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.
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?
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.