Pig in a Pen

Since this is our twelfth and final Charcutepalooza challenge, it seems only fitting to end with the song that served as the eponym for this little adventure, Pig in a Pen. Hold on to your hat, though, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder play this at light speed!

The challenge is to celebrate The Year in Meat by incorporating a minimum of four items from the list provided into one fabulous, festive and fantastic fete.  Tis the season, indeed, and Thanksgiving is my feast of choice. Out of the six categories listed, I have seven items in five categories so I guess it’s time to get cooking.

I’ve mentioned before how amazed I am that throughout my adventures in charcuterie everything seems connected and how this thread runs through my life and my roots and comes back around. It’s a very “chicken and egg” feeling. Even though “The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing” is the cornerstone of this dinner, I still wanted it to be traditional. I wanted the dishes that bring back memories of family no longer present. I wanted to share the same dishes that our families miles away were sharing. At the same time, new traditions are being made and we have new friends to share it with and this dinner is all about that, too.

Cornbread dressing is brought to a whole new level when andouille sausage is added to it. Since I wanted to incorporate one new charcuterie item in this dinner, the obvious choice was andouille. Pronounced ahn-DOO-ee, this is a staple in Cajun and Creole cooking and it’s almost impossible to find an edible version anywhere except south Louisiana (and even there, finding good andouille takes some effort). It’s traditionally made with pieces of fairly lean pork rather than ground pork like most sausage and is heavily smoked. It should have a little heat to it but it isn’t a hot sausage and it should have NO FILLERS or binders at all!!

Andouille Sausage

makes two 18-inch sausages

3 lbs pork shoulder or butt

1 1/2 tsp cayenne (this makes it a little spicy so if you have a “delicate” palette, you might want to decrease it a little- you can always add more later)

2 T black pepper

1 T paprika

2 T Kosher salt

2 tsp dried thyme

3 T garlic, minced

1 tsp Instacure #1

beef middles, about 4 feet

Trim pork of large amounts of fat, any silverskin or other connective tissue and cut into 1- inch cubes. Mix seasonings together then add to cubed pork. Refrigerate overnight or up to two days. Grind one third of the mixture using the coarse die of a chilled meat grinder. Dice the remaining two thirds of the meat into 1/4-inch pieces. Mix the ground and diced meat together, cook a small portion and adjust seasoning as needed.

Soak beef middles for two hours or overnight and rinse well. Stuff the meat into the casings in 12-18 inch links. Tie off each end securely and prick all over with a needle or a sausage pricker. Hang or place on a rack and allow to dry in the refrigerator overnight. Smoke for two hours at 125°F then increase temperature and smoke at 170-175°F until the internal temperature of the sausage reaches 160°F, about another 2-3 hours. Hang or place on a rack and allow to dry in the refrigerator overnight before using or freezing for later use.

Note: These times are approximate and do not take into account a broken valve on your smoker that renders it useless followed by much cussin’ and creative engineering in the cold drizzle to make your gas grill do what your GOSM (great-outdoors-smoky-mountain propane smoker) does almost effortlessly.

Temperature control was my biggest problem but I had my two newest toys on hand and was able to overcome and adapt. Here’s Toy #1 that I got so I could cold-smoke: A-MAZE-N-SMOKER. I have no connection to either company  but they saved my (pork) butt, for sure. My second toy came about because I totally torched my dual probe thermometer last summer. This ThermoWorks thermometer costs more but gives me more flexibility because the probes are sold separately.

After smokin’ but before eatin’

Spinach Madeline is a holiday tradition in my old stomping grounds and if you’d like to know more about its history, take a look here. I’ve tinkered with it over the years and tasso is the latest addition. It is traditionally made with spinach but I had more people coming to dinner than I had spinach and decided to include the cauliflower. It was so good I think that will be a permanent change, too!

Cauliflower and Spinach Madeline

3 lbs fresh spinach, cooked, squeezed dry and chopped

1 small head of cauliflower, cut in bite-sized pieces and steamed until tender but still crunchy

3 oz butter

4 T flour

1 sm-med onion, finely diced

2 tsp garlic, minced

8 oz pepper jack cheese, grated

8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I used a garlic/paprika jack)

1 T Creole seasoning

1 T celery salt

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 2/3 C milk, heated

8 oz tasso, roughly chopped in 1/2 inch pieces

1 C dried bread crumbs

Place the tasso and bread crumbs in the bowl of a food processor and process until uniformly sized and crumbly. Set aside. Sauté the onion in the butter until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook until it doesn’t smell raw anymore. Add the flour and cook, stirring continuously for 2-3 minutes. While stirring, slowly add the hot milk and cook until smooth and thick. Remove from heat and add half of the cheeses and the remaining seasoning. Add spinach and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Preheat oven to 350°. Place cauliflower in the bottom of a large, greased baking dish. Top with spinach mixture, the remaining cheeses then the tasso bread crumbs. Bake until browned and bubbly, about 30-40 minutes.

Carving the turkey with the dressing and cauliflower-spinach Madeline ready to go.

The original plan for the turkey was to debone it and stuff it with the dressing so I asked for a relatively small one, about 13 pounds. Unfortunately, the turkey didn’t get the memo and the smallest one was 18 pounds so I figured I’d fall back on my standard brined, roasted bird. It’s moist and delicious and, after the andouille smoking difficulties, I was ready for fewer complications. I went with the standard brine from Charcuterie and added 6 crushed garlic cloves, 6 crumbled bay leaves and two tablespoons of four-peppercorn blend.

The sweet potatoes got the simple but delicious treatment also. I fried a few slices of bacon and used the bacon grease, salt, pepper and garlic to roast the sweet potatoes at 400°. Crumble the bacon and set aside. After 15 minutes, stir the potatoes around and add a generous splash of maple syrup. Return to the oven until tender, stir in crumbled bacon and enjoy!

In the beginning there was bacon. Yes, those are two gallon zip bags!

In the end there were bacon-ized sweet potatoes

I seems that I started my story in the middle so, here’s a peek  the beginning of our feast before it was decimated :

The wild duck rilletes that I started in June along with the dried hot (L) and sweet (R) pork sausages from challenge #11

Rob & Craig’s lingonberry thyme cookies were the star of the show! We fought over the leftovers the next day!

Like they say,” All good things must come to an end.

Happy apple pie!

It has been such an honor to participate in The Year in Meat and it has been one of the most amazing learning experiences that I have ever had. Closing this chapter is a little sad but there are still so many miles to travel down this road that this chapter will never truly close. We are talking about building a real, outdoor smoker and a curing chamber is definitely in our future. I still haven’t cold-smoked and Mom and I will be making a seafood terrine during her visit next month. So, goodbyes are not in order here. See you on down the road!