Charcuterie

PIGGILIOUS! A day in the Monchique mountains

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What do you do when friends and family visit from the United Staes of America? Take them to a pig farm in the remote mountains of the Serra de Monchique, of course!

These are no ordinary visitors or tourists – simply not content to idle away hours on the beautiful beaches of the Portuguese Algarve coast or meander through the cobbled streets and alleyways of the historic town of Lagos, nor browse the  tourist boutiques and bars; so we went in search of the famous Iberian black pig. And we found them, hundred and hundreds of them, wallowing contentedly in thick, gooey mud.

The drive from Lagos in the western Algarve took us away from the densely  populated coastal plain and within a few minutes the scenery changed dramatically as we weaved our way slowly up the hill side, passing cafés, restaurants, fruit sellers and pottery shops. The A266 bends and twists through areas of densely wooded pine and eucalyptus forest, then as the road turns, opens up from time to time to display magnificent valleys, lush and inviting, with small white washed buildings and quintas (farms)  scattered in random fashion. It was, for the most part, a relaxing and enjoyable drive, except for the presence of a few sun-baked drivers clearly blessed with the ability to see around blind bends otherwise I am sure they wouldn’t have been reckless enough to undertake some of the death-defying manoeuvres we witnessed!

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After fifty minutes or so, we reached the small spa town of Monchique, famous for its carbonated spring waters, rich in sodium and fluoride and known to aid respiratory, bone, muscular and digestive problems. High above sea level, yet only twenty kilometres from the coast, it has been a spa resort since Roman times. These days, however, Monchique is well-known for its handicrafts, production of Medronho, a liquor made from the fruits of the arbutus (strawberry) tree, honey and products from the black pig.

Our guests were not interested in handicrafts, nicknacks or traditional souvenirs, so we continued our journey (comfortably secured into the mini-bus they’d hired), leaving the town of Monchique behind us and took a road that climbed steeply and deeper into the lush vegetation. On previous visits to the area and being ‘foodies’ ourselves, we had recalled noticing a sign for a producer of traditional sausages and cured hams and, therefore, my husband Peter was intent on following the trail. The single track, pot-holed dusty road weaved precariously as we clung to the hillside and negotiated a couple of hairpin bends. Peter, the nominated driver, struggled in places to keep the engine engaged as he changed down into low gear to propel the heavy people-ladened vehicle slowly up the narrow incline. There was a point at which, due to mounting fear for our safety, I was going to suggest we abandon the quest (not that there were any places to make a u-turn) but thankfully I held my tongue, because as we rounded a corner, the road widened and in front of us was a welcome sign of life and the distinctive odour of pig. A proud sign proclaiming ‘Enchidos e Presuntos Tradicionais’ and a warm welcome from the owner, who by luck, was in the courtyard, confirmed that our journey would be worth it.

Climbing out of our air-conditioned wagon, the sultry heat of the mid morning sun combined with the pungent smell of the livestock caught our senses. The patron, who introduced himself as Antonio Duarte, had kindly offered to give us a tour of the farm and show us the line of production. We were all thrilled and delighted that our mission would be accomplished. Amongst our jolly party, we had three wine makers, a cheese maker and two producers of cured meats and sausages all of whom were keen to experience and learn about the traditional processes used in Portugal. Other members of the group were just happy to savour the results!  DuarteSo we began our tour with a slow walk up a dusty hillside track from which we could catch glimpses of the town below to be greeted by droves of penned black pigs languishing happily in sodden mud.

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Donning shoe protectors, hair nets and plastic aprons, we were invited into the inner sanctum of the factory as Senhor Duarte described to us how they produce their delicious fayre by adhering to age old traditions. It is a long established family business and Antonio works alongside his mother Idália and other siblings. They are enormously proud of the history and quality of their produce and it is plain to feel the joy and passion that exudes from his very being. We learn about the lengthy process of producing cured hams and how the traditional sausages are smoked. The mixture of herbs in the recipé is, of course, not divulged but we are given a clue and can taste the presence of cinnamon.

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Following a tasting of the products and a little retail therapy, the over-riding feeling I had when we left was one of great enthusiasm – Senhor Duarte loves what he does and is fiercely proud. The man radiated a passion for the product – producing the best, without compromise, is paramount. It all starts, for him, with the well-being of his animals. They are not fed with chemicals and this is evident in the taste and quality of the end product. Intelligent and poignant questions were posed from those in our party with a knowledge of the process and it was endorsed that many of the mass produced products sold more cheaply in the supermarkets and cleverly branded are simply not the same. It is the old adage – you get out what you put in and what you pay for!

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Smoking the sausages

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And then the best part – the tasting – those lovely, happy ‘plumptious’ pigs did not die in vain and all the efforts and skills of Senhor Duarte, his mother, siblings and ancestors have not be fruitless. We feasted!


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Cured & Smoked Tuna

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Smokey, silky, robustly rich and fishy. Cured and smoked tuna is delicious – serve as a starter or with a green salad, simply dressed! We marinated a two kilo loin with kosher salts, brown and white sugar, rum, juniper berries, mace, pepper, cloves and bay leaves. It was then placed in the fridge for 4 days before being cold smoked for 4 hours over maple and apple wood briquettes. All our curing salts and smoke house were bought from www.weschenfelder.co.uk

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Raw tuna.

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Cover in kosher curing salts, brown sugar and the spices. Marinate in the fridge.

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Four days later!

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This is the tuna after 4 hours of cold smoking.

 

 


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Sausages, Glorious Sausages! Pork, Cranberry and Port.

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In preparation for Christmas (yes, I am wonderfully organised this year), I have been experimenting with some sensational seasonal flavours. Using a traditional combination of cranberries and a generous ‘glug-glug’ of Ruby Port, I do believe I’ve struck gold. I served them for dinner last night on a bed of sweet potato mash and a gravy of red onions, cranberries and Port. The mergence of flavours was rich and deeply satisfying. I love sausages and being creative with the variations of flavour that one can achieve. All our sausages are ninety percent good quality pork meat. The other ten percent is made up of the crumb and spices. I don’t use any chemical additives or preservatives, so the sausages are what they should be and in terms of value, one of our ‘hearty’ sausages is worth at least two of the mass produced variety. Skins and sausages making kit all available from: www.weschenfelder.co.uk  ~ have a go yourself!

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Homemade sausages – Pork, Port and Cranberry. Why wait until Christmas?

For the gravy, slice a small red onion and fry gently in a pan with a little olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Finely chop a tablespoon of dried cranberries and add to the pan. Add a ‘glug’ of Ruby Port and simmer, add a splash of water, allowing the liquids to reduce a little. Add a knob of butter to thicken and achieve a glossy sheen.

I prefer to oven bake my sausages – they cook more evenly – for about 25 minutes at 180/190 degrees centigrade, turning once.

Sausages ~ Pork, Port & Cranberry

Prep Time: 1 Hour Cooking Time: 25 Mins

Ingredients:

  • Per kilo of minced pork (good fat content)
  • 15g salt
  • 2g black pepper
  • 2g white pepper
  • 2g dried sage
  • 10g chopped dried cranberries
  • 75g crumb/rusk
  • 100ml of cold water
  • 1 table spoon of Ruby Port 

Directions:

  1. Add the seasoning to the minced pork and mix together well.
  2. Add the cranberry and water. Mix well.
  3. When the meat texture changes to ‘smooth’, add the crumb/rusk and mix well again.
  4. Add the Port and mix in well.
  5. You are now ready to fill the skins. Follow the instructions, as per your machine!
  6. The preparation time is approximate. The skins should be soaked for 24 hours before filling.

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Salt Beef

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Producing the most delicious, succulent salt beef is so very easy. Follow the recipe below which has been supplied by Weschenfelder (www.wechenfelder.co.uk) from whom we order all our curing salts.

After just four to five days in the brine, the results are sensational – sweet and tender. Eat cold or hot, it’s absolutely delicious either way .

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Into a plastic container, place the beef with the salt beef curing salts/brine and spices.

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Sliced thinly using a ham knife, the most deliciously tender meat can be produced from a relatively cheap cut of beef!

 

Salt Beef

Ingredients:

  • 1kg Beef Brisket
  • 2 ltr Salt Beef Brine Cure (www.weschenfelder.co.uk)
  • 150g Brown Sugar
  • 1 tsp Crushed Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp Coriander Seed
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1 tsp Thyme

Directions:

  1. Mix the brine by adding 95% water to 5% of the Salt Beef Cure.
  2. Add the sugar and spices to the brine. Bring to the boil. Cool.
  3. Once the brine is cold, place the beef in a plastic container and pour over the meat to cover.
  4. If the meat floats to the top, weigh it down.
  5. Leave in the fridge for 3-4 days, turning the beef daily. For larger pieces, extend this time by a day or two.
  6. Once the beef is cured, wash under cold running water.
  7. Cook in a water bath. It can be simmered slowly on the hob, but I prefer to put mine in a water bath in a deep baking tray in the oven.
  8. For a ‘medium’ result, I test the meat with a meat thermometer and stop the cooking process when the meat reaches 60 degrees centigrade. (70 degrees centigrade if you wish to achieve a well cooked joint). 

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Pork & Sage Sausages with Caramelised Onion, Red Currant & Red Wine Gravy

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What a shame the torrential rains, rivalling those that fall in the tropics, didn’t arrive a few days earlier, thus preventing the rampant forest fire that devastated bush and woodland within a couple of kilometres of our home. Today, the heavens have opened here in the Algarve, lashing rain cascades with momentous force from the roof, hitting the terrace with loud resonant slaps as the gutters spill over, Niagara like, and the roads transmute into fast flowing foaming rivers. The clouds have descended over the hills of Monchique, obliterating them from our view. The atmosphere is damp, grey and clammy with a growing chilliness in the air –  driving my apetite towards thoughts of comfort food. What better excuse! It’s time to dust off the sausage making machine (speak persuasively to my husband who assists me with this task) and soak the natural pig skins in preparation. We have invited four of our neighbours to join us for dinner, so we need to make these sausages worthy of taking centre stage on the table.

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A view from our house – a forest fire burning into the night! Not relevant to sausage making, but I thought you might like to see it!

Charcuterie has fallen into my husband’s ‘department’. The equipment we use is heavy and cumbersome and I find the process functions better with two of us. We make up five kilo batches of sausages at a time, because we have a loyal following of friends who are always pleased to receive a packet or two! Good English style sausages are not often readily available here in Portugal, so the novelty value is to our advantage. For most domestic use, I would recommend starting with two kilos of meat which would produce about thirty-five deliciously plump sausages. The making of these lovelies is not a five minute job and the clean up process is laborious. It is also very important that this is carried out meticulously as raw pork can be a dangerous medium. Therefore, it falls, most definitely,  into my husband’s department, unaided if I can get away with it!

Weschenfelder supply all our charcuterie goods. They are based in the United Kingdom and offer an excellent service, supplying equipment, sausage skins, curing salts among many other things. Visit their site at www.weschenfelder.co.uk

Here is the making of our sausages in photographs, followed by the recipe. Have a go yourself – it’s fun and you can create your own recipes! Coming up to Christmas, we will be making some Pork, Port and Cranberry Sausages – watch this spot!

I served these succulent sausages with buttery mash potatoes, carrots (boiled with a little sugar in the water to enhance their natural sweetness) and caramelised onion, red currant and red wine gravy. A heart warming treat for any rainy day!

For the gravy – simply slice an onion into strips and pan-fry in a little olive oil and butter mixed. Allow to caramelise. Add salt and pepper and a cup of red wine. Simmer for a couple of minutes and add a tablespoon of red currant jelly. Let the gravy reduce. I add a teaspoon of butter to thicken and give the juices a glaze. Taste at all times and adjust (salt and pepper) to suit your taste. Pour over generously.  Gravy heaven!!

 

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We buy a cut of pork (belly/rib)with sufficient fat content to give the sausages the correct consistency, removing the bones and the grizzle, alternatively you can buy ready minced pork, but ensure that it has not had soya or breadcrumb already added to bulk it out! Below mincing the meat and adding the ingredients: Per kilo – 15g salt, 2g white pepper, 2g black pepper, 2g dried sage, 100g breadcrumb, 100ml of water IMG_1421 IMG_1424

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Place the minced pork in the mixing bowl with the ingredients.

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Mix together.

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Feed the soaked skins onto the nozzle of the sausage maker. A fiddly job!

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Filling the skins evenly.

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Fill the cylinder of the sausage maker with the meat mixture and attach the nozzle with the skins.

 

Pork & Sage Sausages

Prep Time: 1 Hour 30 Mins Cooking Time: 30 Mins

Ingredients:

  • Per kilo of minced pork
  • 15g salt
  • 2g black pepper
  • 2g white pepper
  • 2g dried sage
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • 100ml water

Directions:

  1. If you buy the pork pre minced, I would suggest a cut with sufficient fat to give the sausages moisture and a good texture. The meat surrounding the ribs is good, but unless you are a practised butcher, it is a fiddly and lengthy process to carefully remove the bone and any sinew or grizzle. If you buy ready minced pork, it is important to ensure that it has a good fat content and not contain soya or crumb. Buying ready mince certainly cuts down the time element!
  2. We use natural hog casings for the skins, but man-made ones are also available. Soak the skins for about 24 hours.
  3. Place the meat in a mixing bowl and add the ingredients. Combine together thoroughly.
  4. Load the meat mixture into the cylinder of your sausage maker.
  5. Thread the skins onto the nozzle. Weschenfelder sell skins that are pre-spooled and easier to use.
  6. By turning the handle slowly the meat flows evenly into the skins. Sometimes, it is easier to have one person turning the handle while the other uses both hands to guide the flow of the skin and ensure the meat fills evenly.
  7. Once you have a long ‘snake’ of skins evenly filled with meat, twist the first sausage a couple of times at about 12cm lengths. Tying them in the traditional butcher’s style, is a practised art and I suggest referring to the internet to fine tune this skill. We cheat! Just twist the sausages alternatively clock and anti-clockwise.
  8. It’s also better to leave the sausages in the fridge for a few hours before cooking, as it helps to dry the skins.
  9. I bake my sausages in the oven at 180 degrees centigrade or 350 degrees fahrenheit for 30 minutes, turning once. Prick the skins first.

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Home Cured Ham

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Producing home cured ham is incredibly easy to do and so much better than mass produced shop-bought products. To begin with, there are no unpleasant ‘E’ numbers to upset your body’s natural balance or excess water to bulk out the weight and, in so doing, raise the price. Home cured ham simply tastes much better and it’s a fun thing to do.

I buy all my charcuterie products from Weschenfelder in the UK. They are easy to deal with and, if like me, you are living outside the United Kingdom, they will send an order through the mail system for a most reasonable cost. Visit their site at: www.weschenfelder.co.uk

From my butcher, I selected a fresh loin of pork – about two kilos in weight. The meat was submerged in a solution made up with Weschenfelder’s Quick Cure Salts and I added rosemary, bay leaves and black peppercorns to enhance the flavour. The meat was turned daily for four days. At the end of this period, I simmered the meat in a water bath for about an hour. Using a meat thermometer, I checked the temperature until the loin reached 71 degrees centigrade.

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Absolutely delicious! Home cured ham!!

Allow the ham to cool before slicing and tasting!! It was succulent with a hint of sweetness and beats any mass produced ‘cardboard’ ham bought in a supermarket.

 


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