Sunday, November 27, 2016

Salmon Curry Wontons

A couple months ago I made some curried salmon burgers that were pretty good but as I ate them I could help but thinking how good that salmon mixture would be stuffed inside a crunchy fried shell. At first I contemplated making wonton tacos and cooking the salmon separately and stuffing the tacos with that and some pickled daikon. My fear was that the salmon would then be crumbly and maybe come off with an off putting texture.

I had also thought about using the salmon in a fried spring roll but was worried that the salmon curry mixture would be to much for a whole spring roll. I settled in on the idea of using wontons and making little parcels with the curried salmon filling.

This was clearly the right choice. I had gone on Youtube and found a video of a lady demonstrating the different techniques for folding wontons and tried a couple of them out. the envelope style seemed to  work the best and the crispy yet chewy texture of the wontons was exactly what I was hoping for and worked perfectly with the salmon curry. Served with a little hot mustard and some sweet and sour sauce they made a great appetizer.

Thai Curry Salmon Envelopes

1 package of store bought square wonton wrappers

1 lb. boneless, skinless salmon fillet, roughly chopped
14 cup Thai red curry paste
2 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
3 tbsp. roughly chopped roasted, salted peanuts
2 tsp. Kosher salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp. fish sauce
zest of 1 lime plus 1tsp. of lime juice

Mix the ingredients together except the wonton wrappers. when you are ready to stuff your wontons watch this quick tutorial on how to do it and pick your favorite shape. Fry the wontons in 350 degrees oil until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Butchering a Pig

I don't want this to come out the wrong way, but I have killed a lot of animals in my life. So I guess with that said it should come as no surprise that I have butchered a lot of animals as well. There is something about the butchering process no matter what it is that gives me a sense of fulfillment. Whether it is breaking down chickens that I bought or butchering a deer I just shot. Having that kind of control over your food is really a powerful feeling.

I'm a very lucky guy in that I kill most of my own meat and the meat I don't hunt has been coming from the store. I have been wanting to get rid of all store bought meats and I took another step closer to that. This year I wanted to include chickens and pork in the freezer. A friend of mine Travis Vail raises chickens and I started buying whole fryers from him. His chickens are beautiful and have a great flavor that I can only compare to squirrel. They were sweet and almost had that same nutty quality to them. Unlike chickens you buy at the grocery store they actually had flavor of there own. All of my red meat comes from Deer which just left me wanting to get some pork. in the past my wife has bought pork from Aldi or Costco. I really wanted to get away from that.

Fortunately for me I have another friend, Rick Edwards who raised some pigs this year. He set one aside for me and originally I was going to have it butchered at one of the local shops but decided instead to do it myself. I have had a lot of experience cutting up pigs but have never actually done the whole process on a pig. I usually get a half a hog or a quarter and then cut it up. Rick and I picked a morning and then recruited a buddy of ours Jeremy Vanlandinham to help. We separated my pig and got to work. I will save you the gory details of putting the pig down but lets just say it didn't go as smoothly as I was hoping it would. Something else did go the way I thought it would either. I have killed and butchered a number of ducks and chickens in the past and while I am always very grateful to be able to do it I have never really had an emotional response to killing them. This pig for whatever reason was different. Before I shot the pig my adrenaline kicked in and when the process didn't go as planned I felt sick to my stomach.

It was very strange I had the same feeling that I had when I wounded a deer a few years back and it didn't die right away. I didn't expect that and it took a few minutes to get over. Once the pig went down and we were able to bleed it out everything was back on track. I had decided before I started that I wasn't going to try anything fancy with this pig I was just going to break it down into simple easily recognizable pieces that my wife would be able to use. One of her big complaints when I butcher an animal is that I always label the meat for what I want to do with it. This time I went with straight forward ground pork, pork chops, tenderloins, hams and butts. I will brine the hams myself and cure the bacon myself as well.

It was really amazing but when I decided to do it this way t was remarkably easier. Boneless chops came right off and the belly's were perfect. We started with about a 200 pound pig and I would say that we ended up with around a 100 pounds of meat. So far we have had some pork chops and last weekend I smoked a pork butt and shredded it for sandwiches. I don't know if it is the way Rick raised the pigs or the way we butchered them or maybe it was just our effort we put into it but this was easily the best tasting pig I have ever had. I know its not always possible for everyone to do this themselves but if you ever get the opportunity you should absolutely take it. It is one of the most satisfying and rewarding things you can do.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Smoked Rabbit Dzik

One of My Co-workers Bob Kroontje has been raising rabbits and a while back gave me a couple. They were enormous rabbits, probably twice the size of any of the smaller wild rabbits I have gotten. As soon as I get them I started planning out what I wanted to do with them and I knew at least one of them was going to get smoked. I have never smoked a rabbit before and to be honest am still pretty new to smoking as a whole. I new that I was going to want to brine the rabbit prior to smoking it and I didn't want the rabbit to dry out so I was going  to drape it with bacon as I smoked it. Other than that I really didn't know what to expect.

For my brine I really wasn't sure what to put into it. I didn't want to over power the flavor of the rabbit and the smoke with other flavors so I kept it pretty simple. Water, bay leaves, garlic, lemon, salt and sorghum and that was it. I let the rabbit brine for 48 hours and then smoked it over apple wood. When I pulled the rabbit out it looked beautiful and the meat easily shredded off the bone. I really could have eaten the whole thing right there but I wanted to try something else. A while back I had made Buffalo Heart Dzik, The sour orange marinade that is added to the Dzik seemed like a good fit with the smokiness of the rabbit.

The sweet, sour, smokey, and spice were a perfect combo and these were some of the best tacos I have ever had.

Smoked Rabbit

Half gallon of water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sorghum
1 head of garlic, cut in half
1 lemon cut in half
3 bay leaves

Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a large pot and stir till the salt dissolves. Let the brine cool to room temperature before placing the rabbit in the brine. Brine the rabbit for 48 hours.

Remove the rabbit from the brine and dry completely. Place in a pan and drape a few slices of bacon over the rabbit. Heat your smoke to 225 degrees and add the apple wood chips. cook for about 4 hours or until the meat easily shreds off the bone.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Making the Coot Edible

Note: This is a post I did a few years ago about making coots edible I am reposting it here because I recently shot a limit of coots and will be making more coot sausage.

I have been duck hunting for almost 35 years, and in that time I have shot a lot of ducks. I have also eaten a lot of ducks. Everybody has a favorite kind of duck to eat; mine is the wood duck. To me, there is nothing tastier than a nice, fat wood duck. Wood Ducks have a tendency to eat acorns and it gives their meat a sweeter milder flavor.  Most people prefer to eat the mallard because they are a milder flavored duck as well, and many people claim that the canvasback is the finest duck to eat. As far as eating ducks go these three are probably the most revered because of their milder flavor. 

Wild ducks are much more powerful than domestic ducks and many people who claim to love duck don’t enjoy wild ducks. Most of this has to do with what they eat. Although many ducks do like to eat wild rice and other water plants they also eat small fish and bugs which can give them a powerful livery flavor. If you have never eaten wild duck and domestic duck side my side the difference in flavor is huge. There are many ducks that people say are inedible, like the spoon bill and the merganser, mostly because  they are fish eating ducks but even those are more revered than the lowly coot.

The coot is a small swamp bird that is actually more closely related to sand hill cranes than it is to ducks. Coots are all over the US and can be found almost anywhere there are ducks. It is not uncommon to see entire flocks of coots swimming all around your decoys and boat while you’re out duck hunting. Most people consider coots annoying because when they are around you they are always in your decoys and can make a lot of noise and almost everyone who knows what a coot is will tell you they taste terrible so there is no point in shooting them. But I contend that the majority of the people who say that coots taste bad have never even tried one – they are simply basing their negative opinion on the coot’s reputation.

I am guilty of anti-coot prejudice myself; I had never eaten a coot and only knew that they supposedly tasted terrible because my grandfather told me so. Every few years, I would hear from somebody that they tried coot and it tasted like muck; occasionally, I would hear that coots aren’t bad, you just have to drench them in Italian dressing and then grill them. I had remained skeptical until this October when I attended a sausage making class put on by Hank Shaw, the author of a new cookbook called Duck Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild.  During the class, Hank talked about fat and how most of the bad flavor you get when eating wild game comes from their fat. He specifically mentioned coots and stated that if you trim away all the fat on a coot, you will get the real flavor of the bird. This got me thinking about all the coots I had seen out duck hunting and if it would be worth my time to try to get some coots to cook.

I called my duck hunting guru Eric Passe down in Wabasha, and he told me the swamp was full of coots – not many ducks, but plenty of coots – so I set up a day when I would be able to head down to go coot hunting. My brother-in-law Matt Murphy came along for the day. Matt had never duck hunted before and had asked me if he could come along the next time I went out; I figured if he wanted to get some shooting practice in, coot hunting might be a good start for him.

The three of us hit the swamp around 5:30 in the morning and got set up in an area we thought might hold some duck as well. It was an extremely foggy morning and the fog didn’t clear out until about nine. We saw a few ducks flying around, but nothing came into gun range. We had one widgeon circle around several times, and when it got close enough to take a shot Eric told Matt to take it. Unfortunately for Matt, his gun jammed and Eric ended up shooting that duck. Eric’s dog Maverick went out to retrieve the duck and ended up getting lost. We had to go out looking for him and didn’t find him until another group of hunters brought him back to us; Maverick had the duck he just got turned around in the swamp. After a pleasant encounter with a DNR conservation officer, we decided it was time to pack it in for the day. But before we left, we decided to head over to the other side of the lake and see if we could shoot a few coots.

The wild rice on the lake was very thick this year and provided great cover for the coots to hang out in, so we parked the boat on the edge of the rice and waited for the coots to come by. When they did there must have been a couple hundred of them, and once the shooting began they just kept coming. In the end we shot 21 coots and one widgeon for the day and then the real work began. I had to pick and clean all those birds.

Coots aren’t very big, and there isn’t a whole lot of meat on them. The breasts only weigh about 2 ounces a piece, and the legs barely have enough meat on them to scrape off. My intentions from the get-go were to get enough meat to turn the coots into sausage. After cleaning them and trimming all the fat off the birds I had about 4 pounds of meat. I was eager to try the meat to see what it tasted like, so I took a couple of breasts and seasoned them with salt and pepper and sautéed them in a little butter for a couple minutes on each side. The breasts were medium rare with just enough pink in the middle to keep them moist, and Matt and I dove in. I was shocked; I expected the coot meat to have a powerful flavor and was surprised at how mild it actually was. It was very pleasant, with a very clean taste and only a slight livery flavor at the end. As a comparison, I cooked the widgeon the exact same way; the widgeon had almost no livery flavor and really tasted like a nice piece of beef. I couldn’t wait to make the coot sausage and see how it would turn out.

Once I got home, my dilemma was figuring out what kind of sausage to make. I wanted something that might complement the flavors of the coot but also needed something with a good amount of fat because I had trimmed all the fat off the birds. I read a recipe for cotechino in one of my new cookbooks called In the Charcuterie by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller. Cotechino is a northern Italian sausage traditionally made with pork and uses the pork skin, as well. The spices of the cotechino – allspice and cinnamon – seemed to be a perfect match for the coot; I added juniper as well, because I feel juniper goes well with all wild game.

The end result was better than I could have imagined. The “coot”echino was perfectly seasoned and had a wonderful fattiness that made the sausage perfect for a bowl of lentils on a cold winter day. The process of making the cotechino is a little time consuming but totally worth it in the end. I hope more people give coot a try. It was delicious; you just have to cook it right.


Makes five one pound sausages
Adapted from In the Charcuterie by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller
3 lbs. Coot breasts, all fat removed
1 lbs. pork skin cut into one inch strips
1 lbs. pork fat (I use pork belly)
2 tsp. coriander
6 allspice berries
4 juniper berries
2 tsp. black pepper corns
1tsp white pepper corns
40 grams kosher salt
5 grams curing salt #1
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
¼ cup dry white wine
Bring a large pot with salted water to a rolling boil. Boil the pork skin for 10 minutes, then remove and let cool.
Cut the coot and pork fat into small chunks that will fit into your grinder. Mix with the cooled pork skin.
Toast the coriander seeds and then grind them in a spice grinder along with the allspice, juniper, and peppercorns.
Combine the salts and remaining spices with the coriander and the pepper, then sprinkle mixture over the meat and refrigerate for 24 hours
After 24 hours, grind the meat and spices through a medium grinding plate. Make sure your meat stays nice and cold. After grinding, add the white wine and then stuff mixture into sausage casings. I used fibrous middles 2inch by 12 inch.
After stuffing the casings, you need to hang the cotechino in a dry cool place for 3 days to dry and allow the curing salt to work.
After three days you can freeze the cotechino or cook it.
To cook the cotechino, you need to bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer (about 165 degrees) and cook the sausage until it reaches a temp of 165 degrees. I used a Dutch oven and heated the water, then put the sausage in the water and put the whole Dutch oven in the oven at 190 degrees for about an hour and a half, and then tested the sausage and it was 165 degrees.
At this point you can slice the cotechino and eat it plain or use it in any way you would like. I made lentils and added the cooked cotechino about ten minutes before the lentils were done.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Wild Turkey Pastrami

So this recipe is dually influenced by my buddy Josh Dahlke, if you aren't familiar with him you should look into his The Hunger Series, all about hunting and eating wild game. Josh had a freezer mishap that ended up benefiting me in a big way. I ended up with all sort of wild turkey legs and thighs and a couple of beautiful wild turkey breasts. I made my way through all the leg and thigh portions and had these two big beautiful breasts left to use. I usually make a wild turkey piccata or some kind of fried wild turkey but after reading his post for The Cast-Iron Chef  about making deli meats out of the breast I decided I was going to make a wild turkey pastrami.

I am not new to making pastrami I have used this brine for everything from deer hearts to goose breasts and I have yet to have a bad outcome. This was really the recipe that got me going about 17 years ago. I was shooting a lot of ducks back then and would make this with duck breasts. Those were such a hit that I used this brine recipe for anything I could. It works really well on venison, bear and any other wild game you might have. The brine time just changes a little depending on the size of the hunk of meat you are using. For something small like duck breasts 24 hours is plenty but for a big venison roast it will take 3-4 days for the brine to penetrate the meat.

I think this turkey pastrami is my favorite of all that I have tried. It makes a hell of a sandwich and the other night I made pickle rolls with it. I tried to get a picture but my guests that night ate them all to quickly. If you have a smoker I would highly recommend smoking this but if you don't you can still make it in the oven.

Wild Turkey Pastrami (adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s Louisiana Real and Rustic)

2 wild turkey breasts

1 tablespoon black peppercorns (plus 2 tsp ground black pepper to roll the brined breasts in)

4-5 fresh thyme sprigs

3 bay leaves

1 tsp whole cloves

3 cloves of garlic (smashed)

2 tsp whole juniper berries (plus 1 tablespoon ground juniper berries to mix with ground black pepper)

4 cups water

½ cup Maple sugar

½ cup kosher salt

1/10 ounce of insta cure # 1 (pink curing salt)

     Bring the water, maple sugar, and both salts to a boil and dissolves completely, then add the rest of the ingredients to the brine and let stand until room temperature.
           Place the turkey breasts in the brine and refrigerate for 24-48 hours turning the breast over in the brine everyday
        After the breast have been brined  dry them off  and cover one side of the breast with the black pepper and juniper mix
        Place in a smoker and smoke at 180 degrees for 5-6 hours or until the breasts reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees
After the breasts come out of the smoker wrap them in plastic wrap and let them hang out in the fridge for 3-4 days. After that slice it thin and enjoy. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Lake Trout Brushed with Dijon Mustard and Fried in an Herb Breading

My garden didn't really produce mush this year, at least not compared to years past. The one thing I did have plenty of were my herbs. I had a tone of chives so much so that I had to find other ways to use it, like chive oil. I have been told that you can dry your herbs for later use or freeze them in little cubes of olive oil but neither of those options really amused me. A number of years ago I cooked some salmon that was rubbed in Dijon mustard and then rolled in fresh herbs. I remember eating it thinking that the flavors were all there but the herb didn't really stay on the fish and the whole thing seemed to be missing something.

As I was thinking about making the dish again it occurred to me that what the salmon dish was missing was a texture. And that texture could be accomplished by adding bread crumbs. By pulverizing the herbs with bread crumbs and then breading a pan frying the fish you would get all the same flavors but also have that nice crisp crunch that many of us enjoy with our fish. When I went to the freezer to get some salmon I found a perfect lone fillet of Lake Trout that just looked like it wanted to be bathed in Dijon and breaded.

The Dijon makes add a very subtle flavor and help the breadcrumbs stick and all the herbs in the breading come through to give this dish a tremendous flavor. Lake trout has a really great texture and has a firm meat that held together quite well. As I ate this it reminded me a bit of Schnitzel I served it along side some wilted sorrel that gave me that lemony acidity that goes so wonderfully with fried foods.

Lake Trout with a Dijon and Herb Breading

Lake trout fillets
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard per fillet
1 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup of chopped herbs (use what ever herbs you like, I used rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage and chives)

Oil for frying
 In a food processor combine the bread crumbs and the herbs and pulse until the herbs are finely chopped. Brush the fillets with Dijon until completely coated. Roll in the bread crumbs until coated then fry in a large pan with a quarter inch of oil. If you don't have sorrel to use serve with a wedge of lemon and squeeze over the fish.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Roasted Hen of the Woods Mushroom with Lemon Garlic Aioli

One of the things I have noticed about foraging for mushrooms is how easy it is to find the second one. I have spent whole days out looking for mushrooms and not found anything and then I see one. After I pick It I start seeing them everywhere. Last year was the first year I had ever found a hen of the woods mushroom. What I had read about Hens is that they tend to grow back in the same spot for several years in a row. I kept track of the date I found that one last year and headed back to the same spot this year to see if it was true.

With very little effort I walked right to the same spot this year and there she was a nice Hen of the woods mushroom ready of r the picking. As I walked out of the woods My eye was Immediately drawn to the mushroom you see in the picture at the top. I was about 60 yards away and there it was plain as day. I came home that day with about 12 pounds of Hen of the woods. ( also known as Maitake)

Then a couple of days ago I was out squirrel hunting with a friend of mine. As we were walking up the hill on the back side of his property I walked right into and old oak stump with a giant Maitake hanging off the side. Now that I have seen them and found a few I feel like I could go out and find them anytime.

The Maitake is a great mushroom with a great texture and many uses and when you find one you usually have plenty to use and store for later use. I like to dehydrate some and freeze the rest. When I freeze them I pack the mushrooms into one quart freezer safe container and then cover them with water and a teaspoon of salt. Then when you thaw them out to use them the water you put in has magically turned into a mushroom stock of sorts. 

As far as using them goes I like to add them to soups and stews and I am currently working on a batch that I will be using as a tamales filling. When they are fresh and you have picked them over a little I like to roast them and serve them as an appetizer with a lemon garlic Aioli.

Roasted hen of the woods

1 pound of Hen of the woods cleaned and picked over
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
3 sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Toss the mushrooms with the oil, bacon drippings, salt, pepper and thyme and then bake in a 325 degree oven for 50-60 minutes.

for the Aioli

1/2 cup mayo
juice and zest from one lemon
2 cloves of garlic finely minced
salt and pepper to taste

Serve the mushrooms with the aioli and enjoy.