Monday, June 29, 2009

Is Mangalitsa the new Berkshire?

By now many of you have heard of or worked with the heritage breed of hog known as Berkshire. Berks have become popular in many quality kitchens and the popularity seems to grow every year. Berkshire is to pork what Angus is to beef, quality breeds that produce quality meat. So what else is out there? Specialty farmers have been trying a variety of heritage breed hogs here in the Northeast for the past 15 or 20 years. Breeds such as the Tammworth, Old Spots, Hampshires, Durocs have all found their way to various farmer's markets. Most are raised by small farmers who allow the pigs some freedom and feed them with a variety of stuffs such as locally grown corn, apples, old pumpkins and squash, acorns, and a huge variety of kitchen scraps.

Enter the Mangalitsa breed, a heritage breed from Austria/ Hungary. My grandfather Karl Schneller grew up in the southeastern portion of Austrian, near the Hungarian border. My Aunt Mary was born in Hungary and our family has a long food history that maintains many of the specialties from that area of the world. My father would make Speck in his butcher shop that was the same as my Austrian grandfather made. The Mangalitsa is a breed of hog from this part Europe. It is considered by many as the best tasting pork in Europe and is prized for its fat. It is unique in that it has a thick sheep-like wooly coat and does very well in colder climates. In 2006 a entrepreneur, Heath Putman, brought some breeding stock to the US and started the company Wooly Pigs Wooly pigs is located in the state of Washington and they have recently sold some stock to Mosefund Farm in northern New Jersey, about an hour and a half drive to the CIA in Hyde Park. Michael Clampffer , CIA alumni, manages the raising of hogs and is involved with selling the meat to chefs in NYC.

On Saturday my nephew Austin and I met up with my teaching assistant Steven Bookbinder and his girlfriend at the Mosefund farm to ask some questions and see the old/ new breed. Austin raises a few hogs each year in Stone Ridge NY and this year he has a Berk, a Hampshire and a crazy mixed breed that is part Duroc. Both of us hadn't seen anything like the Mangalitsa. Michael was an excellent host and answered our many questions about feed and raising techniques. He explained that some of the forty or so hogs were either purebred or crossed with Berkshire. The smaller pigs were all 75% Mangalitsa and 25% Berk. They are fed restaurant scraps, and a mixture of barley and wheat. They are allowed to graze on fields of chickory and clover from time to time which they destroy in hours! Like most heritage hogs, they love to root and dig.

Mangalitsa has been praised in articles recently in the NYTimes and Saveur to name a couple. It is touted as the best tasting pork and has a fat that is lower in saturated fat. Don't be mistaken. It is not a low fat pork but the fat is higher in monosaturated fat as opposed to most pork on the market.

Michael wanted us to experience the pork so we received a fresh ham and I broke it down into subprimals and tied some roasts. While cutting it I trimmed some of the fat and rendered it. I also cut a small steak off the sirloin side and panseared it with nothing but salt and pepper. It was very nice! I gave a slice to my 16 yearold son who also knows something about pork and he said only one word which tells the the story "Good".

Michael will attend a demo, lecture and tasting featuring the pork at the CIA this fall and he will be hosting the president of the Austrian Mangalitsa Society this coming winter for a three day seminar demonstrating traditional cutting styles and curing techniques.

As we as a food society constantly search for the best flavors it is exciting for me to find a hog that I never knew existed gaining in popularity. Mosefund farm is located in north Jersey which is very much like the foothills of the Catskills where I live and the hogs are in the shade of a beautiful mountain side, like somewhere in Austria.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Glutaminase - Glue?

A few years ago I had a student who, unintentionally, made a major cut through the middle of a beef tenderloin while trimming it. We used what we could and shaped medallions from it but we lost a fair amount. I joked about it and said it would be a great test for " meat glue". Then last year my TA at the time, Carlos, brought in a sample of a Japanese product, Activa. Activa is a product made by the Ajinomoto corporation that is a protein binder enzyme transglutaminase. Transglutaminase is a naturally occuring enzyme that is created by a frementation process. Glutamin is the major amino acid that is found in muscle tissue. It is considered a non-essential amino acid due to the fact that the body creates it so it doesn't need to be consumed but many body building supplements contain it due to its abilty to promote muscle strength. It is also used for digestive health and is an essential energy source for the intestinal lining. Glutamin is used for many treatments medically and its attributes are still being discovered.

Transglutiminases are a number of enzymes that bond proteins. The transglutaminase found in the blood stream forms a fibrin bond when an injury occurs, initiating clotting. The Ajinomoto Co creates this type of enzyme by using a fermentation process and, once isolated, mixing it with a delivery powder that can either be mixed with water or sprinkled over meats. MEAT GLUE! It physically binds raw meat proteins together.

In class we have used it to bind a variety of meat items. Certainly it can be used to repair cuts made in error but it can also be used to dramatically increase yields on certain cuts. We used it to bind tenderloin sections to minimize tail and tip trim. We also took two boneless lamb loins and joined them to create a larger circular medallion. It worked really well for stuffing items. Boneless chicken breasts can be stuffed and rolled and will hold without any string or toothpicks used. It will bind any type of animal protein but will not hold fat well.

Recently we had to fabricate 725 portions of tenderloin medallions for a graduation celebration. We used PSMO tenderloins and we averaged almost 12 - 6 oz steaks per tenderloin which is a really good yield. I made a slurry of Activa and glued the tail sections and head sections together to create a much more uniform medallion. We wrapped them in plastic and let them set overnight. The only issues were when we attempted to mix tenderloins that were slightly different colors. You could see the different sections which looked odd but once seared you could not tell. Activa basically creates a bond that is undetectable and is basically like a new meat.

There are three basic formulations of Activa and the difference between them is the type of protein you are trying to bind. We used Activa TG- FP which is meant for leaner raw meat proteins such as beef or pork. The other two types, Activa TG- RM and TG- RI, have different uses. RM is used for either seafood, poultry or processed meats. RI is used to bind protein for milk products such as yogurt and cheese.

The companie's site is not very high tech but it explains the product well. Carlos got them to send a sample by simply requesting it. It is available commercially and is relatively expensive about $100 for a kilo ( 2.5 lbs) but a little goes a long way. I used about 1/4 lb for 725 medallions which more than made up for its cost in yield savings.

Here are the basic steps we used for

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Jambon de Paris

Last week we finished a very special ham, Jambon de Paris or the Ham of Paris. Today I find a trend of chefs attempting to recreate high quality dry-cured hams. This can be difficult and takes a few trial and errors to get it right. The right environment, temperature, humidity all must be right for the ham to mature. Time is another factor and it may take at least 6 to 12 months to properly age a dry cured ham. A quality Prosciutto is typically aged 18 months. Another issue is place. My friend and colleague Chef Albert Vernoli tried a slice of dry cured beef we created in the meat fab classroom. We thought it was OK, the salt was right and it sliced really nicely but Chef Vernoli put it very simply with his Italian accent " taste pretty good, but it tastes like the meat room. It should taste like mountain air." Thats the thing about high end dry cured meats, they are created in an environment that helps to create its flavor.

Enter the Jambon de Paris. Jambon de Paris is not dry cured at all, it is a wet cured ham, not really anything more than a quality boiled ham. For most people who consider themselves knowledgeable in food don't typically spend a lot of time thinking about the finer attributes of the boiled ham but this ham is different. My teaching assistant Savannah Jordan helped with this project. First we started with a fresh pork leg from a local hog that I broke down in class. The ham was boned and trimmed really well. Do not trim any of the exterior fat or skin.We cut off the knuckle to make it a more manageable size and then prepared a brine and cured it for about 10 days. The brine recipe was a basic wet cure. Don't tie the ham until after the curing process.
3 gal water
2lbs salt
3/4 lb sugar
5 oz TCM ( tinted curing mix, which has nitrites)
1/4 cup pickling spice
4 cloves garlic, crushed, not chopped
Blend all ingredients until all salt and sugar are dissolved
Place in a deep bucket ( pickle buckets work great) or stainless steel pot. Be sure to keep ham in brine by placing a weight on top. ( we used a plate) You can pump the ham using a needle brine pump to shorten brine time.

Once cured, soak the ham for about 3 - 4 hrs in cool water to release most of the saltiness then tie the ham very tight using a proper butchers knot. Savannah simmered it in about 2 gallons of water, covering the ham, adding a few chopped carrots, celery, onions, a clove of garlic, and a sachet espice. Slow cook it for about two and half hours until the skin becomes gelatinous. Chill the ham in its stock overnight. This may add to the cooking time so don't over cook the ham during the simmering stage. Remove the ham and slice thin with the exterior fat and skin.

Traditionally served on a buttered Baguette with a little Dijon mustard. I like it on rye bread with Emmenthaller Swiss and spicy horseradish mustard ( and a cold IPA)
It makes a nice non- salty alternative to homemade dry cured hams.