment is Necessary?

The short answer is, none.  You can fish with only your hands.  There is a long tradition of people feeling around under a river bank and pulling out catfish.  Where I live though, in the American southeast, I wouldn't recommend it.  People do it, but we have way too many alligators and big snapping turtles, that will bite your hand right off.

When the beginning fisher-person (from now on, I'll use the term "angler to avoid this awkward phrase) enters a tackle shop, sporting goods store, big box store or opens a catalogue, the choice of fishing equipment (called tackle) and accessories is overwhelming.  Fishing tackle and related products are a huge industry and a good salesperson will be more than happy to convince you that you can't get started without spending at least a few hundred dollars.... and of course, the more you spend, the more fish you will catch... right?  Actually, no.  Some, perhaps even most, fishing tackle will catch fish if used properly, at the right time, under the right circumstances and matched to the right fish.  A lot of what you will see though, is designed to catch anglers - they are just shiny lures meant to land your wallet.

All you really need to fish is a few yards of fishing line and a hook.  You can wrap the line around your hand or a stick, tie the free end to a hook (by the way, hooks used to be called "angles", which is why people who fish are called anglers), bait the hook with something heavy enough to throw and you will very likely catch a fish if there is a fish there to catch.  Hand line fishing works, and in some cases, is a very good option for catching fish.  Often times, I catch more blue crabs from the Intercoastal Waterway, with just a length of rope and a piece of chicken than I do with crab pots and traps.  I just toss out the baited cord, wait a few minutes and gently pull it back in.  If there is a crab clinging to the bait, I'll bring him to just beneath the surface of the water and slip a long handled landing net underneath.  As I pull the bait from the water, the crab will let go and fall into my net.   You can also fish with a spear/gig or net, but that takes specialized equipment and we will get into that later. For now, lets stick with hook and line fishing.

A step up from a hand line, is to tie a few yards of fishing line to a long bamboo/cane pole.  You usually just tie on enough line to reach from the tip (skinny end) to the butt (the part you hold in your hand).  This allows you to swing or gently cast your bait more accurately, makes it less likely the fish will see you and the flexible but strong cane pole gives you leverage to land the fish.  Hand lines are better for smaller fish, because they lack this leverage - fighting a larger fish can cause the line to cut into your hand.  The flexibility and resilience of the cane pole also allows you to use lighter line. Lighter line is less easily seen by the fish and allows the bait to have more natural movement int he water.  I have landed many 15 - 30 lb catfish with only 10 lb test monofilament line on my cane pole.  "10 lb test" means the line is strong enough to suspend 10 pounds of static (not moving or jerking) weight.  Even though fish jerk and jump as you try to pull them in, the springiness of the cane pole and the slight elasticity of the monofilament, make landing a larger fish no problem (so long as you are patient enough to fight and land the fish, as opposed to trying to yank him out of the water as soon as he strikes your bait).  If you are targeting smaller, "panfish" line lighter than 10 lb will be even better - you may loose a big fish, but you will very likely catch more small ones.

This simple set up only needs two (optional) improvements to maximize its potential to catch fish.  The first is a small metal weight or sinker that you can tie near the hook to help it sink.  The second is a bobber or float.  The bobber serves two purposes, the most important of which is that can be used to control the depth at which your bait is suspended in the water.  The bobber is tied or clipped onto the line - the higher you attach it above the hook, the deeper the hook hangs down in the water.  The bobber can be used to hold your bait just off of the bottom mud, dangle it just above under water weeds or just below the surface.  The bobber and the weight allow you to put your bait where the fish are feeding.  The second use for a bobber is to indicate a strike.  The bobber is colorful and floats on top of the water.  When a fish nibbles your bait, it will shake.  When a fish takes your bait, it will dip under the water, telling you to pull back and set the hook.

That said, there are many situation in which you would not want to use the weight at all.  Often, especially when fishing for panfish like blue gills, in small ponds, clear still water or the shallows of a larger body of water, the weight may scare off the fish.  I have often found that by using an in-weighted hook with just the bobber a worm, cricket or grub, that I have had better results.  The lack of weight offers a better presentation to the fish as the bait floats down naturally.  This can be the "secret" to catching a lot of panfish.

It is also true that you don't even need a bobber or a fishing pole to catch a steady supply  of good eating fish - especially catfish.  Jug rigs and trotlines allow you to set a baited line and walk or paddle away.  Yuo come back later, pull in the line/s and may very likely have caught a week's worth of meals in one leisurely afternoon.  Some argue that there is no "sport" in that, but sport is not the point when the collection of food is the priority.  A jug rig is simply an empty plastic jug, with the cap screwed on and a length of line with a hook and bait attached to it.  The jug floats naturally on the water and will catch fish.  If conditions are windy, you may want to partially fill the jug with water to give it more weight.  A trot line is a longer length of line, weighted on one end and tied to something on the bank at the other, with sever short lines tied to it, each with a baited hook.

So, a cane pole, a few yards of line, a few hooks, sinkers and bobbers are all the equipment you need to begin fishing.  The total cost of this outfit should be less than $10.  All you need beyond that is bait, a fishing license (if necessary - check your state fishing regulations) and a body of water.  One dinner of fish will more than make up for your monetary investment.  So, there is really no excuse not to take up fishing both for enjoyment and to supplement your food budget.  It is among the most rewarding uses of time and resource.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Death of Common Sense

Hey y'all,  I am guest hosting Tim Roper's radio show tonight.  So, if anyone ever wondered what my voice sounds like or just how weird the wild world of William Judson Guyton Carroll, IV could be... well, here is your chance to listen to me ramble about food, the resources of the Southern fields and forests, and the lack of common sense in our modern culture, for about a half hour.  Thanks, Tim, for the opportunity!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Meat Trapper made me famous!

Dang, Tim Roper just made me famous! Well, I don't know what to say. Thanks Tim! I love to trap, hunt, fish and forage for food. I love too cook and I love to eat - it is my family tradition going way back. Tim is a better trapper and hunter than I'll ever be... probably even a better angler. So, I'll swap a bit of cooking knowledge for his wisdom any day.

PS here is my FB Southern food group that Tim mentioned if anyone is interested:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A primer on cooking tender small game

All critters are different, but most times small game doesn't need tenderizing at all if it is handled right and cooked right.  The quality of meat always depends on how an animal lives, dies, is handled in the field and handled before cooking.  A lean animal that has had to work hard to eat or breed may be tough.  I also believe that an animal that is heavily stressed before it is killed has all kinds of stress hormones in its system that cause the meat to toughen and even taste bad - can't prove that, but I think it is true and it is one of the best reasons to trap you small game rather than hunt with dogs.  A critter in a trap won't be happy, but it won't be running and getting hot either.  Gut and skin your game as quickly as possible.  Cool the meat down and keep it dry.  Those are the basic rules I follow.

Now, to address toughness.  You can think of meat fibers like rubber bands.  You want them to relax so as not to be tough, but have the good, satisfying chew between your teeth of good meat,  and that requires rest and proper cooking.  I won't get into freezing, which can have a tenderizing effect due to the damage the ice crystals do to the meat fibers, but along with hanging, that is really another issue.  I think most small game gets eaten more quickly than large game anyway.

So, step one is to let the meat rest at a cool temp.  I like to salt and pepper my game and lay it on old oven racks, over plates in the fridge, so that as the salt pulls out moisture, it can drip away from the meat.  I usually leave it in the fridge over night.  Then, I leave it on the counter at room temp for several hours - up to 12 - before cooking.  That sounds absolutely crazy and opposed to every modern health recommendation, I know, but I think it is essential.  This process alone will tenderize at least 75% of meat to my preference.  This "quick hanging" allows the muscle fibers to fully relax and to break down somewhat just due to temp.  But, a lot more is going on.  The salt pulls some liquid and natural sugars out of the meat, to the surface, while creating an environment that inhospitable to most bacterias that can make you sick.  This creates the ideal environment for bacterias like lacto-bacterias - the same bacterias that turn cabbage into sour kraut - wild yeasts, etc.  So, there is a preserving effect, the bacterias pre-digest the meat to some extent and the flavor is enhanced.  I like the meat to get that good cheesy, rich smell before cooking.  We could call this the George Herter Method, as Bull Cook fans know..

Just before cooking, I poke or squeeze the thickest part of the meat, like the thigh.  It should feel very tender, almost as soft as your earlobe or the muscle between your thumb and first finger with your hand completely relaxed.  If so, I cook it fast and hot in a pan, oven or a hot grill, to medium rare.  Carry over heat means that the meat continues to cook on the plate, so take it off the heat before it is fully cooked to your liking.  Put some butter on it.  Cover it with foil and let it rest for 15-20 min so that the juices can redistribute.  Not letting meat rest is a big mistake that often results in dry, tough meat and a plate full of all the good juices going to waste.

If the meat is not tender enough after that long pre cooking rest, then we have to take measures to tenderize it.  To do so, we must understand what cooking actually does to meat.  Cooking meat does 4 essential things:

1) It firms the proteins.  The meat fibers contract.  This is a chemical reaction that can be caused by heat or acids, like when you put citrus juice on raw seafood and it seems to cook.

2) It degrades the proteins.  It breaks the muscle fibers down, making them easier to chew and more digestible.

3) It enhances flavor.  This is a simple concept, like browning meat.  But, it is scientifically very complicated, so I won't go into that.

4) It adds flavor by allowing the meat to be flavored by additions like salt, pepper, herbs, spices, onions and other vegetables.

Obviously, the first two of those aspects are in conflict.  How can cooking meat make it firm and more tender?  That is the art of cooking.  There are several options for tenderizing meat, and each has its place.  

1) Chemical.  A meat tenderizer like pineapple or papaya will chemically break down the muscle fibers.  This should be used very sparingly, so you don't end up with mush.

2) Mechanical.  You can grind the meat, of course.  Another great option for the larger cuts is to bone it out and pound the hell out of it with a mallet.  Make a thin cutlet, bread and fry it like chicken fried steak or schnitzel.  Or, you can mix up some cheese, herbs and bread crumbs, roll that up in the cutlets, tied them closed with string, brown them and cook them in sauce... which is awesome... and the scraps can go in with the sauce - think of a big Italian Sunday dinner!

3)  Parboil.  This is the classical method that most old cookbooks and good restaurants use.  The reason it works is that it is a two step process.  To parboil is to boil briefly, take the meat out and let it cool, before cooking it fully in another manner.  The parboil firms the proteins without cooking the meat fully through.  Therefore, after the meat rests and the juices re distribute, when it is cooked for the second time, the already firmed muscle fibers will not further contract to the extent they would with a one step cooking process.

4) Braise.  This is my favorite method.  Braising is like parboiling in reverse. Brown your meat thoroughly in a hot pan or under a broiler.  Take it off the heat to rest.  Then, either in the same pan or a deeper roasting or casserole dish, add the meat and enough flavorful liquid to come about half way up the side of the meat (not enough to cover it).  Then cook it low and slow like you would a pot roast, until the meat falls from the bone. Because you cooked it on the bone, all that good gelatin and collagen and some marrow will melt into the liquid and it will have the richness of bone broth.... and so much flavor!  This is what people go crazy over in rustic European restaurants where they make great braised dishes out of shanks, oxtail, trotters and other super cheap, tough cuts of meat that people think are worthless.  A good braising liquid is red wine, some stock, onions, garlic, thyme, etc.  Some folks like using tomato juice or just chicken broth.  Whatever you like is fine.     

5)  Pressure cooker.  A pressure cooker is another one of those things that is an easy concept with a long scientific explanation that we can skip.  Basically, it cooks the meat in a moist environment, under pressure that mechanically tenderizes the meat.  It can be a good option because it saves time and the results can be almost as good as braising if you do one thing - let it cool down and release pressure completely before taking the lid off.  The pressure squeezes moisture out of the meat.  As it cools and the pressure lowers, the meat will reabsorb the liquid and all the flavor.  Taking the lid off early can be dangerous and result in dry, flavorless but wet meat...which often confuses people.

6) Barbecue.  This is my favorite option for larger small game that can be cooked whole - like a big, fat coon, groundhog or beaver.  Barbecuing is simply cooking low and slow over the dry heat of wood coals.  A major benefit is that you don't have to trim off all the fat, sinew, etc, because it will melt away as it cooks low and slow (fast, hot cooking causes sinew/silver skin/etc to toughen).  All I do is salt my meat and let it rest as described earlier, then cook it 10 hours directly over live oak and hickory coals (NC style).  Most of the flavor comes from the fat dripping onto the coals and the smoke rising from that.  If your barbecue tradition uses dry rubs, wet mops, offset smokers, that will work too.

7) Stewing...

All of that may seem complicated, but the basics are: 1) Handle it right in the field.  2) Rest it before cooking.  3) Cook hot and fast for tender meat or low and slow for tough meat. 4) Rest after cooking.  5) Don't over think it.  Don't do something just because someone else said to do it.  Start simple.  Cook to your own taste in your own style. These are all "perfect case" suggestions, where you have everything controlled.  In camp, cooking on hot coals or low and slow in a camp/dutch oven yields results just as good.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Our South

My friend, Gary Dean Gardner, has a new blog called Our South; Its Food, Arts, & Heritage In Context With Our Modern Society.  It is an excellent blog on southern food, culture and history - far more detailed and researched than mine, for which I make no excuse.  Gary Dean Gardner is a scholar.  I am a storyteller.  His blog is a welcome and much needed contribution to our culture and our food.  I highly recommend it.