Sweetbreads and Oyster Pie

1 pound sweetbreads (Sweetbreads are an organ meat from the thymus and pancreas.)

2 teaspoons salt, divided

4 tablespoons lemon juice

½ pint oysters

½ teaspoon pepper

1 cup cream

½ cup butter

Puff Pastry (homemade or store bought)

Soak the sweetbreads in cold water for 1 hour.

In a large sauce-pot or stockpot, bring 2 quarts water to boil with 1 teaspoon of salt and lemon juice.

Drain the sweetbreads and use a slotted spoon to place them carefully in the boiling water. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes, then remove to drain on paper towels.

In a separate pot over medium heat, stew the oysters in their liquor just until they curl. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, cream, and butter. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line a pan with the puff pastry. Spoon the oysters onto the pastry and arrange the meat atop the oysters. Pour the oyster sauce over that and top with the other pastry, pinching the sides to seal. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

A Morning at Wagshal’s Market – Washington D.C.

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Originally published in 2013:

I recently interviewed and then “shadowed” the head butcher at an exclusive butcher shop in Washington DC. I didn’t get the job by-the-way. I’m not at all sore about it, just a bit disappointed. Was I ready to make the move away from the South I have grown to love, maybe not but I had to check it out for the opportunity?

I shadowed the head butcher, Pam. She was impressive in her intimate knowledge and skill and as she said to me, “this isn’t a job it is my life.” It was immediately obvious that she deeply cared about what she was doing, her snide comments about the rest of the staff aside I felt there was a lot I could learn from her if given the chance. Which of course you know I didn’t get – but no sour grapes here. After a quick interview of my interest and knowledge of meat cuts, butcher experience, etc. (Ahem that would be none really, but I had bluntly told them I had never been professionally trained. They are the ones that told me they were interested in me due to my passion for the subject. Maybe I should mention writing a good cover letter is really a plus when applying for a job.) she quickly moved on to preparing the morning orders to be picked up.

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I shadowed, which means I observed while I asked a few questions. I’m not sure if these were a nuisance in retrospect, but she appeared more than happy to answer any of my questions. One thing was obvious, she loved to talk, to talk about meat and maybe most of all how good she was as a butcher and salesperson. The first order of business that morning was to trim and tie a beef tenderloin and cut beef short ribs. It was riveting watching her work with such ease and grace. It was obvious she deeply cared about what she was doing as she told me with pride of her 103 day dry aged porterhouse steaks she had for sale. She did sell one while I was there, an inch and a half thick for a little over $80. The price seemed a little stiff to me, but what did I know about 103 day dry aged prime porterhouses. Better be a damn good piece of meat for that price and still needing to be cooked. I wondered how good of a cook the man buying the steak was, did he do the cooking? His wife? Did he have a private chef?

After the man left she turns, “I told you I’d sell all those steaks this morning,” she grins and she had told me so. I’ve never minded someone with a big ego as long as they have the talent to back it up which Pam clearly did. “I could sell ice to an Eskimo or sand to an Arab.” Okay I have to admit that comment was a little over the top, but what the hell she was proud of the sale and why not that is a damn expensive steak. I wonder how much the man is willing to pay for a steak at a fancy steakhouse. I wonder if that day was special or does he not even blink twice about paying that much for a steak.

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“I’m the best butcher you’ll ever know. I won a butcher competition where there were 57 men and myself. I cut down a whole side of pork in twenty-five minutes. The guy next to me only had two trays done.” Ah, Pam I’ll miss your stories even if they are a bit self-absorbed. I highly recommend Wagshal’s Market for your meat procuring, so long as you have the unlimited budget to afford it. I hope to be back someday when I can afford a 103 day aged porterhouse, maybe then I can tempt my vegan relatives to try at least a bite.

Small Batch Sausage Making 101

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Step 1: The Spices

Your spices consists of the ingredients you will be using to flavor your sausage. Toasting and grinding your own spices makes a difference you can taste. Avoid ready made spice kits.

Step 2: Cutting

Cut the meat into uniform cubes that are smaller than the opening of your grinder. Remove blood vessels, tendons, or glands. Place the meat in a bowl large enough to allow room for mixing

Step 3: Marinating

Evenly distribute half of the spices over the meat. Using your hands mix well until evenly coated. Add the second half of spices and mix again. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours to allow the seasonings to permeate the meat.

Step 4: Chilling

Chilling both your meat and parts of the grinder helps to avoid grinding issues. After cutting and marinating the meat, be sure to refrigerate it for at least 2 hours so it is thoroughly chilled.

Step 5: Grinding

Begin by assembling the grinder following manufacturers instructions. You will need a wide bowl or container that fits easily under the grinder to catch the ground meat. Feed the meat into the tube, one piece at a time. Let the machine do the work rather than pushing too much meat through the grinder at once.

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Step 6: Mixing

Seasoned, ground sausage meat should be mixed thoroughly by hand for 1 to 2 minutes. This action ensures that the seasonings are evenly distributed throughout.

Step 7: Tasting

Scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the well-mixed farce and shape into a small, flat patty. Cook the patty in a small pan over medium heat. Evaluate the taste and texture. If too dry add a small amount of ground fat. If the seasoning Is too weak, add more salt or spices. If too highly seasoned, add a small amount of unseasoned ground meat and ground fat. It is much easier to add salt and spices than it is to lessen their intensity.

Step 8: Stuffing (Optional)

Stuffing takes practice. Don’t be discouraged your first few batches . They will still taste great. Natural casings are the processed lamb, pork, and beef intestines used for casing sausage and salami. Before they can be used, they must be rinsed thoroughly in several changes of cold water. Once rinsed, they can be stored in water in the refrigerator for up to about 5 days.

Remove a length of soaked casing from the water.

Turn the crank so that the lid presses gently onto the top of the meat, forcing just ½ inch (12 mm) of the meat out through the nozzle. This helps to eliminate air pockets

Pull the end of the casing over the edge of the nozzle, then knot the end of the casing.

Place your thumb and forefinger around the end of the nozzle to regulate the movement of the casing.

Crank the handle slowly to press the sausage meat into the casing. Release more casing off the nozzle as the sausage flows through the tube.

If an air bubble forms, prick the sausage casing.

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Basic Sausage Recipes:

Poultry Or Rabbit

3¾ pounds (1.7 kg) boneless, skinless poultry or rabbit

+ 1¼ pound (567 g) pork back fat

+ 2 tablespoons (1.2 ounces/34 g) fine sea salt

Lamb

3 pounds (1.4 kg) boneless lamb shoulder

+ 2 pounds (900 g) lean boneless lamb foreshank or hind shank

+ 2 tablespoons (1.2 ounces/34 g) sea salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

______ or

2½ pounds (1.2 kg) boneless lamb shoulder

+ 2½ pounds (1.2 kg) boneless pork picnic

+ 2 tablespoons (1.2 ounces/34 g) sea salt

Pork

4½ pounds (2 kg) boneless pork picnic

+ 8 ounces (225 g) pork back fat

______ or

5 pounds (2.3 kg) boneless pork Boston butt

+ 2 tablespoons (1.2 ounces/34 g) fine sea salt

Beef

5 pounds (2.3 kg) untrimmed beef chuck or brisket

+ 2 tablespoons (1.2 ounces/34 g) sea salt

____ or

3 pounds (1.4 kg) untrimmed beef such as chuck or brisket

+ 2 pounds (900 g) pork Boston butt

+ 2 tablespoons (1.2 ounces/34 g) sea salt

Breakfast Sausage And Seasoning

Basic Sausage Recipe:

Pork

Spices:

1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cayenne

⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 allspice berry, ground

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Grind:

Medium

Garnish:

½ cup (30 g) finely chopped fresh sage

Casing:

Lamb

Farmer’s Sausage And Seasoning

Basic Sausage Recipe:

Pork

Spices:

1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon toasted and ground aniseeds

1 teaspoon ground cayenne

Grind:

Medium

Garnish:

1½ cups (360 ml) dry red wine reduced to ½ cup (120 ml)

2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Casing:

Pork

Fennel Sausage And Seasoning

Basic Sausage Recipe:

Pork

Spices:

2 tablespoons toasted and ground fennel seeds

1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons ground dried oregano

4 teaspoons minced garlic

Grind:

Medium

Garnish:

½ cup (30 g) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons whole fennel seeds, toasted

1 tablespoon chile flakes

¼ cup (60 ml) dry white wine

Casing:

Lamb

Spicy Italian Sausage And Seasoning

Basic Sausage Recipe:

Pork

Spices:

3 tablespoons toasted and ground fennel seeds

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

4 teaspoons ground chile flakes

1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Grind:

Medium

Garnish:

2 tablespoons dry white wine

Casing:

Pork

Sweet Italian Sausage And Seasoning

Basic Sausage Recipe:

Pork

Spices:

3 tablespoons toasted and ground fennel seeds

1½ teaspoons toasted and ground aniseeds

3 allspice berries, ground

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon ground dried oregano

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Grind:

Medium

Garnish:

½ cup (30 g) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

¼ cup (60 ml) dry white wine

Casing:

Pork

Stingray Oyster

Scientific Name: Crassostrea Virginica

Stingrays are so named for the bay oyster’s chief predator.

The chocolate colored shell is definitely slurp friendly. A simple seagrass salt scent drifts over the liquor.

This classic Chesapeake Bay oyster has decidedly plump and sweet meat with a solid brininess. The finish is slightly metallic that floats on the taste buds.

Try with hot sauce and a Pilsner, perhaps Siracha sauce.

Murder Point Oyster

Scientific Name: Crassostrea Virginica

Another bright addition to the Gulf oyster scene, Murder Point oysters have a clean shell with hints of purple and green.

An aroma with notes of sea grass and earth. The golden-cast meat is wonderful, and it is tucked neatly around the shell.

A sip of the crisp liquor reveals a salted butter note while the oyster meat reveals a creamy, buttery  savoriness. The finish accentuates it with touches of metallic flavor and cream.

Pair it with a brown ale.

Louisiana Oyster

Scientific Name: Crassostrea Virginica

The heaviness  of the shell is immediately noticeable. The light, sweet aroma wafts over a sparkling liquor. The meat floats inside the shell. The liquor reveals a balance of brine and sweetness, while the bite is full-bodied.

Layers of creamed spinach flavor capture the essence of the Gulf. The savory flavor remains for a nice stay before gently fading with hints of sweetness and the salts.

Oyster afficinados savor them raw and served on ice, but they can also be enjoyed chargrilled, fried, Rockerfellered, or part of a stew or gumbo.

Little Bitches Oyster

Scientific Name: Crassostrea Virginica

Little Bitches have the aroma of a fresh, wet ocean mist with a hint of florals. Plump meat fills the shell, surrounded by plenty of liquor.

The flavor starts off  mild, while the body is lean with a nice bite. Flavorful hints of a soft linger of kale and seagrass, accompany the finish.

Take note of the flowing shells, which carry a weather-beaten and tidal-grooved look characteristic of the Chesapeake bay where they’re farmed.

Pair it with a margarita and enjoy with a little tequila and lime.

Ace Blade Oyster

Scientific Name: Crassostrea Virginica

The scent reminds one of a salty morning breeze. The slender shell is a deep and houses a lean, golden meat bathed in liquor. Take a sip of the zing of salts. The meat is light and makes for very smooth eating with hints of green pepper. A crisp, clean finish remains for the perfect amount of time.

The ACE Basin, in the South Carolina Lowcountry, spans approximately 350,000 acres and is one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the Atlantic Coast.

Try with a simple mignonette.

Shellfish Profile: Oysters

Description: Oysters are saltwater bivalve mollusks. Because oysters filter so much seawater, they are high in minerals. The risk in eating wild oysters is diminishing thanks to strict guidelines and monitoring of oyster beds. Wild oysters are at their best in the winter, with the main season lasting from late September to May. Oysters spawn in summer months; though edible, they tend to be flabby and insipid, the reason they are traditionally only eaten in months with names containing an R. Farm-raised oysters can be eaten year-round.

Shellfish Characteristics: American oysters have a moderately deep, elongated, rough-textured shell that is grayish white to grayish brown. The tender meat is salty with a meaty texture.

How to choose: Choose oysters without broken shells that are tightly closed. Tap on the shell. If it closes, the animal is alive. A dead oyster will have an unpleasant sulfur smell. Shucked oysters should be smooth and plump and covered in clear, grayish liquid with a briny scent.

Common flavor combinations: Bay leaf, black pepper, butter, cream, Dijon mustard, fennel, hot red pepper, lemon, Pernod, sesame, shallot, soy sauce, spinach, thyme, white wine.