Monday, January 26, 2009

Romancing the Swine III: Pancetta

As kitchen projects go, curing pork products, while time-consuming, is easy and fun. This time around, I tried my hand at pancetta, a dry-cured preparation of pork belly which is basically an un-smoked Italian version of bacon. Sauteed pancetta makes for a great addition to salads and soups, and can be used as a substitiute for guanciale in Sugo All'amatriciana. Here's how it's done:

First, get your hands on a pork belly. I used a half belly, which worked out to a little over five pounds:

Next, prepare your dry-cure ingredients:

The dry cure is basically salt, pepper, sugar, herbs and spices. In this case, because the pancetta is dried at room temperature, pink salt is required as well, to ward off botulism. I'm not talking about the pink sea salt that comes from Hawaii here, by the way. This pink salt is sodium nitrite, and it's not naturally pink, but rather it's dyed to keep folks from mixing it up with regular salt. The reason for that is that sodium nitrite is not something you want to consume a lot of. It's been found to be carcinogenic in large amounts, and has been linked to lung disease as well. But for the occasional curing project, I'm willing to employ it, as botulism is really not to be messed around with. If you don't want to use the pink salt, you can always rig up a system for drying the belly in the fridge (see my guanciale post). If you do go with the pink salt, but can't find it in your immediate area, you can order it online from Butcher & Packer. I used the dry-cure recipe, pink salt and all, from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's book Charcuterie, which is an excellent reference. However, if the economy is doing you in and you can't afford bookstore purchases at the moment, the recipe can be found here.

Rub the belly with the dry cure on both sides and place it into a two gallon Ziploc bag (if you can find them, otherwise Glad oven bags work as well):

Put this into the refrigerator for one to two weeks, turning it over every other day to evenly distribute the cure. Once the belly is relatively firm to the touch, wash off the cure under cold water and dry it completely. Then coat the meat side with cracked pepper, roll it along its length fat side out and tie it up with butcher's twine:

Now you're ready to hang it at room temperature and let it dry. As I live in a funky old house with microbes and assorted vermin running about (even when we're doing our best to keep the place clean), I built a box out of 1X1s and masonite, covered it with hardware cloth and cheesecloth, hung the pancetta inside of that, and placed the whole thing in the pantry. I propped it up on bricks added a bowl of boiling water underneath it every couple of days to keep the humidity up. After three weeks, I ended up with what you see up at the top of the post. A small amount of white mold had begun to grow at the ends, which I trimmed away (white mold is all right, black mold is definitely bad). And that was pretty much that. Like I said, time-consuming but easy. Give it a shot if you're so inclined!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Goat on a Cow!

A couple friends of mine from way back in my Crystal Lake days just jogged my memory about a story I heard on Radio Lab the summer before last, which was absolutely mesmerizing. Check it out!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Quasi at the Doug Fir

I headed off this evening (last night, as you read this) to see Quasi at the Doug Fir. Of course, there were a couple of opening acts to be dealt with. First up were The Golden Bears:

I knew next to nothing about this band, and they turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. The Golden Bears are the husband and wife team of Julianna Bright (drums and vocals) and Seth Lorinczi (guitar). Tonight they brought along a bass player and a second guitarist, who rounded out their sound quite nicely. Julianna's vocals remind me a bit of Margo Timmins, but her stage presence is somewhat more dynamic; think Tori Amos meets Baby Dee. Next up was Eat Skull:

I came to this show wanting to give these guys a second chance. Really. I first saw them about a month ago, when they opened for the Dirtbombs at Berbati's. I caught the last few songs of their set, and I wasn't very impressed. But I figured, a few songs are a few songs, and if I ever see them again, I should keep an open mind. Which I did tonight, and it did not pay off. Eat Skull combine the most ridiculous and sophomoric elements of '60s garage rock, '70s punk rock and '80s hairspray rock into one big ill-conceived mess. You can't help but get the idea that they're trying to lampoon something, but they haven't quite figured out what that is. Which would be bad enough on its own, but ultimately somebody's going to have to listen to it. Which we did tonight at the Fir, and it was still pretty awful. I don't care if their record did get an 8.3 from Pitchfork (we've all seen the "Hambone" footage, we know how easy it is to get an 8.3 from Pitchfork...); for my money, the true measure of a band is what they can pull off in front of a crowd, and in this regard, Eat Skull really weren't doing it for me tonight. Fortunately, they were followed by a bunch who know what they're doing... Quasi:

Quasi has become something of a Portland institution over the years, and are a band of multiple pedigrees: They got their start in 1993 as a collaboration between singer/guitarist/keyboardist Sam Coomes, who'd put in time on the bass with Portland grunge band Heatmiser, and drummer/vocalist Janet Weiss, who would go on to hit the skins for Sleater-Kinney. Interestingly enough, they formed the band not long after their divorce. They continued as a duo for years until recruiting bassist Joanna Bolme in 2006, who was then - and still is - playing bass for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (Weiss, as it happens, is the Jicks' current drummer), thereby solidifying their current line-up as a trio. An incestuous relationship to be sure, but one that works. Quasi just rocked us stupid tonight at the Fir. They started their set with "Alice the Goon" and continued with a few more piano-oriented numbers, but eventually Sam stepped away from the keys and threw on his SG. And this is where Quasi truly shine in a live setting: as a guitar-driven power trio. They kept on in this vein for the bulk of the set, before getting back into the piano material with a blistering version of "Death Culture Blues" and finishing out their set as they'd begun. Quasi put on a fantastic show, and were a stark contrast to the band they followed; as always, they more than measured up to their reputation.

Oh, and I gotta give a shout out to Michael: You, my man, are the best bartender in all of Multnomah county!