Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Andouille Sausage 101

Everyone has a favorite dish. For me, it's gumbo, especially on a cold day. Gumbo isn't hard to make - it's basically a stew - but good gumbo is a different story. You need good technique, good equipment (especially a heavy cast iron skillet), and most importantly, good ingredients. For the most part, that means getting high quality protein (I prefer crawfish, shrimp, or chicken when I make gumbo), fresh vegetables, and good butter (I prefer cultured, grass fed butter when available). The last piece of the puzzle, and the one that has eluded me so far, is andouille. A spicy, coarsely ground pork sausage, when done right it's spicy, sweet, with a hint of garlic. When done bad, it's no better than dollar store kielbasa. It's not easy to find on the west coast, and the few brands that the local stores do offer are hardly authentic - collagen casings, chicken, beef, even soy-based - a far cry from the heavily seasoned pork-based sausage it mimics. A lot of recipes have admitted defeat, suggesting to use polska kielbasa or even italian sausage in lieu of andouille. But for me, no such shortcuts exist. With little option, I decided I would have to make my own...

Luckily, I had a new electric smoker that was begging to be used, and several resources on how to make it (relying heavily on this site). After several trips to the butcher and grocery stores to procure the necessary cuts of pork and casings - I could not find beef casings in the area and had to settle for hog, something I will address with the second batch - it was time to get to work.

I ground half of the pork shoulder/butt, and coarsely chopped the other half, to get the course texture I was looking for. Then I added the seasonings, pink salt, water and minced garlic. After that, it was time to stuff the mixture into the hog casings. (As a side note, I will have to invest in a much better stuffer in the future if I don't want to spend several hours stuffing.) After the first few links I got the hang of it - the trick is to move the casings slow enough to get them filled tightly, without rupturing them.

Once stuffed, the links were tied off and sent to the smoker. I used a mixture of cherry and peach wood, although I have read that pecanwood is the preferred choice for many (another thing to address next time!). I smoked the links for approximately 6 hours at 175, ramping the temperature to 225 for the last hour. Next time I may need to smoke them a bit longer as the smoke flavor was more subdued than I would have liked.

After cooling, I vacuum-sealed and froze most of it, but did manage to sneak in a batch of gumbo the next day. I have a few bugs to work out, this being my first batch of homemade sausage, but overall, well worth the effort and leaps and bounds above what you can buy. Finally, gumbo I can be proud of. Now if only I knew how to make tasso ham...

Enjoy some additional photos after the break.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Local Lambic 2013: Açaí Berry Sour

For the last two years now I've been brewing a local 'lambic' - on Monday I posted an update on the 2012 batch; the 2013 batch has been in secondary for a little over a year now, so it was time to do something with it.

Much like last year, I planned to split the batch, fruiting most of it while reserving a portion for later blending. However, with nearly 5 gallons of beer this year (compared to 3.5) I still had quite a bit left over afterwards, so I decided to bottle it as straight lambic.

My philosophy with brewing is that I don't want to make something I can buy at the store (because what's the point?) so I always like to put a spin on beers. In the case of fruit lambics, it's using non-traditional fruits, especially fruits that would be cost-prohibitive on a commercial scale. As you might recall, last year the fruit of choice was one of my all-time favorites, boysenberries. This year, I settled on another fruit I enjoy, the much-hyped açaí berry. I was hoping to use frozen fresh berries, but given the limited areas in which they are grown that proved to be nearly impossible, so I had to settle for bottled puree - luckily almost every health store carries some form of this. Ignoring the health benefits of the fruit, I felt the berry and chocolate notes would pair well with a sour base beer. I will find out in about six months.

Until then, enjoy some photos from bottling day after the break.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Local Lambic 2012: Boysenberry'n it Up

Note: Still playing catch-up with the blog, so a lot of the posts you'll be seeing for the next few weeks are from last year. Thanks.

Back in April of 2012 I brewed the inaugural batch of local lambic - my take on the classic sours of Belgium, using a turbid mash, aged hops, and locally harvested yeast and bacteria.

The last update on this beer was back in February of last year, when I racked most of it onto boysenberry puree (and reserved a gallon for future use). After that, the beer fermented out and aged for another 10 months, finally getting bottled in December of last year.

I ended up getting almost a full case of 375mL bottles as well as a handful of larger 750mL ones. It will probably be another 6 months + before it's carbonated, but I'm very excited by how this beer has turned out. Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

In the Garden 2014: Hoppin' into action

Just a quick post this weekend, but with the warmer weather recently, the hops have awoken from their slumber and are, as expected, growing like crazy - all of the plants have started sprouting. Check it out (more photos after the break):

Cascade, of course. They do very well in this climate.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cranberry Stout

Note: Still playing catch-up with the blog, so a lot of the posts you'll be seeing for the next few weeks are from last year. Thanks.

Back in December I ended the brewing hiatus and did something I usually don't - a "normal" beer, low in alcohol, without the expense and time commitment of the barrel aged and sour beers I usually brew.

This time the idea was to take the flavors of a traditional dry stout, but replace a portion of the bitterness with cranberries - if done right, I felt the bitter, astringent, slightly sour flavor would lend itself well to the style. I set out to craft a recipe that would work with this in mind - backing up off the roasted malts a bit, as well as the IBUs.

For the cranberries I decided to use a 12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries, dumped straight into the boil with about 15 minutes left. In theory this was a great idea, but unfortunately, it also clogged the ball valve like you wouldn't believe - I ended up having to siphon the beer out manually.

I added another 32 ounces of unprocessed, unfiltered cranberry juice to the primary along with enough water to top it off to 5 gallons, as I had boiled off more water than I planned. Fermentation went off without a hitch - afterwards I bumped the temp up into the upper 60's and conditioned it in primary for about 6 weeks. Final gravity came out at 1.011, which puts this right at 7% - higher than I'd wanted but still drinkable, especially compared to the quad I will be brewing next for QuadFest '14.

Recipe and some more photos after the break.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How To: DIY Maraschino Cherries

Note: Long time, no see - I'm playing catch-up with the blog, so a lot of the posts you'll be seeing for the next few weeks are from last year. Thanks.

Lately I've been on a bit of a Manhattan kick - they might just be my favorite cocktail (but it has to be with rye - as much as I love bourbon the flavors just don't meld as well, in my opinion).
I always try and use the best (within reason!) ingredients I can, whether it's cooking, brewing, or anything inbetween. Finding good rye whisky is easy. Finding good vermouth is a little harder, but nothing a trip to Total Wine can't fix. But good maraschino cherries? That's tricky. The bright red ones you see all over aren't really anything like the real thing - they don't taste like cherries either. I've tried some of the higher quality ones, but they all miss the mark - too sour, too vegetal, too... weird. So I gave up and decided to make my own.
Doing some research I learned that maraschino cherries are actually named after the liqueur (which itself is named after the variety of cherries it is flavored with, Marasca cherries). In ye olden days, they were made by soaking fresh cherries in maraschino liqueur and a heavy dose of table sugar. At some point, they mutated into the bright red, flavorless contraptions hoisted on you at the local Denny's.
So, TLDR, get some fresh, pitted cherries, and throw them in a jar with some maraschino liqueur - can't be too hard, right? Unfortunately, I had this brilliant idea in December when cherry season was decidedly over. Luckily, one of the higher-end supermarkets was still carrying fresh bing cherries. I pitted them myself, leaving the stems on (for the cool factor) as well as reserved the pits for the jar - much like when making Kriek, it's the pits that give you all the delicious nutty flavors (ever wonder why we put almond extract in cherry pie? Yep.). As for the liqueur, any brand will do, but the most popular/readily available seems to be Luxardo.
I placed as many cherries as would fit, pits, and about 1/2 cup of granulated sugar in a mason jar and then filled it to the brim with the maraschino liqueur. After about a week they looked 'done' to me, although at 60 proof I doubt they will really ever go bad.