Persian pickled cherries with tarragon

Persian pickled cherries with tarragon

Persian pickled cherries with tarragon

I need to somehow process the 6kg Rainer cherries I picked yesterday, and this recipe sounded so weird that I had to try it.

The recipe is from Diana Henry’s book “Salt sugar smoke”.

You need:

  • 500ml white wine vinegar
  • 3tbsp salt
  • 12 bruised black peppercorns
  • 400g cherries (these are rainier cherries)
  • 5 sprigs of tarragon
  • sterilised jar with a vinegar proof lid

All you need to do is

  • bring the vinegar, salt and pepper to a boil, then leave it to cool
  • put the cherries and tarragon into the jar, cover with the vinegar solution, try to get the air bubbles out by banging the jar, then put the lid on
  • wait 2 weeks before eating.

I have no idea how these will taste. There’s no sugar in the recipe, and although the cherries are really sweet I get the feeling that it might turn my face inside out!

I’ll report back in due course. I need to find something to do with the other 5.5Kg cherries now!


sausageBot enclosure progress

Looks pretty good!

Looks pretty good!

You can’t really see the base on the picture above due to the white table, but you get the idea. We laser cut all the enclosure parts last night – apart from the lid. We accidentally used the wrong piece of perspex for the base, which meant we didn’t have enough left to make it! Oh well.

Laser cut the corner blocks

This laser cutter really is magic

Here’s what the corner blocks look like when they come off the cutter. The pegs cut out from the middle are used to fix them together.

Corner blocks

This gives you an idea how the corner blocks fit together

One of the side panels

One of the side panels with passive cooling vents. The base also has these vents cut into it

Side panel with blocks

Side panel with blocks. Those tabs fit perfectly into the slots.

The next job is to glue the corner blocks together, then fix all the electronic components and the relays to the base, and build the “walls” – i.e. everything apart from the lid. Once that’s done we can wire it all up and start running some tests and writing the software.

This thing really is complete overkill for curing a few sausages, but it’s gonna be bloody great when it’s finished 🙂

Making Brawn

There are myriad versions of brawn, or head cheese, fromage de tête, whatever you want to call it. This version is from Fergus Henderson’s “Nose to tail”. It’s basically a jellied meat terrine.

I’ve been unable to find anyone willing (or able) to supply me with a pig’s head, until last week. I’ve asked in various butchers and each time I’ve been given a blank look. I guess no one makes this anymore. I found that the organic farm shop a few miles from home can supply heads, trotters and back fat! Huzzah! Back fat is almost as tricky to get hold of as a pig’s head, because no one likes fat these days apparently, the fools.

Ingredients for making brawn

Ingredients for making brawn

So to make this Brawn recipe I needed:

  • A pig’s head
  • 2 pig’s trotters
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 2 onions
  • Parsley, bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, rosemary, sage, plus about 2 tablespoons of cracked black peppercorns, all wrapped up and tied in muslin
  • Bunch of curly leafed parsley
  • A good slug of red wine vinegar
  • Sea salt
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • A VERY large stockpot
  • A couple of loaf tins or terrine moulds, plus some clingfilm
  • A packet of disposable razors
  • Patience

First of all you need to prep the head. Wash it all really well (don’t forget to clean the ears!) and give it a good shave with the disposable razors (you’ll need a few – I got through half a dozen) – doing that feels a bit odd to be quite honest. Give the trotters a good going over too – make sure you check between the toes!

Pig's head for brawn

Pig’s head for brawn – give it all a good wash and shave

You can imagine my girlfriend’s face when she wandered into the kitchen half asleep on Sunday morning to find me shaving a pig’s head with a bic razor 🙂

So, depending on how large the head is, and how large your pot is, you might need to saw it in half, or even into quarters in order to get it in there. Mine just fitted in the pot, albeit with the nose a little higher than I would have hoped for. If you’re sawing the head apart you’ll need a bone saw or a clean hacksaw with a new blade. Scoop out the brain and work out how you’re gonna cook it, if you are. Deep fried? On toast? Up to you. Mine came without the brain. I found out later that it was also missing the tongue, which was a real shame.

Some brawn recipes call for the head to be brined for 24 hours before cooking, but not this one, so I skipped the brining.

Once you’re happy with your shaved head, wash and peel the veg, then put everything apart from the sea salt into your huge stockpot, fill it with cold water, and bring it slowly up to a simmer.

Adding the veg and herbs to the pot

Add the veg and herbs to the pot

Adding the head to the pot

Add the head to the pot – this one only just fits!



Simmer very gently for about 3-4 hours, or until the meat is really soft and coming away from the head. Make sure it never fully boils!

Simmer and skim, simmer and skim

Simmer and skim, simmer and skim

Periodically scrape off any scum which floats to the top. I did this about 8 times during the simmer.

Then lift all the pig bits out of the broth (it’ll be falling apart by this stage – so be careful) and let it all cool down enough to be able to handle the meat.

After 4 hours on a really slow simmer

After 4 hours on a really slow simmer

Take all the meat off the head, shred it with your fingers and set aside. Pull the tongue out, peel the skin off it and dice it. Put this in with the other meat. If there’s any meat on the trotters pull that off, or simply discard them, they’ve done their job by now.

Mix the chopped parsely in with the diced and shredded meat.

Strain the stock into a clean pan through some muslin to get rid of all the bits, then cook this over a high heat until reduced by about half. Your house will smell very piggy by this point.

Get your loaf tins or terrine moulds ready – line them with clingfilm and arrange the meaty bits in them.

Check the seasoning of your reduced stock (It’s worthwhile seasoning heavily as this will be served cold, reducing the final flavour), then gently pour your stock over the meat and parsley, cover and pop into the fridge to set. It’s worth trying to get any remaining bubbles of air out while it’s still warm, you can bang it on the worksurface or or poke it with a spoon handle, etc to do this.

Assembling the brawn in the terrine

Assembling the brawn in the terrine

I didn’t get anywhere near the yield I was expecting but that’s because I took both jowls off for Guanciale, and because the tongue was missing!

Still, I only paid £6 for the head, trotters and about a kilo of back fat, so I can’t complain – according to the receipt the head was free, and it’s not every day you can say that you got free head 😛

Once it’s all properly set (overnight in the fridge is best), put a plate on top and invert it. Remove the clingfilm, cut a slice off and marvel at the porky wonder that is your brawn!

Tip it out of the terrine

Tip it out of the terrine

Slice a piece off, grab a home pickled gherkin or some cornichons from the jar, butter some some crunchy bread and potato salad and you’re set. And pour yourself a beer.

Plated up

Plated up

To be honest it tastes good but it needs really heavy seasoning – a lot more than I added – and it’s a bit too jelly-heavy, but it wobbles nicely 🙂 It needed about double the amount of meat, if I’d only kept one jowl back and the tongue there!

If you put some hard boiled eggs in it before it sets it would be like a jellied Gala pie. mmmm. Next time I’ll do that and make Fergus’ Crispy ear and sorrel salad to go with it.

Mini Sausagebot update

Had another sausageBot (curing fridge controller) build session with Spandex at the Nottingham Hackspace last night. We wanted to cut out the sides and  top and bottom panels but the laser cutter was occupied all night. We did manage to drill a hole in the back panel which was far too big for the remote sensor plug (thanks, Maplin advice person! 19mm, my arse!) – I guess we should have actually measured it to confirm, but hey. Ended up gluing that in the end – still looks OK, luckily:

Rear sensor DIN plug

Rear sensor DIN plug

Oh, and the front panel now also has the potentiometers fitted to the silver dials for altering the temperature and humidity set values, and coloured LEDs to show which relays are currently open: blue = fridge (cold), red = heater, green = humidifier, yellow = dehumidifier.

Front panel with status LEDs

Front panel with status LEDs

In the next build session we’ll try to get the remaining enclosure parts built and assembled 🙂

Soldering station action shot

Bonus soldering station action shot!

Kielbasa Wiejska

Kielbasa Wiejska

Kielbasa Wiejska

A fresh Polish sausage – heavy on the garlic and marjoram. Courtesy of Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie.

you need:

  • 1Kg Pork shoulder, diced.
  • 20g Sea salt (or other non-iodised salt)
  • 35g crushed garlic
  • 10g finely chopped fresh marjoram
  • 5g freshly ground black pepper
  • a splash of cold water
  • a bag of ice
  • About 6ft of natural hog casings – I get mine from (they last for months if stored in their salty bag in the fridge)

Grab a big non-reactive mixing bowl and mix everything apart from the water together really well, then cover it with clingfilm and stick it in the fridge overnight. Your fridge will smell heavily of garlic in the morning, so maybe use double clingfilm, and remove any eggs you have in there 🙂

Get your mincer blades, the spiral thing and other metal mincer bits and put them in the freezer so they’re seriously cold when you come to mince / stuff it. It’s better to have everything almost freezing when you make sausages otherwise the fat can smear. It’s not so essential for a fine ground fresh sausage such as this, but it’s a good habit to get into nonetheless.

The next day, soak your hog casings in a bowl of warm water for about an hour or so, changing the water every now and then. Offer one end up to a tap and run some water through them to clean them out. Tip: Don’t let go, it’ll disappear down the plughole in about 2 seconds flat if you let it!

Open your garlicky fridge, take the mixture out and run it through the now ice-cold fine plate on your mincer – into a bowl which is in another same sized bowl with ice cubes in.

Put a splash of water in (really, just a very little bit), and mix like a madman with a wooden spoon while it’s still in the bowl above the iced-bowl. If you’ve got one, you can stick it in a food mixer with a paddle attachment for a minute or so, until it starts to get sticky and evenly mixed.

Cover the mixture with clingfilm again and stick it back in the fridge while you fry a piece – to check the seasoning. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Stuff the mixture into the hog casings (this is much easier and more fun with 2 people), then twist them into links. I made them into about 6″ links.

That’s it!

Fry a couple off and have them with sauerkraut, crusty bread, gherkins and mustard. Lovely.

They freeze really well, especially if you vacuum seal them.

Note: they’re very garlicky. I love garlic but I might tone it down a little next time 🙂

SausageBot progress

SausageBot panels

SausageBot panels  – just look at them!

Got the front and back panels sorted today. After work I drove over to Matt Spandex’s house to continue on the sausageBot curing fridge project. We already had some of the main parts bought and assembled, and so after a delicious, unexpected fish supper (thanks, Frances!) we drove to Nottingham hackspace to use their laser cutter for the front and back panels. Spandy had already designed the layout of the panels to fit the components as you can see in this post

I hadn’t been to the hackspace before and it’s great. You pay a subscription (whatever amount you like actually), and you can use what you need, as and when you need it. It’s the first floor of an old Victorian warehouse, kitted out with all manner of tools from cnc machines, laser cutters, lathes, soldering stations, and so on. Pretty much everything. It was fairly busy when we got there, but there’s plenty of room and noone using the laser cutter – result! So after about an hour trying to figure out how to import the sketches of the panels into the laptop hooked up to the laser cutter, we were in business.

The laser cutter is magic. Did we place the acrylic in the right place not to screw it all up? You’re damn right we did.

Anyway, here are the results from tonight’s session. I’m seriously impressed with the accuracy of this thing. All the components just clipped right into the holes! Kudos to Spandy, again for the design work 🙂

Front and back panels laser cut

Front and back panels laser cut

rear panel with power sockets fitted

rear panel with power sockets fitted

Fitting various components

Fitting various components

Front panel with knobs and screen!

Front panel with knobs and screen!

That green switch on the right hand side is pretty sexy, and it will light up when it’s on. It’s so satisfying to click on and off that I might have to duct tape it on in case I get tempted when actually in production.

Anyway, the next job is to get all the relays glued (or fixed somehow) to the base of the enclosure, fit the status LEDs (those are the 4 holes on the front panel with nothing in at the moment), wire it all up, then plug everything else in (fridge, humidifier, heater, etc)

I really can’t wait! Stay tuned….

Building a dry curing chamber

I’m building a dry curing chamber out of a fridge – for fermented sausages and drying cured meats. This means I can make salami, guanciale, coppa and all the other really good stuff.

When you’re hanging meats to dry them (prosciutto, for example) you need the relative humidity to be about 70%RH, and the temperature in the region of 12-15C, warmer and wetter than most fridges are prepared to run, so you need some additional equipment to maintain these parameters. We don’t have ideal conditions in the UK to do this without a little gadgetry.

I won’t go over all the ins and outs of how to do this here – these guys have done it all before and are the authority on it as far as I can see:

Look at all that beautiful stuff they make. mmmmm.

Anyway, I bought a large fridge, here it is:

My soon to be Curing fridge

My soon to be Curing fridge

Should have enough room in there!

I also bought a reptile vivarium controller which monitors and controls temperature and humidity, and an ultrasonic humidifier. I plugged all this in to see how it would work without anything sausagey hanging in there. I set the temperature to 13C, and the variance to 2C. This means that the fridge compressor starts when the temperature gets up to 15C, and stops cooling when it hits 11C. Simple enough. But temperature control is the easy part.

Controlling relative humidity is far more tricky. When running empty, the humidity in the chamber was all over the place, going from too high, to far too low. Hardly ideal, and would have ended up ruining quite a lot of potentially tasty meat.

So I made a sacrificial batch of Mexican style chorizo to test out the chamber’s drying capabilities. This cold-smoked chorizo only needed to hang for about a week, long enough for me to work out how well / terribly it might behave.

I hung up the sausages and began monitoring. They hung  in there for a week and by that time they’d lost roughly 20% weight. But the humidity was still all over the place so for things which need much longer drying times this might not end well.

Here they are after being hung – I’ll make another post about how I made them at some point.

Cold smoked chorizo after hanging

Cold smoked chorizo after hanging

But I need more flexibility and control.

I was chatting all this through with my friend Spandex – (he is both tall and wise) –  and he said, “Someone must have done this with Arduino before”. I’d heard of Arduino before but never had experience with home electronics projects (other than building PCs), and the thought of wiring up mains appliances to relays is frankly pretty terrifying. He makes a lot of cool modular synth stuff so it’s right up his street.

So we hatched a plan to build a “sausageBot” – an Arduino-based controller which will monitor everything via sensors, and control all the equipment through relays. Spandex will be doing all the wiring and soldering and I’ll be asking daft questions and thinking about meat.

In return I have offered to pay him in cured meats. What a winner.

Here are a couple of mock-ups of how the case for sausageBot might look once finished:

Enclosure mockup - front

Enclosure mockup – front

Enclosure mockup - top

Enclosure mockup – top

last night we started to build the innards.

We went for a “let’s put something together and see what happens” approach. We’ve got a basic layout on breadboard, with the arduino reading temperature and humidity from the sensor, and we’ve also wired up the circuit for the first relay. Exciting stuff!

Sausagebot breadboard test

Sausagebot breadboard test

Temperature and humidity values being recorded

It’s alive!

It’s obviously very early days but exciting nonetheless. Will post more progress when there’s some to show 🙂