The Great Mead Project

Last fall the kitchen I was working in was buzzing about the subject of fermentation.  Not the normal kitchen fermentation conversations which is usually about what someone will be enjoying post service but the actual process and of how to create a fermented beverage.  These conversations were mainly about making kombucha and kefir water, both of which almost all of us in the kitchen consumed on a regular basis.  While I am one of those who does enjoy kombucha it was not the type of fermentation I was interested in.  For some reason mead came to mind and it was all I could think of.

20121004-124757.jpgMy first introduction to mead was when I was asked to write a forward for a series of books that were to be republished by my friend Jimi Hatt who is the founder of Guerrilla Cuisine in Charleston, South Carolina. The first book I worked on was titled “Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine” and contained a brief mention and recipe for two types of mead.  Ever since then making mead has been in the back of my mind. And as luck would have it I happened to have a pint of raw, unpasteurized honey.

Since the old cookery book had a rather archaic recipe I decided to reference a better source on how to ferment my honey. The best, and easiest recipe I found was in the book, “The Art of Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz. In this book Katz explains that raw honey contains loads of natural yeast that are unable to ferment the honey as is because of the lower water content of honey itself.  Raw honey usually contains 17% water keeping the naturally occurring yeast at bay.  With a simple 2% increase the yeast will activate and start the fermentation process.

So by simply adding water in almost any quantity the yeast are free to do what they do best, produce alcohol. It is important to note that the honey you wish to ferment has to be raw and unpasteurized for the fermentation to happen with out the addition of an outside yeast source. This doesn’t mean that you can not make mead from store bought honey. Should you want to try out mead production yourself and have no source for raw honey you can always purchase a mead yeast from your local brewing store or online.

Following the guidelines set up by Katz I dissolved the honey in room temperature water. I did not take the time or steps to dechlorinate my water, though he did advise to do so. I started with an 8:1 water to honey ratio. After dissolving the honey completely I whisked it vigorously to aerate the liquid as much as possible and then covered it tightly with cheese cloth.

Mead FoamEach day I whisked (stirred) the solution twice a day, again to introduce oxygen to to it which is key to stimulate strong yeast growth.  Much to my surprise after only a day and a half the honey was already rapidly fermenting, indicated by the amount of foam produced when I whisked it. By the end of the two week long first fermentation period the foam was almost an inch and a half tall, it blew my mind.  At this point the mead was still very sweet with the distinct taste of the honey I made it with. It also had a nice effervescence to it.   According to Katz, at this point the glucose in the honey has fully fermented.  You can choose to consume the mead as is, or like me continue on to completely ferment the fructose as well.  At this point to complete the fermentation I racked the mead into a gallon size cider jar with a small mouth and sealed it with a CO2 air lock.  This simple contraption allows the CO2 produced by the fermentation to escape while not allowing any outside air back it.  This is a crucial step if you want to continue fermentation.  If outside air is allowed back into the container there is a very high chance that our friend acetobacter will enter the picture and create a beautiful vinegar out of your mead.  For this reason you want to limit any outside air contact.

I started this project on the 1st of October last year.  After the first two weeks I racked the mead into the cider jar.  From there, every two months, I would rack the mead into another cider jug and reapply the air lock.  This quickly oxygenates the liquid giving the yeast more air to breathe and ensuring the continuation of the fermentation.  It also gives you a chance to taste the mead as it progresses.  You can of course bottle it or drink it at any time you feel it is perfect.  Should you choose to bottle the mead before fermentation is complete you do need to keep in mind that the fermentation process is not yet complete thus CO2 is still being produced.  This will create pressure in the bottle and unless the proper lid is used (one that can be secured such as a champagne cork with the metal guard) the pressure will eventually pop the cork or lid off and you could have a real mess on your hands.  I decided at the beginning that I was going to see the fermentation all the way through to the end.  Once there were no more bubbles present when the mead was agitated, just over six months, I bottled it.  I of course tasted it at this point to see what I had just made 2 gallons of.  What I discovered was that the mead had lost almost all of it’s sweetness.  With a very subtle honey flavor the mead was very dry with a sharp finish.  Fearing the worst I quickly tried a taste of some white wine vinegar I had in the pantry to compare the two.  Fortunately the two were distinctly different with the vinegar having less of a dry finish with that acidic bite we all love vinegar for.  The mead was dry, very dry, but had none of the acidic qualities the vinegar had.  I was also trying it at room temperature so that may have had something to do with it. mead bottling I bottled the mead in 375 ml bottles assuming that I would probably not want to drink an entire 750 ml in one sitting.   My plan is to allow the mead to age and mellow for another 6 months in the bottle and then to start trying it.

My mind is also already planning my next batch.  Figs, thyme, possibly even fresh bay leaves will be involved in the next production.  Who knows maybe even some fresh coriander seed and Meyer lemon zest will make an appearance.  It all depends on what the garden is producing at the time.  As fall approaches again it will be time to enjoy the fermented nectar of the honey bee.

– matt bolus

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July 27, 2013 · 5:07 pm

Jack Crevalle

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I caught this on a recent fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico.  The first mate of the boat laughed at me when I told him I was going to filet it and take it home.  “No one eats these fish, they are not even good bate fish”, he said.  Well, if I take a fish out of the water then I am going to eat it.  Some research has been done, and more needs to be finished.  I know this fish is a part of the Jack family, a stunningly good family of fish when fresh and cooked right.  So more to come about this elusive and seemingly useless fish!

 

– matt bolus

 

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July 25, 2013 · 11:39 pm

John Dory

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The John Dory, aka St. Pierre, is one of my all time favorite fish in the sea.  I first encountered this magnificent fish while working for Dave Blagden (a fourth generation master fish monger) at his shop Blagden’s in London.  While the shop is unfortunately now closed, the lessons and appreciation of this fish continue on.

The John Dory got it’s English name from the French, Jaune Dore or golden yellow.  Hard to tell from this picture but the fish, especially in their younger age, actually have a golden yellow color in the water.  Also hard to tell by looking at this picture is the amount of armor this fish carries with it.  All around the perimeter of the body, just below the fins, are cleverly disguised spikes or horns if you will.  And what holds these spikes to the body are what must be bullet proof oval plates that over lap each other.  There is also one spike, along with razor sharp edges, just at the outer most point of each gill.  This armament is rumored to be the reason for the name St. Pierre or Saint Peter’s fish.  The legend goes that Saint Peter himself, the patron saint of fishermen, taught fishermen how to pick up the fish without cutting their hands by grabbing them just behind the gills to avoid all the spikes.  Because Saint Peter grabbed the fish in this manner all John Dory have a distinctive spot in this area (I know you can’t see it in this picture, but trust me it is there).

John Dory are typically found in the Atlantic Ocean around Europe as well as in the Mediterranean Sea.  Cleaning them is obviously not easy.  Though they swim like a round fish they actually have a bone structure similar to that of a flat fish such as Halibut or Flounder.  The first thing to accomplish when cleaning this fish is to cut under all of the plates that surround the fish.  This can be done in two ways.  The first, and my preference, is to cut underneath them by inserting your knife under the plates from the the body side, meaning from the outside of the fish.  The second way is the cut all of the fins off, down to the plates, and then filet the fish from the outside.  I find that cutting all the fins off, while possibly safer, takes far to much time.  Not to mention you have to have scissors durable enough to complete the task.  Either way, once this is accomplished remove the filets as you would over filet any flat fish, many filets can be cut into two pieces.  The one bad thing I have to say about this fish is the yield.  From my experience you are only going to obtain a 35% to 40% usable filet from the over all weight of the fish.  None the less this fish is worth it.  The texture of the John Dory is amazing, silky smooth yet durable.  It is the sexy cousin of the Swordfish.  Not quite a steak like texture but not flaky either.  The flavor is delicate and sweet and will take on most flavors it is cooked with so I limit it to salt, butter, thyme, and lemon juice.

– matt bolus

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Filed under Acid, Bottarga, Butcher, Buthering, butter, Cooking, Fish, Fish Eggs, Fish Roe, Flavor, Herbs, Ideas, John Dory, Lemon Juice, Matt Bolus, Thyme, Uncategorized

Chestnuts

I received these beautiful local chestnuts yesterday from a lady just down the road from my house. I have been playing with chestnut ideas for a few years now since my parents have a true fruit bearing American chestnut tree.

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Filed under Canning, Chestnuts, Cooking, Fall, Flavor, Garden, Ideas, Matt Bolus, Sous Vide

Black Garlic

I have found an interest in black garlic and like many things I start researching I have found a desire to make my own. The research I have done has yielded recipes that start at aging the garlic in caves for months on end and end with custom built boxes with lights, fans, thermostats, and viewing windows. The best, or most common I should say, recipe I found was to keep the garlic at 140 F for 40 days. While simple this is not the easiest task to accomplish. First of all what is the heat source? Remember you are not going to be able to use it for 40 days. Second what heat producing equipment can stay on for 40 straight days with no problems? After testing my crock pot, which we hardly ever use, I found that on a low setting it will hold a temperature range of 138 F to 160 F. So with 12 head of garlic I am starting the 40 day process of black garlic. I placed some aluminum foil on the bottom of the dish in an attempt to keep the garlic from directly touching the vessel itself. Humidity seems to also be a dilemma is the production of black garlic in that you don’t want to lose any moisture as the garlic ferments. I have covered the top of the pot tightly with cling film and inserted a thermometer so I can monitor the temperature. The garlic has been on the heat for all of two hours now and all I can smell is roasting garlic in the house.

–matt bolus

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Pork Ham Steaks

I have seen so many hogs butchered in my career that I can not even begin to count them. And the same thing always seems to happen with the ham; it is either cured into a country ham, ground for charcuterie, or ground for some sort of cooking. It has always bothered me that no one uses these beautifully large muscles for nothing else. I guess I can’t say never with any certainty in that no idea in the culinary world seems to be original. It is just my experience that other cuts of the pig seem to get more attention and ideas behind them. I have always wanted something more to do with the rear leg of the pig. I mean why not? We are always seeing the “Denver Leg” cut of venison or antelope which is the exact same part of the animal, just a different animal.

So I decided with this last hog we got I was going to change the norm for my butchering world. I took one of the hind legs and deconstructed it. What I was left with was six muscles that would yield good portioned steaks, lots of meat for grinding, a good amount of fat for rendering, and great skin for pork rinds. I removed all of the silver skin, fat, and random bits from each muscle so they where beautifully lean. I say lean but as you can see from the picture there is a great deal of marbling still present. I then used a jaccard meat tenderizer on each of the portioned steaks. I did this for two reasons. The first being the obvious, hind leg meat is notorious for being a tough cut (just one of the many reasons they are so commonly NOT used as steaks), and the second is that in all the “Denver Leg” venison steaks, even from the top producers I have used, I saw the marks of a jaccard.

Once prepped I heavily seasoned the steaks with salt and a twist or two of black pepper. I have to take a second here and explain why I say “heavily” when I refer to seasoning the steaks with salt. It has been my experience in sous vide cooking that if the protein, in particular pork, is not seasoned well then the end result is a bland taste. I can only equate this to the fact that many times pork is cooked with some time of liquid. Either stock, fat or some sort, or both are used in the sous vide bags with the pork. If this liquid is not seasoned, which neither a stock nor fat should be, then the liquid would of course absorb a degree of the salt thus reducing the amount the actual protein can absorb. I bagged the steaks with 4 ounces of pork stock (made from the bones of the same pig), a good slug of olive oil, and 1/2 cup of lard (rendered from the fat of the same pig). I also added 1 clove of garlic, 12 white peppercorns, and several sprigs of thyme. I cooked the steaks at 56.5 Celsius for 6 hours.

To finish the steaks I seared them in a mix of lard and canola oil to caramelize the outside and heat the steak through. I will admit the first one got away from me and cooked a little longer than I wanted and ended up a solid medium well when finished. I nailed the second at a perfect medium. To my amazement both were fantastic. Tender, juicy, and loaded with wonderful porky flavor. And while the medium steak was obviously my favorite I would not have turned away the over cooked medium well by any means. Finished with a nice bourbon smoked sea salt and a new dish was formed. Now what to serve them with?

–matt bolus

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Filed under Butcher, Buthering, Cooking, Fat, Flavor, Ideas, Matt Bolus, pork, Pork Fat, Sous Vide

Cross cut of Landrace and Large White Hog

This is the latest whole hog we received from our farmer Sam Yoder of Jolly Barnyard Farm in Kentucky. The pig itself is a mix of Landrace and Large White hogs. Both are very old European breeds brought to the United States in the 1800’s. It has to be one of the best crosses I have ever worked with. This picture is the cut I made between the fourth and fifth rib. What we yielded from it was 15 of the most beautiful chops (both bone in and out) that I have ever had. We seasoned them heavily with salt and black pepper and individually bagged them with pork stock(made from the bones of the same pig) and thyme. Then we sous vide them at 56.5 Celsius for 4 hours. Once done and chilled we pan-fried the chop in lard (rendered from the fat of the same pig) until crisp and hot. The result was the best pork chop I have ever had in my life. The meat was as tender as ever and cooked only to about medium. The flavor was truly pork in every way imaginable. I do have to say that for the bone in chops we left all the meat and fat on the bone, meaning we did not french cut it in any way.

–matt bolus

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Filed under Buthering, Fat, Matt Bolus, pork, Pork Fat, Sous Vide