52 Foods Week Fifty One: Guinea Fowl

Back in January, I shared the delicious chicken we got from Cache Creek Meat Company. Since then I’ve frequently stopped by their table for both simple and exotic animals, only to be turned away because they were sold out. Seeking to remedy this before the year ended, I leapt out of bed and went straight to the Farmers’ Market, a few weeks ago, getting there in time to have my pick of beasts. As luck would have it, they were flush with species, and I had my choice of chicken, duck, guinea fowl, and rabbit. Having just stocked the freezer with our CSA share, I could not bring home every animal that I would have enjoyed. I went with the one option I’d never had before: the guinea fowl.

A small, sartorially varied beast, the guinea fowl has a nice balance of dark and light meat, with a slim breast and long legs. Mine—the largest available—was nearly two pounds of bird. I consulted the Silver Spoon for ideas, and settled on a plan involving bacon, herbs, and a pot full of persimmons, potatoes, and onions.

Fowl with Stuffings

I began by cutting in half a few slices of Llano Seco’s wonderfully thick cut bacon. I placed two pieces in the bird’s cavity, along with sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Then I draped a few more pieces of bacon over the guinea fowl’s breast.

Gird with Bacon

I pinned the bacon with some skewers, then trimmed the ends to allow for easy browning of the bird.

Trim Skewers

I brushed our large Le Creuset with oil and did my best to brown the bird allover. Meanwhile, I chopped the onions, persimmons, and potatoes that would cook with it.

Browning the Bird

Once the bird was as well browned as I could manage in the deep pot, I threw in the onions and cooked them until they were translucent.

Sautéing Onions

I returned the bird to the pot, and surrounded it with the onions, persimmons, and potatoes. I’ve seriously embraced persimmons this year, enjoying them both raw and roasted. I particularly enjoy them cooked along with meat in a large pot, with or without potatoes.

Bird in Pot with Onions, Persimmons, and Potatoes

I covered the pot, and put it in the oven at 325°F. After 40 minutes, I removed the bacon from the sides of the bird and the cavity, then left it to cook longer with the lid off. At this point, the bird was still quite pale, but cooking with the lid removed would allow it to darken and let the skin crisp up a little.

After 45 Minutes, Remove Bacon

I sliced the bacon into lardons, and finished them in a pan on the stovetop. After another 15 minutes, the guinea fowl was done, and I removed it from the oven and the pot and let it rest.

Cook Another 15 for Color

I tossed the lardons into the pot with the vegetables, stirred them together, and scooped them into a serving bowl with a slotted spoon. Before disposing of the liquid in the pot, I drizzled a little back on top of the vegetables. Then I carved up the guinea fowl.

Carved Bird and Vegetables

The guinea fowl was very moist and tender. While the light meat was about the color I expected, the legs were impressively dark, even a little ruddy. They were also a little sinewy, but quite tasty, and the breast was succulent, needing just a little salt and carrying a bit of flavor from the bacon. The roast potatoes and persimmons were a good complement—a wonderful mix of sweetness from the fruit and saltiness from the bacon. This was a fun bird to buy and cook.

Guinea Fowl for Serving

All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Thirty Seven: Mission Figs

I’ve mentioned that apricots are one of my favorite fruits, and I underscored that with two additional apricot appearances. In every instance, I combined the apricots with some kind of pork. It’s occurred to me that this trait—call it porcine compatibility—maybe the best measure of my appreciation for a given fruit. This week, to put perhaps too fine a point on it, I’ve chosen another of my all time favorite fruits, Mission Figs, and, lo and behold, combined them with bacon.

The Farmers’ Market is rife with figs right now, a wonderful occurrence but one that can make for tough decision making. I opted for a basket of super ripe figs from Cadena Farm in Esparto, CA.

Ramón Cadena at the Davis Farmers' Market

While at the market, I also picked up three pounds of Bledsoe’s double smoked bacon and a package of lavash bread from East and West Gourmet Afghan Food—also known here as “the Bolani guys”—a great purveyor of Middle Eastern breads and sauces. This acquisition gave me the idea to make a lavash sandwich with bacon, figs and goat cheese. I invited a friend over and we got to work.

I began by cooking seven strips of the bacon in a skillet.

Bledsoe Bacon

While the bacon cooked, we sliced the entire basket of figs into thick slices.

Sliced Figs

Then we laid out the lavash and spread it with Laura Chenel Chèvre.

Lavash Covered in Goat Cheese

I laid out some figs on one end of the lavash, then folded that piece over and arranged the bacon in two clusters with enough space between them to fold one section over onto the next.

Another Layer of Figs

We laid more figs on top of half the bacon, then folded the lavash over until it was a roll similarly in size to a large burrito.

Folded Over

We warmed it for a few minutes in the oven, then sliced and served it.

Sliced Bacon, Fig and Goat Cheese Lavash Sandwich

Figs and bacon are one of the most natural combinations I can think of. The mild sweetness of the figs are a perfect compliment to the smokiness of the bacon. Adding the creamy chèvre to the equation smooths everything out and without overpowering. I think you could really enjoy this combination anyway you wanted, rolled in lavash is just one finger friendly solution.

One note for the future: I would warm the lavash before working with it so that it’s softer and less prone to breaking.

All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Thirty Four: Lamb Liver

A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to volunteer at Heritage Fire, a huge meat event held in St. Helena, CA. Put on by the folks who created Cochon 555, Heritage Fire had 25 chefs, 10 butchers and at least 2 dozen wineries. Someone told me they had an actual ton of meat, and while I can’t confirm that, with 6 pigs, 20 rabbits, a few lambs and goats and a bunch of chickens, it’s a figure I would entirely buy.

In addition to countless delicious meat preparations, the day was filled with butchering demos. At the last one, a lamb, I was given the animal’s liver—nearly two pounds of deep burgundy meat—to take home. My lamb was raised by Long Meadow Ranch and Long Meadow’s own Avia Hawksworth handed me the liver. Having never cooked lamb liver before, I sought her advice, as well as Dave the Butcher’s. The preferred preparation, I was told, was liver and onions. Searching for a recipe the next day, I discovered an Albanian preparation that used lots of paprika, it sounded like just the ticket.

I began by mixing two parts flour with one part smoked paprika.

Flour and Smoked Paprika

Next I sliced two Walla Walla Sweets and arranged them on a platter. Walla Wallas are delicious, mild onions that don’t require much heat to bring out their sweetness. The heat from the cooked liver would be plenty to soften them.

Sliced Onions

In my recipe search, I came across a few preparations that called for bacon, and while none of those recipes won out overall, the bacon seed was planted. Fortunately, I had a couple of slices that I needed to use, so I sliced them up and threw them in the pan.
Niman Ranch Bacon

While the bacon cooked, I sliced the liver into thick strips.

Sliced Liver

Then I covered the liver slices in the flour and paprika mixture.

Dredged in Flour and Paprika

When the bacon was done, I pulled it from the pan, then used the bacon grease to cook the liver.

Frying Bacon

Liver cooks very quickly—a few minutes a slice. As each piece came out of the pan, I laid it on top of the onions.

Sautéed Liver over Onions

After cooking the liver, I threw a little garlic and more paprika in the pan, and deglazed it with some balsamic vinegar. I poured this on top of the liver and onions, then served it with rice.

Covered in Pan Juices

To be perfectly honest, enjoyment of this dish really hinges on one’s enjoyment of liver. Lamb liver is pretty hefty, and one of my guests, who was not a big liver fan, bravely soldiered through. I found that the key to balancing the flavor was to mash a bit of liver onto a bacon piece and some onions, then scoop it onto a forkful of rice. We had a strong Rauchbier alongside it, and the liver held its own against the super smokey beer.

There were lots of leftovers, and I also found that it was awesome spread in a sandwich with mustard, bleu cheese and pickles. Lamb liver may be an acquired taste, but if you’re a liver fan you owe it to yourself to try it out. Hell, a butcher might even give it to you free.

All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Twenty One: Bacon

Last Saturday, I celebrated my birthday with an epic dance party as envisioned by my 12 year old self. It came off like Young M.C., with tons of early 90s R&B, folks dressed in fantastic neons, silks and bike shorts and above all lots and lots of dancing. This post isn’t really about my birthday, beyond introducing the provenance of this week’s bacon. An earlier Fifty Two Foods post covered a side dish we brought to a pork dinner some friends hosted. Those same friends brought me a truly thoughtful birthday gift of seriously gorgeous, thick cut bacon from the same hog as that glorious dinner.

Birthday Bacon

James Villas, a most laudable food writer, and author of The Bacon Cookbook, writes that “bacon is one of the oldest meats in history,” and that rich history is evidenced in the myriad dishes that use bacon to add flavor and richness. I’ve already used bacon or its cousin in two posts, and I expect it will make a few more cameos before the year is through. However, to truly do a bacon post justice—and, moreover, to do justice to this very special bacon—I wanted to prepare a meal where bacon stands front and center. No other dish succeeds at this like the humble BLT.

BLTs are so ubiquitous, it is easy to overlook the care that is needed to make an excellent version of the sandwich. The lettuce and tomato must both be fresher and more flavorful than in most sandwiches, because they are so central to the overall flavor. The bacon, meanwhile, must be neither so crisp that it makes the sandwich dry nor so soft that it is chewy. My preference is for a few slices of thick cut bacon, that have cooked slowly, achieving an outward crispness while maintaining a slight toothsomeness. The bread should be lightly grilled, with just enough mayo to coat each slice. When these elements all come together correctly, they create a wonderful dance: warm and cool, salty and juicy, tender and crisp.

For our BLTs, we began with five impressively thick slices of bacon, cooked slowly on a Lodge griddle.

Bacon on the Griddle

I flipped the bacon periodically and cooked it over medium heat for 30 minutes, shifting the slices if one was taking on color too quickly. When they were finished, they had lost about 30% of their size, and had taken on an even dark brown color. I haven’t had a chance to ask how the bacon was smoked, but I’m pretty certain maple was involved, as they had a very nice sweet aroma.

Almost Done

For the tomatoes, we selected two smallish red ones of an unspecified heirloom variety. I sliced them fairly thinly.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Finally, we used some very fresh green leaf lettuce from the Farmers’ Market.

Fresh Green Leaf Lettuce

For bread, I took the recommendation of the OctoberFeast Bakery vendor, and chose their excellent Pretzel Bread. I sliced the bread on the diagonal for extra long slices.

Sliced Pretzel Bread

In a fit of decadence, we dipped the outside of each slice in the bacon grease, then grilled them for a few minutes in a panini press. This left the outsides of each piece slightly crispy, while the insides were warm and soft.

Grilled Bread

We added mayo to each slice, then added the bacon.

Apply Bacon

The lettuce came next, followed by the tomatoes.

Apply Tomato

We stuck a skewer through each half and sliced the sandwiches down the center. Then enjoyed.

Up Close and Personal

This was easily one of the best BLTs I’ve ever had. The bacon was simply outstanding—thick and dense with smoke and salt. It offset the fresh, light flavor of the lettuce and tomato perfectly. The bread was also very well matched, and grilling with the bacon grease just amped up the B-factor in a fantastic fashion. My only regret is that there isn’t more bacon.

Enjoy all the photos here.

52 Foods Week Twelve: Collard Greens

A few weeks ago, Capay Organic was blowing out collard greens for a dollar a bunch, because “no one cooks collard greens.” While I almost always get collard greens when I eat at Southern restaurants, I had never considered cooking them myself. Committed to being one person who does cook collard greens, I brought a bunch home and attempted to cook them Southern style, guided by little more than memory and some suggestions offered by the admittedly vegetarian woman working the Capay Organic table. That Sunday night, we made some cornmeal crusted rock cod and the collard greens. While they both turned out well, both dishes were first attempts, and I identified several things I wanted to do differently. We did a second run of the fish the next night, but the collard greens would wait a couple weeks.

Going into this, I really only knew two things about making collard greens: they should be a bit vinegary and you have to cook the hell out of them. My greens dealer had mentioned olive oil and garlic, which made plenty good sense. She also suggested balsamic vinegar and honey. The vinegar I was down with, but the honey didn’t feel like a direction I wanted to go. I opted for some dry sherry which would add a touch of sweetness and balance the vinegar while keeping things acidic. To add a bit of spice, I used a teaspoon each of ground mustard and coriander.

Equal Parts Sherry and Balsamic Vinegar

After the first attempt, Jen immediately hit upon the key ingredient that was missing—and, frankly, I was a bit embarrassed to have missed it—pork. I had somehow forgotten that collard greens are always listed in the not vegetarian section of our favorite Southern restaurant’s menu. For our second round, we were sure to correct this omission.

Browsing the Farmers’ Market after picking up two bunches of collard greens, we were pleased to learn of Bledsoe Meats’ new double-smoked slab bacon. John Bledsoe, the friendly and enthusiastic owner of Bledsoe Meats assured us we’d enjoy it (though he later scolded me for using slab bacon and not jowl bacon in my collard greens), and proudly described the 18 hours of smoking it undergoes.

Slab Bacon

I sliced off a couple 1/2″ thick slices of the bacon, then cut those into cubes for a quarter pound of deliciously smoked lardons. Rather than olive oil, I sautéed the lardons until they were about half cooked, then removed them to another pan to finish. I added chopped garlic to the bacon fat, then the rough chopped collard greens, sherry, balsamic vinegar, mustard and coriander. After stirring the greens around for a couple minutes, I added the now crispy lardons, mixed everything together, and covered to cook for an hour.

Add Lardons

While I can’t claim to have made true Southern collard greens, I was quite pleased with the way they came out. The greens were vinegary and toothsome while not being tough, and the bacon (even if it wasn’t jowl) added a smokiness and heartiness that really rounded out the dish.

Michael’s Northern California Style Collard Greens:

2 bunches collard greens
1/4 lb. smoked slab bacon cut into 1/2″ cubes
3 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp. ground mustard
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

In a large skilled or braising pan, sauté bacon until half cooked. Transfer bacon to another pan to finish cooking and add garlic to pan with bacon fat. Sauté garlic until soft, then add chopped collard greens, mustard and coriander. Toss in pan to mix and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add sherry, vinegar and cooked bacon. Mix and cover. Cook 1 hour. Add salt to taste.

Finished Collard Greens

More photos of the entire process here.