What I’ve Been Learning Lately: Lamb, Veal, Charcuterie, Pork Chops, and More

So, I feel as though I am falling behind a little with my cooking class posts. The week before last was Lamb and Veal night, followed by Pork night last week, and Fish night this week. Spring is so busy for our family. It seems we are now on a rotating schedule of baseball practice, baseball games, dance, running, biking, swimming, triathlons, marathons…the list goes on and on. We sound crazy, don’t we? I guess we are a little crazy! Consequently, I am finding myself packing more picnic dinners and with less time to practice all of the things I am learning in class. I am taking notes, squeezing in practice when I can, and looking hopefully towards summer when life will slow down a bit.  I will then sit down at the table and eat dinner with my family at a reasonable time of the day, and be thankful for the days in life when nothing is on the calendar.

So, for now, I’ll re-cap some of the things we have been learning about lamb, veal, and pork:

On Lamb night, we learned about a fabulous Merguez lamb sausage with harissa-mayonnaise  dipping sauce. The sausage is formed into log shapes and grilled. It is made with Ras el Hanout, an Arabic spice blend that is available in some supermarkets and specialty stores. It was amazingly spicy and wonderful, and I am so excited to make it. I made a large order from a spice retailer called The Spice House that just arrived over the weekend, and I am hoping to make and post about Merguez sausage very soon.

On Lamb and Veal night we also made a lamb tenderloin (a cut you would have to request from the butcher) which was coated in a wine reduction and sprinkled with herbs before being seared and then finished in the oven. The wine reduction was made by reducing an entire bottle of wine very very slowly over a long period until there was just about a half cup of syrupy liquid left. The fun part about this preparation is that you could vary the meat (pork tenderloin, beef tenderloin, or even a piece of salmon), the type of wine, and the herbs and/or spices used to make some fantastic pairings.

We also made individual portions of Moussaka. Moussaka is a Greek dish made with eggplant and grilled lamb. In this version, slices of grilled eggplant were layered in small ramekins with alternating layers of seasoned cooked ground lamb, parmesan mornay sauce, and tomato sauce.

Finally, we made Veal Blanquette a white-on-white type of stew that cooks pieces of veal very low and slow so that the meat is extremely soft and tender. The sauce is made by cooking down the stock that the veal cooked in with a cold roux and adding cream. This is definitely a comfort food dish, and I haven’t tried it at home yet, as stew just seems like a cold weather meal. It’s hard for me to think about stew when we are having 93 degree days in April! I am also not a huge fan of veal. I’ve always kind of been turned off by it, on principle. We had a very interesting discussion about this in class, and although you may not like to think of it this way- if you drink/ purchase dairy you are also supporting the veal industry. We can’t have dairy without veal. It’s just a simple fact. That being said, I still find it a little soft and bland. Maybe I will change my mind someday…but I am not rushing out to buy any veal at the moment.

Last week was the much anticipated Pork night. Chef Patterson made his signature BP’s Dry Rub Spare Ribs for us. These ribs were thickly coated in his own dry rub and cooked at a very low temperature for 10 hours. They were really amazingly good- super tender and full of flavor without being overly spicy. They were so delicious in fact, that I have gotten really excited about grilling and hopefully smoking this summer, and I am even considering a new griller/smoker! I would promise to post the recipe, but since this is Chef Patterson’s special recipe, I can’t in good conscience share it. He has encouraged me to make it and put my own spin on it, and when I do that- THEN I will share it.

We also got to learn about sausage. The great thing about sausage is that there are so many possible combinations of fat, meat, and spice. In class we used a food grinder/ sausage stuffer attachment that hooks onto the kitchen aid stand mixer. The classic standard when making sausage is that 1/3 of the overall weight is fat, with the remaining 2/3 being lean meat which could include pork, chicken, …even seafood. Once you have your meat and fat weighed and cut into small cubes, you add 1/3 oz. of salt per pound of sausage. You can also add a dash of pink salt for color if you so desired. Then you add your spices which could include pepper, garlic, cayenne, fresh sage, or others depending on what type of sausage you were making. Everything is mixed up and then passed through the grinder. At this point, a good cook would take a small piece of that sausage and cook it in a pan, so that they could taste it, and see if it needed more salt or spice. When you are happy with it, you could shape it into patties and cook it on the stovetop, or be really professional and stuff your own sausage. This would require casings (which I am told you can find at the store, but I have never seen). I won’t lie to you- this part is not pretty. It is also seems to take two people, so you will have to find a like-minded friend who is willing to handle animal intestines to get the job done. Good luck with that.

Last but not least, the Chef showed us how to make Pork Chops with a lovely sauce inspired by a Charcuterie plate. Charcuterie is traditionally  pâtésrillettessausagesbacontrotters, and head cheese. A Charcuterie plate is usually a mix of cooked and air dried meats offered with something acidic such as cornichons, which are a small tart pickle, as well as condiments such as mustard. Charcuterie is huge right now, and many restaurants such as The Wine Kitchen in Leesburg, VA offer a cheese and charcuterie selection. Apparently some restaurants such as Black Jack in the District, even have Charcuterie inspired cocktails like The Cigar, which features smoked peach ice and proscuitto on a stick. After researching the local offerings a little bit, I am dying to try some local charcuterie such as that of Red Apron Butchery, which offers locally-sourced charcuterie available to order online and pick up at VA and DC markets. I am also anxious to try the goods at Three Little Pigs downtown, which offers not only Salumi and Charcuterie but also housemade sandwiches and sodas. They even offer classes. I see a BBQ class in my future!

These past few cooking classes which were based on meat-cookery have really gotten me thinking about meat, where my meat comes from, and how I feel about it. As a little extra research I have been reading The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat by Joshua and Jessica Applestone. Even though I am only halfway through it, I can’t recommend this book enough. It tells the history of butcher shops, discusses why pastured meat is preferable to factory-farmed meat, and also gives recipes and tips for meat preparation. As someone who flirts with vegetarianism and veganism in fits and spurts, I got a kick out of the fact that Joshua Applestone was  a vegan when they opened their shop and he started carving meat. He says in the book that their bacon is what put him over the edge. In fact they even sell a T-shirt that says “Bacon: The Gateway Meat”.The book also doesn’t shy away from the realities of slaughterhouses and animal treatment, while at the same time embracing the fact that as humans, we just like to eat meat. Their focus is on supporting a system in which the meat we eat is rased in a sustainable and humane way, both for our health and the health of the environment. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I highly recommend this book.

Okay, okay…back to the pork chops.

To make my chops at home I purchased fairly thick bone-in chops. As Chef Patterson would say, ” …and where is all the flavor coming from?? It’s in the bones!” We were instructed to score the fat on the sides of the chops, because as they cook, the fat constricts and scoring them keeps the chops from shrinking up while cooking. I seasoned the chops liberally with salt and pepper, and cooked them in a hot saute pan with enough canola oil to throughly coat the bottom of the pan. Don’t use a non-stick pan here. You want to get the fond (in french meaning “base” or “foundation”) which is the brown bits left in the pan after cooking your meat. This will help to flavor your sauce later. Just be sure that when you are cooking your chop, you wait for the chop to release itself. This means if you try to move or flip the chop and it is sticking, don’t mess with it! It will loosen itself from the pan when it is ready to be flipped. This will work- I promise, as long as you have enough oil and a hot hot pan. The goal is to brown the chops throughly on each side, and then if the chops still require more cooking, you can move then onto a sheet pan in a 325 degree oven to finish cooking. 135 degrees internal temperature is what you are striving for here.

The Mise en Place for the sauce Chef Patterson taught us includes julienne of a few small cornichons, some white wine, a generous splash of white wine vinegar, a sliced shallot, a big spoonful of dijon mustard, a couple cloves of minced garlic, a big knob of butter, 1/2 cup or so warmed veal stock (or rich chicken stock) and a little freshly chopped sage. I also added a few spoonfuls of cream to my sauce to balance out the acidity of the vinegar.

Once the chops are in the oven, you pour off the fat in the pan, and carefully wipe it out with a paper towel. The shallots are sauteed in the dry pan (see the fond still in there?) with a pinch of salt.

Once softened, white wine is added to the shallots, as well as the garlic, and cooked until nearly all of it has evaporated.

Next, a large dollop of mustard is added to the pan, and then the vinegar.

This is stirred and reduced a bit. Next, the cornichons are added, and then the warm stock.

After this has simmered  for a few minutes, the sage is added. By now, your chops should definitely be out of the oven, and resting. You can tent them with a piece of foil to keep them warm. If any juices accumulated in the pan from the chops, pour them into the sauce.

Now you can remove the sauce from the heat, and start adding your butter a piece at a time. The sauce will thicken and lighten a bit. Taste it, and add salt as needed. If you find it too acidic you can add a little cream to balance it out, as I did. A grating of fresh pepper will finish it off nicely.

Slice the pork chop off the bone, and cut into slices against the grain. Spoon the sauce over the slices of pork, and serve.

So that’s it! I will keep updating on all of my cooking in progress.

By the way, L’Academie de Cuisine has their summer catalogue of classes available online now. They do fill up quickly, so if you are interested in taking any classes this summer I encourage you to sign up soon. If the culinary arts are your passion, I would highly recommend the classes at L’Academie de Cuisine. I am enjoying my time there so much, and it is has really transformed my cooking.

Happy Cooking!

Melissa

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