Quick Pic: Hog Maws

I’m not really an expert on hog maws (pig stomachs,) but something tells me one of those might be a little ‘off.’ (Kinda brown as compared to the others.)

Anyone know?
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On the Road: Hooks Bar-B-Q

A nice enough little barbecue join in tiny Opp, Alabama. While headed home from our family vacation we pulled off here to grab a bite for lunch. It’s everything you want in a smoke shack. Wooden tables, house made sauces, big portions, decent prices. If I’m ever in the area I’ll stop again.

Also, there was a menu board that had Korean Hangul script on it (I think it’s Korean Hangul, forgive me if I’m wrong. Better yet, correct me in the comments and I’ll fix it!) That’s not something you see everyday when you’re ordering pulled pork. If anyone knows why this place has the board, let me know please! (I find it really cool and quirky; purely because it’s so out-of-the-ordinary for Alabama.)

Hooks Bar-B-Q

601 Highway 331 S

Opp, AL 36467

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Hooks Bar-B-Q

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Pulled pork, spicy sauce, beans, potato salad.

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Shot of the staff and English menu. Love the wooden walls.

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Korean Hangul? Help!

On The Road: Catfish Heaven

A hidden gem in Tuscaloosa. The interior is small, and the decor sparse, but that really doesnt matter. The food speaks for itself. A simple, good thing.

Not in the mood for catfish? They also have trout, pork chops, and hot wings.

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A note on the image above. Years ago a dear friend of mine introduced me to eating catfish the “right way.” Ketchup, Mustard, and Louisiana Hot sauce. I’ve eaten catfish that way ever since.

Thanks Rich!

Catfish Heaven
2502 21st St Tuscaloosa, AL 35401

On the Road: The Brick Pit. Mobile, Alabama

Great little BBQ joint. Too bad none of my pictures of the food came out. It was pretty dark inside until just after my wife and I had finished our meal.

Quick tip: Skip the sauce. It destracts from some wonderfully smoky meat.

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Here’s a shot from their website.

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Check them out at:

5456 Old Shell Road
Mobile, Alabama 36608

More pics and videos at their website:

http://brickpit.com

On the Road: Arthur Bryant’s, Kansas City

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On a trip out of town to attend the wedding of a childhood friend, my traveling companions and I decided to make a pit stop during our 13hr trek and eat at one of Kansas City’s most famous landmarks.

…Well, that’s not exactly the truth. The truth is about a month before we went I suggested that we stop off for Arthur Bryant’s because people keep raving about how amazing the place is, and we were driving smack dab through the city that it’s in.

Ok, more truth. I didn’t suggest. I begged. I begged like a starving dog.

Don’t judge me.

Anyways, it paid off. It’s everything that I wanted in an old-school BBQ joint. Old chairs, formica tables, meat, bread, beans, fries, pickles and sweet tea (who knew you could get sweet tea in Kansas?) We got there a little too early and subsequently the ribs weren’t ready yet, so we all settled for a combo of burnt ends, and one other item off of the menu. I went for the sausage, and was honestly a little perplexed when my lunch was passed around the corner to me. I was expecting link smoked sausage. What I got was what I initially thought was sliced pork shoulder. On closer inspection however, I discovered that I had actually gotten the sausage I ordered. Thinly sliced off of a larger roll, the sausage is smoky, peppery, and has a mild tang. Think highly smoked salami. It was wonderful. As was the pulled pork and brisket that my companions had purchased.

The star of the show, was of course, the burnt ends. Melt in your mouth, super smoky & slightly charred.

Unfortunately the picture above of my burnt ends and sausage combo just doesn’t do it justice. My original “A” shot was just a bit too blurry to post, so I had to skip it for the “B” shot.

As far as sauces go, Arthur Bryant’s sauce is world famous. Partially for tasting like no other BBQ sauce I’ve ever had. It’s, in a word, gritty. Probably a blend of liquids and dry rub. Plus there’s quite a bit of sour tang to it. Personally, I think it does the trick when being slathered on for cooking. The spices help accent the smoky flavor of the meat. It’s just not my favorite for cold-pouring on meat.

Both my companions and myself leaned toward the more “KC-like” AB Sweet Heat or AB Rich and Spicy sauce for pouring and dipping, but, to each his own.

In summary,  Arthur Bryant’s is a top-notch “worth the drive” BBQ destination. Get the burnt ends, they’re life-changing.

If I ever get to go back to KC, I’ll try to hit Oklahoma Joes or some of the other KC hotspots.

Thanks for reading!

TST

Fat Back and Hog Jowls

For the life of me, I haven’t been able to figure out why Fat back and Hog Jowls haven’t taken off in popularity in the last few years. With the onset of “Bacon Mania” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacon_mania) and the resurgence of “discarded bits” and “offal-centric” cuisine, one would think that it’s a match made in porky heaven.

Lets start of with the basics. Unbeknownst to most people “bacon” can refer to different cuts of pork in different parts of the world. Essentially, the only thing that binds them together is the fact that the majority of things called bacon have been smoked and cured. Bacon, as we know it in the U.S. is typically made from smoked and cured pork belly. But quite a bit of other “bacons” are readily available here in the states.

Example 1: Fatback.

Fatback. Image Credit: Ryan Adams via http://www.chefs-resources.com

Fatback is smoked and cured adipose tissue (subcutaneous fat) from the back of the pig. As it’s name suggests it is mostly fat. Occasionally however, it can include some rind (skin) or meat (back bacon) in it as well.

Fatback is most commonly used as a flavor enhancer (drop it in a pot of peas, collards, etc.) But, I do know people that pan fry it and eat it like belly bacon. (If there’s rind attached, be prepared for it to be quite chewy.)

To be honest, I’m not a fan of the pan-fry fatback method. It produces a ton of grease, is extremely salty to the taste, and can burn quite quickly. I think fatback really shines as a “toss in the pot” ingredient. All that goodness that cooks out of the fat marrys well with something with a high starch content like a big boiler of dry butter beans. The beans will soak up that cooked-off grease and salt and give the beans a nice salty, smoky, pork flavor.

I flip flop my opinions for hog jowls. I think “toss in the pot” with them is a big waste. Here’s why:

Hog jowl is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the smoked cheeks of the pig. It’s often overlooked because most people are turned off at the thought of eating the cheeks of an animal. (I usually laugh at people like this every time they eat a hot dog or a chicken nugget. I’ll let you Google that and find out why.) I think a lot of it has to do with the mental picture of someone slicing a hunk off of the head of an animal and making you eat it. Most Americans don’t want to know where their meat comes from, and don’t like to think about the fact that the meat they eat used to be part of an animal. But at some point, “animal” turns to “meat” and winds up on a grocery store shelf in a nice vacuum sealed package. Then we’re okay with it.

So, just for those squeamish people, here’s a picture of uncooked hog jowl.

Smoked hog Jowl

Smoked Hog Jowl. courtesy: http://www.earthydelightsblog.com

Holy crap! It looks like bacon! Amazing! It’s not a horror show after all!

Now that the hard part is over, lets get down to business.

I’ll just come out and say it. Hog jowls make the best damned bacon you’ve ever tasted. It’s thick, highly smoked, and moderately salty. The outside is crunchy, the inside is chewy and there’s just enough fat to make it have that luscious bacon flavor that drives people nuts.

I cook it just like I cook my belly bacon. In the oven.

Single layer it on a sheet pan, pop it in a 400 degree oven, and turn it every 10 minutes until done. It’s magical. (Some folks brush a little oil on the top of the jowl before putting it in the oven the first time. I’ve never tried it. It’s a little bit of “gilding the lily” for me. But they swear it helps the “outside crunchy/inside soft” texture.)

After it’s done, this is what you get:

Lambert’s Cafe Hog Jowls – courtesy: http://www.gypsynester.com

Looks awesome, right? It is. I’ve had that exact same meal at Lambert’s Cafe in Foley Alabama. It was bacon perfection.

Boiling this stuff absolutely kills it’s potential. I don’t boil hog jowl for the same reason that I don’t boil belly bacon. If you boil it, you’re ruining a great piece of meat. If you just want to add flavor to a boil, use fatback. You’ll get a lot more flavor “boiled out” and you won’t ruin the crunchy-chewy goodness that is jowl meat.

On a parting note, both fatback and hog jowl are a great way to keep moisture in roasted poultry or game birds. Spread slices of either across the top of the bird before slow roasting, and the fat will baste the bird as they both cook.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our look at a couple of oft neglected southern favorites.

Till we meet again.

TST

Poor-Man’s Gravy

Image Credit: visualrecipes.com

Red Eye Gravy or “Poor-man’s Gravy.” It’s a term, to me, that is a complete misnomer. It shines a negative light on a food tradition that is uniquely southern, and exceptionally positive in nature. I submit this, to you the reader. In a world where we revere French cuisine. Especially, as of late, the “humble working-man’s faire” attributed to the modern revival of French haute. So why do we hold with such reverence a style of cooking that stems from the lowest caste of French society, while insulting the simple goodness of another? Why is it that roasting beef bones for marrow, or tourneing vegetables is considered “humble working-man’s faire,” but using the “leftovers” of a southern breakfast to make something wonderful is characterized as something only a poor man would do.

Maybe it’s how we’ve become a society fascinated by cuisine… everywhere but here. We are amazed at someones ability to take scrap, bones and varietal cuts of meat and make amazing dishes (as long as they live somewhere else.) So while the rest of the world turns their eyes somewhere else, to experience the “something from nothing” cooking that is so popular as of late, what do southerners do at the mention of “Poor-man’s gravy?”

They absolutely flip out over it.

Take my advice, if you ever make this stuff, keep your hands away from the inside of the bowl when placing it on a table (especially if your family/friends/guests are already seated.) Not for sanitary reasons, but because you might lose the offending digit in the scramble. Southerners fall on Red-eye gravy like ravenous vultures, dipping, spooning, pouring and sopping. A veritable feeding frenzy at the breakfast table.

For the displaced southerner, It can be especially helpful for finding the uninitiated amongst a group of people, like an inside joke or a secret society. It’s the same scenario every time around. A bowl of the dark, greasy, viscous liquid is placed on a table and looks of confusion and repugnance wave of the faces of those oblivious to it’s charms. But for those who know, pure elation. Their eyes light up, their heart starts racing, and their face becomes awash in notions of reminiscence and unctuous pleasure.

Rightfully so, I might add. That “dark, greasy, viscous liquid” I mentioned earlier, is an explosion of simple flavors bound in a complex way (a metaphor for southern cooking?) The recipe, which I’ve wit held until now for purposes of drama and storytelling, is a prime example of making something amazing from scrap:

Country ham drippings and black coffee.

Yes, that’s all.

Though some may turn their nose up at the notion of gravy tasting like salty pork fat, bitter coffee and acidic undertones, the actual product is a complex and wonderful marriage of flavors.

Red-Eye Gravy

In a cast iron skillet, or heavy bottomed non-stick skillet, brown a few slices of thick Country Ham (or any salt cured ham) reserving as much of the drippings in the pan as possible.

Remove the ham slices and place on a serving dish to hold until later.

Drain the pan juices into a serving bowl, and cover them to keep warm. Do not attempt to scrape the pan, we’ll need those bits in the next step.

Deglaze the pan with just enough coffee to fill the bottom and give room to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. (Usually 8-12oz.)

Simmer for one to two minutes, or until the coffee comes to temperature.

Remove the cover on the bowl of reserved drippings, and pour your coffee mixture into the bowl.

Serve immediately.

Don’t be afraid of the fact that the mixture stays separated, it’s supposed to (that’s where the “eye” in the name comes from.)