Crispy pig’s ears with nasturtium and caper tartare sauce

The finished dish

The finished dish

I finally got around to making the crunchy ears starter. I saved the ears from the last head I bought (for guanciale / brawn). The Nasturtiums are pretty much finished now so I wanted to do this whilst they were still in flower.

You need:

  • 2 fresh pig’s ears (ask your butcher or farmer – they’ll like you even more for asking)
  • A small white onion, a carrot and a celery rib, diced
  • Half a sliced leek
  • A bouquet garni (Parsley stalks, bay leaf and sprigs of thyme wrapped in the outer leaf of a leek and tied with string)
  • About 10 black peppercorns

For deep frying the ear slices:

  • Panko breadcrumbs (you could use matzo meal instead, or just normal breadcrumbs)
  • Beaten egg
  • Well seasoned flour
  • Veg oil

For the caper tartare sauce:

  • A few finely diced shallots
  • A tablespoon of finely chopped nasturtium capers (normal capers will do nicely too)
  • A tablespoon of gherkins or cornichons, finely chopped (bonus points for pickling your own)
  • A hard boiled egg
  • About 100g of mayonnaise (bonus points if you make it yourself)
  • Nasturtium flowers
  • Nasturtium leaves
  • Finely chopped fresh parsley
  • The juice of half a lemon

First of all get the ears on the go. Give them a good scrub. Shave them, or use a blowtorch to get rid of any hairs.

A matching pair of ears

A matching set

Pop them into a pan with some cold water. Bring to a simmer for a couple of minutes then take them out and discard the water.

Refill the pan with cold water and add the ears and the other ingredients.

Ears and other ingredients ready to simmer

Ears and other ingredients ready to simmer

Bring to a simmer (don’t boil them), and simmer gently for a couple of hours, until a knife or skewer passes through them easily.

After simmering for a couple of hours

After simmering for a couple of hours

Whilst the ears are simmering away, make the tartare sauce:

Put the finely chopped egg, gherkins, capers and parsley into a bowl and add the mayo and the lemon juice. Mix well, season to taste, and then add most of the nasturtium flowers and leaves. Save a few flowers and leaves to for garnishing.

Once the ears are tender, put them between sheets of greaseproof paper, weigh them down with a couple of books or something else flat and heavy, and leave them to cool.

Dried and ready to be pressed

Dried and ready to be pressed

Weigh them down with some heavy items

Weigh them down with some heavy items

Fry the ears up:

Once they’re cool and flat, slice the ears into long, thin strips

Mmm, cartilage

Mmm, cartilage

Dust with flour, then beaten egg, and then cover with the Panko breadcrumbs and deep fry until crispy

Everything ready for coating the ears strips

Everything ready for coating the ears strips

Crisped up nicely

Crisped up nicely

Serve your crispy ear-based crackling snacks to your unsuspecting guests, or sit and munch them all yourself 🙂

Verdict: Not at all bad. The panko breadcrumbs are super crunchy and not greasy (make sure the oil’s hot enough!) The cartilage is crunchy when you bite into them. However, the real winner of this plate is the nasturium caper sauce, which is bloody delicious and offsets the ears brilliantly. Next time I’ll get more heavy handed with the seasoning of the flour.


Cold smoked chorizo

Cold smoked chorizo after hanging

Cold smoked chorizo

This is a cold smoked, Mexican style fresh chorizo sausage.

I made these to test out my original curing chamber setup (with the vivarium controller), as they only need to hang for about 5-7 days. Plus I wanted to use my newly built cold smoker 🙂

Shopping list (adjust the amounts according to how much meat / fat you have. The ratios are important):

  • 1.5kg pork shoulder, or a mixture of shoulder and belly, diced into 1″ cubes
  • 650g back fat diced into smaller cubes than the meat (if you can’t get back fat, use a greater ratio of belly)
  • 40g Sea salt
  • 6g of Cure #1 (pink salt)
  • 25g dried chilli powder
  • 3g white pepper
  • 75g dehydrated skimmed milk
  • 15g dried cumin
  • Thinly sliced spring onions – 120g or so, green part included
  • About 60ml cold water, and some ice cubes
  • Natural hog casings
  • Cold smoker / dust / pellets

Get your sausage on:

Important: Make sure you’ve got your grinder blades in the freezer for a few hours to help keep everything super cold and stop the fat smearing when grinding, and get your hog casings in some warmish water so they’re ready to be stuffed. If you have room, put the meat and fat into the freezer for a while too.

  • Put ice cubes in one mixing bowl and then put the other bowl into it
  • Mix the diced meat, salts, herbs and milk powder together and grind them through the coarse plate on your grinder, into the iced bowl
  • Grind the fat through the fine plate into the iced bowl with the meat in
  • Mix this all together with the spring onions and a splash of cold water, it’ll go sticky when you mix it – you want this
  • Take a small piece and fry it off in a pan to check the seasoning. Adjust if necessary. Make sure that you put the rest of the mixture in the fridge while you do this
  • Rinse the casings out thoroughly. Don’t let go else they’ll disappear down the plug hole!
  • Stuff your sausages into the casings, and twist into links. Whatever length you like
chorizo coil

Chorizo coil

chorizo links

And now with links!

  • Put them uncovered in the fridge overnight to build up a pellicle so that they take the smoke better
  • Stick them on your cold smoker for a few hours (I think mine had about 5 hours), they should have some nice colouration by then
Looking pretty good after a cold smokin'

Looking pretty good after a cold smokin’

  • Then hang them in the fridge (curing chamber, etc) for about 5 days. Ideally they want about 70% humidity. Mine were in there for a week and the humidity was all over the place, but they turned out fine. I was testing out the viability of the reptile vivarium controller as a curing chamber controller at the time, but I decided that more control was needed, hence sausageBot was born.
Hang them for about 5-7 days

Hang them for about 5-7 days

  • You can then freeze them and they’ll keep for ages, or keep them in the fridge for a couple of weeks max.
  • For bonus points, vacuum seal them – they take up less room and you won’t get any freezer burn. Plus it’s good fun.
Vacuum packed for freezing

I love this thing.

That’s it!

Unsurprisingly you can use them like any fresh chorizo – they’re particularly good with chicken, in risotto, or just fried up as a tapas dish.

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.

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 🙂

Home cured bacon!

Home maple cured and smoked bacon

Home maple cured and smoked bacon

The first thing many people cure at home – and rightly so – is bacon. Just LOOK AT IT.

My first piece of bacon which I cured at home was straight out of Michael Rulhman and Brian Polcyn’s fantastic book – Charcuterie: The craft of salting, smoking and curing. I’ve adapted this recipe to my taste over time, as I prefer a sweeter cure on my bacon. Particularly a maple cure, with applewood smoke.

My current version:

  • A 1Kg decent piece of belly pork, (no ribs, and preferably with the skin on), trimmed so that the edges are nice and square.
  • Some of those “zippy” freezer bags – the large ones.
  • About  35gms basic dry cure  mix *
  • A good glug of maple syrup
  • About 2tbsp ground black pepper
  • About 10 juniper berries, crushed with the back of a knife

* I use a lot of this, so I make a large-ish batch up which means that I don’t have to measure it out each time. Accuracy is key when using curing salts so bigger is better in that respect too, less room for error.

Basic dry cure mix:

  • 450 grams sea salt (or any salt with no iodine anti-caking agent in)
  • 225 grams sugar
  • 50 grams cure #1 (also known as Prague powder 1 or pink salt) It’s 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% salt, and prevents botulism. Strictly speaking you don’t need this in bacon even if it’s smoked, because it’ll get cooked before eating anyway. It also makes the bacon a nice pink colour too.

It’ll keep indefinitely in a Kilner jar.

Put the bacon and dry cure mix into the zippy bag, rub it all over the meat (get into all those nooks and crannies), add the rest of the ingredients, give it another mix, then pop it into the fridge for about a week, turning it over every other day so that all the meat gets an even  cure (this is technically called “overhauling”). You’ll notice that a brine is produced, this is what you want, and it’ll carry the flavours into the meat.

After about 5 days or so, feel the meat to see if it feels a bit firm, not hard. If it does, it’s cured. If not, leave it another day and check again.

Once it’s cured, take it out of the fridge and wash all the cure off the meat under the cold tap (I can never get all the pepper off, that doesn’t really matter). Discard the cure and dry the meat with paper towel.

Now you have options to finish it off:

  1. Put it (fat side up) onto a griddle pan in a baking tray and set the oven to 200F (about 93C) until it’s 150F in the middle (that takes about 1-1.5hrs)
  2. Hot smoke it until it reaches 150F in the middle
  3. Cold smoke it and then finish it in the oven, as #1

That’s it! You’ve got lovely bacon. mmmm, bacon. Slice a piece off and fry it up!

If it’s a little bit salty, you can blanch it which will remove some of that salt. I’ve found that the edges tend to be more salty than the middle.

Here’s what mine looked like after about 8 hours cold smoked over applewood chips, before the oven phase:

After the smoke phase

After the smoke phase

After the smoke phase - underside

After the smoke phase – underside

And here it is freshly out of the oven, once it’s hit 150F in the middle

Smoked and cooked

Smoked and cooked

Smoked and cooked

Smoked and cooked

Take the fat off, slice it up, and use any trimmings, etc for lardons. It freezes really well, especially if you have a vacuum sealer.