Friday, November 23, 2012

Smoking bacon

Has anyone been inspired by my previous post to try making their own bacon? I hope so, because it really is easy, takes very little actual “work time”, and the results are just incredibly good. Couple that with pork belly from first-rate pigs, raised and treated properly, and you have something that is quite out of the ordinary.

One thing I didn’t discuss is that bacon can also be savory. You still need to use some sugar in the cure, but the extra maple or birch syrup doesn’t need to be added. Instead you can use herbs or spices. Try crushed juniper berries, minced garlic, thyme, bay leaves, even cloves or allspice. The results can be amazing.

So, last post, I discussed how to cure pork belly. If you’ve done this, you now have some very flavorful bacon with no further work.

But you can also smoke bacon (or any meat for that matter) to add another whole layer of flavor. Since we like smoked foods (at the moment, I’m smoking some salmon with a cold-smoking gadget we recently bought), finishing our cured bacon with a few hours in the smoker is a must. If you smoke your home-cured bacon, I think you will agree.

First of all, you need a smoker. They don’t have to be large or fancy. The only requisites is that what you use must be able to keep the temperature steady at around 200-250 degrees (it can vary within the ideal range) and that the vessel used for smoking has a cover to contain the smoke – at least for awhile. You do want it to have a decent draft to keep it going. Never forget that you’re using a fire and fires need oxygen to burn or smolder.

Many people successfully use their barbecue as a smoker and while this does work, you have to remember that the heat needs to be indirect, otherwise your meat will do more cooking rather than being bathed in smoky heat. Direct heat will cook your meat too quickly, not giving it enough time exposed to the smoke. If you have a large enough barbecue to have the bacon well away from the source of heat (which, truthfully, shouldn’t be much), then go ahead and use it. Remember: you want indirect heat.

When we decided on purchasing a smoker, we went to look at the one suggested for home smoking in Charcuterie: one made by the Bradley firm in British Columbia. We ultimately decided to take a pass for two reasons: too expensive but we would also be captive to their special wafer chips called bisquettes (made with specially compressed sawdust). If we get really serious about this, we may one day invest in a Bradley. Certainly it seems to be well-made, has a lot of proponents and good reviews.

We saw the Bradley at nearby Bass Pro. It turned out they stocked a simple smoker made by a company called Brinkmann. It is very basic, a bit of a pain in some ways (pans can fall out at very inopportune times, but since we like to futz with things, and my son Karel (the master smoker of the family) enjoys nothing more than to tend the fire and watch the smoke rise, it’s worked out very well for us. Best of all, it cost $55 as opposed to $300+ for the bottom-of-the-line Bradley.

One modification we did make was to drill five 3/4" holes in the bottom of the fire pan to help with air cirulation to keep the charcoal and wood chip packages burning evenly. The only other thing we did was purchase a cheap oven thermometer so we could more closely monitor the temp in the smoking chamber.

For smoking meats (ribs, chicken, beef, pork,) you need to do what’s called a “hot smoke”. That means you’re also cooking the meat slowly as it smokes. Since we’re talking about bacon here, you want the temperature to be between 200-250 degrees, no higher. If you go lower, it will take much longer to cook your meat – and you’re heading into cold smoking territory (something we’ll cover in the future). Too hot and the meat cooks to its final temperature without being exposed to the smoke for enough time to give it the flavor you want.

What wood should you use? That depends. We’ve been trying different things. The first time out was apple, then hickory, then maple, and this last time was cherry. All gave very different results with hickory being the most assertive. Apple and cherry have many nice features, and the maple tasted a bit mild to my mind. But that’s the fun of doing this: you can experiment to your heart’s content.

We get our fire started with the fire pan at the bottom about 1/4 full of lump charcoal. We soak our wood chips in water for about 1/2 hour then wrap them in heavy-duty aluminum foil, punching several holes in the package.

The Brinkmann smoker has a water pan directly above the fire pan. We fill that about 2/3 full of water which easily lasts for the whole smoking period. This accomplishes two things: it adds moisture to the smoke (a great thing for cooking ribs and brisket) while keeping the heat from below reaching the meat directly.

Then we put on our bacon and sit back. Using an instant-read thermometer, we monitor how the bacon is cooking. Our results show that about three hours of cooking time is about right. The flavor of the smoke on the meat is optimal. You know when the bacon is done when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees.

Now comes the payoff. Slice off a bit of your bacon and try it. We do this every time and every time it knocks our socks off. Before slicing (unless you’re serving right away), chill the bacon thoroughly.

While it’s still hot, though, is the time to slice off the rind (unless you like it on). Have the rind side of the bacon up. Just slip a sharp knife under it, keep it pointed slightly upward towards the rind as you gently slice it off, making the sharpness of the blade work for you. And don’t throw that rind away! We cut it into squares and freeze it. It gives fantastic flavor to stews and soups.

So to close off, anyone can enjoy some fantastic eating, avoid the “additions” that are put into store-bought, mass-produced bacon and not have to work very hard to do it. Since bacon freezes so well (we don’t eat it all that often), we just slice it and package it in air-tight bags, peeling off what we want, when we want. A few minutes in the frying pan or under the broiler and it’s ready.

I will say it one last time: you will be amazed how easy it is to do and how great it tastes.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Makin’ Bacon (Adventures in Home Curing)

The photo to the right is three pieces of bacon my son Karel and I just finished up yesterday. Looks great, doesn’t it? That was the response yesterday when I posted the shot on Facebook as a sort of a teaser for this post. The thing is, the bacon tastes as good as it looks, but the news is: it’s very easy to make your own bacon.

And you should. Here’s why:

Obviously, this rather scary video leaves out some important pieces of information, such as what exactly is in the “flavorings” they’re adding to your bacon. Look at a package of supermarket bacon and you’ll find out. Here’s what’s needed to make your own bacon at home: salt. That’s it. Cure the meat for several days and you’ve got bacon. I’m not saying that the taste will be the best ever, but if you only used salt, you’d have bacon and it would taste pretty good, especially if you purchased pork belly of superior quality (farm raised and pastured). The sugar (or whatever sweetening you use) is there to mitigate the harshness of the salt, as well as giving the cured meat a good flavor. So, I’m not advocating that you try bacon without some sort of sweetener, just that you could use just salt and cure the meat perfectly well. In other words, salt is the active ingredient in the curing process.

In the manufacturing process outlined in the video above another thing they don’t tell you is when they’re injecting all those flavorings, they’re also injecting water. Bacon manufacturers would tell you they need the water for the process. They do, but not for the reason you may think: water adds weight and weight means more profit with very little added cost. That’s why this kind of bacon shrinks and sputters in the frying pan. The water is evaporating away.

So have I convinced you that there are good reasons to make your own bacon? Don’t have time? Think it’s too complicated. Can’t do anything in the kitchen but boil water? I’m here to tell you that anyone can make bacon. It isn’t hard, doesn’t take many minutes of actual work, and the result can be (and will be, if you follow my directions) utterly fantastic. The only thing I haven’t worked out is how to make it safe for you to eat it large quantities – because you will want to. So if you value your waistline and your arteries, proceed with caution. There be sharks in the waters ahead…

As mentioned above, bacon can just be cured. It doesn’t need to be smoked. So if you don’t want to go there, you don’t need to. That being said, smoking your bacon makes it so utterly fantastic that you should seriously consider doing it. In any event, we’ll deal with this in two steps: the curing process followed by directions for smoking.

To cure any meat, it needs to have contact with salt, either a dry cure by rubbing salt on the outside of the meat and allowing it to soak in over a period of days and react with the meat at a cellular level, or salt in the form of brine in which you submerge the meat. For bacon you don’t want to expose it to more water; you want to draw water out of the meat, so you use a dry cure.

The cure for bacon usually involves sugar of some sort (although you can make savory bacon). For this recipe, we’re going to be using maple sugar as well as maple syrup for additional sweetness and flavor.

[Sidebar: Actually, this time out we used birch syrup which is quite delightful and different than maple syrup. First of all, it’s not as sweet, but it also has a more pungent flavor. We stumbled on this twist by accident. We were about to start curing the pork belly and discovered we were out of maple syrup! Since we’d already started the process and the stores were all closed, I dug through the fridge and happened on a small bottle of birch syrup I was given by friends. Some of the best things happen by accident. The resulting bacon tastes fabulous. Try it if you can get your hands on birch syrup. It’s not widely available and it is expensive since it takes 100 gallons of birch sap to make a single gallon of syrup (due to the lower sugar content than maple). Check on line to find where you can order it.]

Now we get to the sticky part. Most recipes also recommend using a bit of what’s known as curing salt to remove the risk of botulism, as well as other bacteria and fungus. Curing salt is salt mixed with a small amount of sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate. Both additions do the same thing. In the fantastic book, Charcuterie, authors Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn advocate also using curing salt for the flavor it adds to cured food. Here’s the rub, though: many people have adverse reaction to nitrates and/or nitrites. And in large quantities (way more than we’re using here), it can be dangerous.

If I were making cured/dried sausage like salami or csabai, it could be downright dangerous not to use curing salt do so, but some people (usually very experienced at curing) will even leave it out here.

Bacon, however, is less dodgy since it is a whole piece of meat, plus you will also be cooking it before eating. So unless you plan on eating your bacon raw, you can leave the curing salt out of the cure if you wish. But just use your head, okay?

This post is going to deal with curing your bacon. Later this week (after your bacon has had time to cure, I’ll lay out the smoking portion. And please note, you don’t need a fancy (read: expensive) smoker. In fact, you can probably do it right on your barbecue as long as it has a cover to contain the smoke.

Maple-Cured Bacon
(Makes as much as you want)

Pork Belly (Bellies are generally about 10-12 pounds each. Get a smaller piece.)
10 gr Kosher Salt per pound of meat
2.5 gr Curing Salt per pound of meat
10 gr Maple Sugar (or you can use dark brown or demerara sugar) per pound of meat
12 ml Maple Syrup per pound of meat

1. Mix the appropriate amount of dry cure (salt, curing salt, and sugar) for the weight of the pork belly you’re curing. This is why I suggest you don’t rely on volume measurements but use weight. It’s far more accurate. (A small kitchen scale can be gotten pretty cheaply.)

2. Coat the pork belly thoroughly with the dry cure, rubbing it well into the meat on all sides. Now place the belly in a plastic freezer bag. This is far easier than using a vessel of some sort to hold it (although you can, just make sure there isn’t a lot of excess room in it). Next, pour on the maple syrup and distribute it on all sides of the meat.

3. Refrigerate for up to a week, turning the meat every day and redistributing the cure on the meat, rubbing it in well. It will throw off water as the salt pulls it out of the meat. This is a good thing and you want to use that self-created brine to help cure the meat. Curing is finished when the meat portion of the belly feels nice and firm. Charcuterie (where this recipe originates) recommends curing for a week. We find this creates a bacon that’s a bit too salty for us. As we’ve gained experience, we know what fully-cured meat feels like, so we remove it at that point rather than waiting a full seven days. Remember: the thicker the pork belly, the longer it takes the salt to do its work. A one-and-a-half-inch thick belly generally takes between 4 and 5 days.

4. When you feel the meat is cured, take it out of the bag (or vessel) and rinse it thoroughly to remove the salt on the outside of the belly.

That’s it! Your bacon is ready to eat, if you wish. Fry up a bit and taste it. Lovely, yes? Now for that exceptional flavor, you’ll want to smoke it. The bacon you buy in supermarkets is generally only cured with maybe some liquid smoke added to give you a sort of smoky taste. I suppose you could add some if you don’t want to or can’t smoke your bacon.

A tip: get the meat nice and cold to firm it up before slicing. It will be a lot easier. If you don’t like rind on your bacon, now is the time to carefully slice it off by running a sharp carving knife just underneath it. If you’re going to smoke the bacon, wait to de-rind and slice until later. Before you slice, though, square up the piece of bacon by trimming any bits sticking out, but keep those trimmings for things like soups and stews. We also cut the rind into pieces and freeze those as well for flavoring soups and stews. Waste not, want not!

Next post, I’ll tell you how we smoke the bacon for maximum flavor. Stay tuned.

Note: The reason pork belly in the photo at the top was cut into thirds was so that Karel could use a slightly differently cure (he added a BBQ pork rub to the one on the right ) and because one end of the belly was thicker than the other and got an extra 12 hours of curing.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Protecting yourself from big agribusiness

I’m probably dating myself, but I remember a time when people didn’t die from eating a hamburger. The spinach in our salads didn’t send us to the hospital. We could use raw eggs in things like mayonnaise. You didn’t have to cross your fingers when you bought some sliced ham at the deli to make sandwiches for your kids’ school lunches.

Things have certainly changed, haven’t they?

Now I’m not saying that bad things didn’t happen back in in the “good old days”. I’m sure they did, but we didn’t have catastrophic food recalls like the recent one at Alberta’s XL foods where millions of pounds of meat were recalled and eventually destroyed.

What’s changed?

Almost every bit of your daily food, available at every supermarket, is now grown, harvested and processed by big business. In order to keep the price as low as possible, these businesses must work with large quantities and must produce them in the cheapest way possible. Margins are small and competition is fierce. Only the strong will survive and to be strong you must be big. Small producers just get swallowed up or are driven out of business.

Let’s focus on the recent XL debacle. It started at the US border around September first when some burger meat from XL failed a routine E. coli test. By the time things came to a head, millions of pounds of meat were involved and over 1,800 products were recalled across North America.

At first it looked to be just hamburger products, as usual, since in the grinding of the meat, E. coli bacteria which will be found on the surface of beef gets mixed in and spreads throughout the hamburger because of the grinding process. When you’re dealing in the quantities plants like XL does, a huge amount of product is then going to be suspect.

More surprising, though, was the fact that as the XL investigation proceeded, steak products also began to show up in positive tests. That is exceptionally disturbing. Here’s why:

The reason you generally are never offered rare burgers at restaurants anymore is that they get their ground beef from the large producers. Since that source is suspect, burgers must be well-cooked in order to assure any E. coli present has been killing. Well and good. Restaurants are just wisely covering their butts.

But what about steaks? Steaks are seldom served well-done. Since E. coli, if it’s present, is on the surface of the steak, it is killed in cooking even the rarest of steaks, thus neutralizing the danger. Now we find out that whole muscle cuts from XL have been found with E. coli present on the interior of the meat where it will not necessarily be killed during cooking.

What happened?

Needle tenderization appears to be the cause. This is a way for tougher cuts of beef to be tenderized and therefore more attractive to consumers. In other words, producers and retailers can sell cheaper cuts of meat to be cooked as steaks (the most popular way of cooking beef) and keep the price down.

The problem is that a needle tenderizer also drives any surface contaminants into the center of the cut, where, if it’s a steak, won't necessarily be cooked to a high enough temperature to kill things like E. coli.

Again, when you’re dealing in huge quantities and widespread distribution, something like this is a nightmare. As far as I’m aware (and I’ve looked), no one died from eating any contaminated XL beef, but many were made ill. It could have been far worse.

What I found almost laughable in the aftermath was the food industry, in order to better the public’s perception of what was happening, went after the “mom and pop abattoirs”, stating that their record was much better than the smaller operators. If you only take into account the quantity of meat processed, of course the big operators like XL foods will come out better. They process thousands of cattle every day. A smaller abattoir will handle just a fraction of that amount. However if something goes wrong at a small operation, the amount of damage will be less severe and probably more localized. We’re talking apples and oranges here, folks.

It’s also since come out that XL’s plant was not operating within its own safety guidelines, let alone the government’s. That’s never a good thing, regardless of the size of the operation.

To my mind, one’s best bet is to deal with meat that came from a smaller scale operator, preferably one your butcher knows and trusts so you can be more sure of what you’re buying – or at least as sure as humanly possible. You can’t do that in your local supermarket when your burger meat may be coming from another country and contain the meat of several thousand cows.

When I was a kid, we never thought as we bit into a juicy, rare burger at a backyard barbecue, “Gee, I sure hope this doesn’t wind up killing me.”

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Christmas Cake Conundrum

Fruit, nuts and spices ready to marinate in bourbon for 24 hours.
In early November every year we always make our special holiday fruit cake. (“Fruit cake? Oh please, dear God, he’s not going to go on and on about this abomination, is he?”)

I’m well aware that many people are ambivalent about this creation, if not downright hostile, and I can understand that. Many fruit cakes are rather nasty – especially store bought ones. The main reason is cheap ingredients. Since these are the only example many people have been exposed to, they have a poor basis on which to form an “informed opinion”. Another problem is candied citrus rind (lemon, lime, orange) is very tart and to my mind doesn’t have a terrific flavor.

Around twenty years ago now, our good friend Sandy Lasky sent us a postcard while visiting Ireland. Knowing that I’m partial to Bushmills Irish Whiskey, she picked up a card while visiting the distillery which had a recipe for their fruit cake flavored with whiskey. It piqued our interest, so we made one that Christmas. It was pretty good, too, but as Vicki and I made our way through it over the course of a month, we discussed the flavors, what we liked and didn’t like, and made plans to experiment the following year.

Experimentation went on for nearly ten years as the Blechta Test Kitchens staff carefully swapped ingredients in and out (keeping records of what had been done) in our search to find what flavors, textures and proportions really worked for us. Some years we made two cakes with subtle differences between so we could easily make an A/B comparison. (This is also where we discovered how many people “hate” Christmas cake when we solicited responses!) In fact, we’re still experimenting: this year we decided to leave the fruit, nuts and spices “marinating” in the whiskey for a full day. An update will be available around December first as to how this may or may not have changed this year’s cake.

Covered with pecans and ready to go into the oven.
Almost everything except the amount of eggs, butter and flour has now changed from the original. We changed the almonds for walnuts and then for pecans. We eventually changed the Irish for rum, then Scotch and finally settled on Bourbon since it works so well with pecans. The candied citrus rind disappeared after only a few years and was replaced by more glacé cherries (in red and green), candied pineapple and candied ginger (Vicki’s phenomenal idea). Spices were also swapped in and out in varying proportions. The only thing outside the batter that stayed consistent throughout was the inclusion of golden raisins.

Eventually, we came up with a cake that is moist, exceptionally flavorful and keeps extremely well. As a matter of fact, I was cleaning out the back recesses of our bread drawer in late summer, found the butt end of last year’s cake, still carefully wrapped in plastic. There wasn’t much, but after unwrapping and smelling it, I tried a tiny piece. It was still excellent, if a little dry. (Many people keep wedding fruit cakes for several years to enjoy on a significant anniversary.)

We got ours done on Tuesday this week, which is slightly late for us since we like our cake to “age” for 2-3 weeks after adding the final bit of bourbon. Aging does make the cake more moist and flavorful.

All we need to add is the rest of the bourbon – and then wait!
One last thing: we do know that Jack Daniels isn’t technically bourbon, it’s the Woolsey family tipple of choice (Vicki is a Woolsey), so we use that. It has a stronger, more pronounced flavor than your typical bourbon. In our cake, it is by far the best of the various liquors we tried.

So, it’s not too late to whip up one of these fruitcakes for your holiday festivities. We usually serve thin slices with a bit of confectioner’s sugar sifted over the top and an appropriate tipple. Jack works fine, but we’ll use whatever is on hand: Scotch, Irish, even a late-harvest Reisling that Creekside Winery sometimes makes (or used to).

Give it a try and see what a good fruitcake can taste like! You may become a convert. Also, please share your fruitcake ideas and variations with everyone by using our comment section. Anti-fruitcake rants are also welcome.

Fruitcake with Pecans and Bourbon

1 cup red glacé cherries
1 cup green glacé cherries
1 cup candied pineapple
1 cup ginger preserved in syrup (pieces cut in half if large)
½ cup golden raisins
1 cup whole pecans
1½ tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp mace
1 lemon, juiced and rind grated
1½ cups 
Bourbon (we suggest using 
Jack Daniels)
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
4 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1. Combine all fruit, pecans, lemon juice and rind, spices and stir in half the whiskey. Cover tightly and soak overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 300° and line the long side of a 9" loaf pan with 2 thicknesses of parchment paper. (We use the ends of the parchment paper as a handle to lift the cooled cake out of the pan after loosening the ends with a knife.)

3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Now beat in the flour little by little. (If the batter begins to separate while you’re adding in the eggs, don’t despair! Simply beat in a few tablespoons of the flour.)

5. Fold the prepared fruit and nuts into the batter. Make sure the cake batter is pushed into all corners of the pan. Smooth the top. If you want, cover the top with pecan halves. We do this some years, others not.

6. Bake for 1½-2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean perfectly clean. Cool in the loaf pan.

7. Using a skewer, poke a lot of holes in the cake. Using a teaspoon or an eyedropper (I also feed Vicki like a baby bird from the eyedropper), carefully drizzle the remaining whiskey over the cake, letting it soak in. (I sometimes take the cake out to do this on the top, bottom and all sides, but you have to be more careful because the precious liquid can run off. Keeping it in the loaf pan helps contain the liquor.)

8. Wrap the cake very tightly in plastic and set aside for at least 2 weeks to let the cake age. Don’t cheat on this!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Leaving France with a bang: a classic dish that is so worth the effort

We forgot to take a photo, so I “borrowed” this!
Sorry it’s taken me two weeks to get back to AMFAS, but I’ve been rather busy. This post was scheduled for last week to finish off our series on French cooking (done as a salute to the publication of my eighth crime fiction novel, The Fallen One, which takes place for the most part in Paris), but, well, life tends to get in the way sometimes, doesn’t it?

Anyway, to my mind, I’ve saved the best for last. Call it the showman in me, but I feel it’s always best to go out with a bang. I have two French cooking bangs in my repertoire, and for the past month I could not decide which one to present.

One is cassoulet, a dish that can best be easily described as “pork and beans on steroids”. It is something that takes a few days to prepare, but the result of that labor is so mind-bogglingly good, that one mouthful will erase all memory of the effort put in to create such heaven.

Two beautiful tournedos about to be cooked.
The other is Tournedos Rossini, classic French cooking, the kind you find only in the best French restaurants. You will also pay a lot of money for this dish. I went for it because, well, my novel is about opera and the composer for whom the dish is named was one of the most famous composers of opera.

So you get the Tournedos, but don’t worry, I’ll share the cassoulet recipe sometime soon since it’s the perfect winter dinner party meal.

Rossini’s operas made him a very wealthy man, so wealthy in fact, that he didn’t have to work. William Tell, which premiered in 1829 when the composer was 38, was his last opera, but he lived to his 76th year. What did he do during that time? He mostly ate, and ate very well. By all accounts, Rossini was an excellent cook, as well as a noted gourmand.

Today’s dish, Tournedos Rossini, was supposedly created for the composer by master chef Marie-Antoine Carême, and making it is not for the faint of heart – or faint of wallet , either, since it uses some pretty expensive ingredients. If you are up for it, though, the rewards are great. It will make a very spectacular meal.

One quart of meat stock cooked down to 1/2 cup – heaven!
In a nutshell, the recipe consists of a tournedo (the larger middle part of a beef tenderloin) cooked rare. This is placed on top of a toast round, then there’s a slice of fois gras followed by some slices of black truffle. The whole thing is then sauced with a very rich madiera sauce. Since the sauce along would make this recipe way too long, I’m going to point you to a couple of internet sites that show how to make it. Yes, it’s time-consuming and involved, but certainly worth the effort. If you are morally opposed to foie gras, just leave it out. The dish will be diminished but still plenty good.

[Sidebar: Complex sauces like the one used here are no big deal for the kitchen of a French restaurant, since they make stocks and demi-glacé sauces in large quantities almost daily. But even the most sophisticated home kitchen has to start sauces like this from scratch. Certainly, you can find easier ways to do a Madeira sauce, but if you’re a dedicated foodie, just once you should make the full-on, no shortcuts French version, so I’m giving that here. If you’re going to go out and buy expensive cuts of beef, foie gras and truffles, you might as well go for The Full Monty. The sauce starts off with a brown veal stock. If you’re wise, you’ll make a full recipe of that and freeze whatever you don’t use for later cooking projects.]

Tournedos Rossini
Serves 4

4 beef tournedos, about 7 oz. each (you can also go smaller and use filets mignons)
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
3 Tbs butter
1 Tbs vegetable oil
8 oz foie gras (preferably fresh)
3/4 cup of veal demi-glace
1/4 cup Madeira
4 slices of bread (French bread works well)
1 medium black truffle
1 Tbs butter (for finishing the sauce)

1. Two days before you’re going to serve this, make the veal stock from this recipe: (It’s also a very interesting page with good background information from a very knowledgeable chef.) It would be wise to use veal bones instead of beef, or at least more veal than beef. Once your stock is finished, de-fat it by cooling it overnight in the fridge. (Letting the fat solidify in the fridge and then lifting it off is far easier than skimming it when warm.)

2. The next day, carry on with the recipe given in Step 1 and make a brown sauce (sauce Espagnole) out of some of your veal stock. The secret of a good brown sauce is to cook everything slowly and reduce the stock a good deal to concentrate the flavors. Cooking the roux carefully will get you a good golden color without burning it (easy to do). If it burns, chuck it and start over. (Trust me on this. I made a huge mistake once.)

3. Carry on and make the demi-glacé from the same recipe. Cook it way down to really concentrate the flavor. Don’t season it yet. Chill overnight.

4. On the day of your big meal, make sure you take the tournedos out of the fridge a good hour or two to bring it to room temperature. Otherwise, the outside will be cooked too much before the inside even gets warm. I suggest having someone help with the preparation of your dinner by handling the cooking of any accompanying vegetables and potatoes. That way you can give your full concentration to the tournedos. I like serving this with pommes parisienne and buttered French green beans.

5. Prepping everything is the key. first, season the tournedos with salt and pepper. Then, in a small saucepan combine the demi-glacé with about 2 teaspoons of chopped black truffle. Thinly slice the rest of the truffle. Slice the foie gras lengthwise into 4 equal portions. Trim the slices of bread to the shape and size of the tournedos. Measure out the Madeira.

6. Put the demi-glacé on to heat very gently. Over medium heat, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter with the vegetable oil in a skillet big enough to eventually hold all the meat and quickly fry the slices of bread until nicely browned on both sides. Remove and set aside.

7. Now add the other 1 1/2 Tbs of butter and sauté the tournedos over high heat for about 4 minutes per side for rare (my suggestion) or around 5 for medium-rare. Don’t go past this for meat this good! When they’re done, remove them from the pan and place in a warm oven (200°).

8. Place the foie gras into the skillet and sauté them for a generous minute on each side over high heat. They’re fragile, so handle them carefully. When they’re done, place one on each of the tournedos. Now is the time to heat the plates on which you’re going to serve this!

9. Discard all the fat from the skillet, and add the Madeira to the skillet (having reduced the heat to medium). Scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan as you stir. Add the demi-glacé and bring it to a boil quickly. Remove from the heat and melt in the last tablespoon of butter to finish the sauce. Now check the sauce for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.

10. Working quickly, on the heated plates, place the vegetables and potatoes on one half, and one of the croutons in the middle of the other half. Top each crouton with a tournedo and its slice of foie gras, then garnish with a few slices of truffle and spoon an equal portion of sauce over each. Serve immediately and be prepared for the accolades.

If you’re cooking something this good, do yourself a favor and have an excellent bordeaux would be the perfect wine to serve with it.

Let someone else clear the table and do the dishes!