Bloggers – Your Country (Skills Blog) Needs You!

I’m still looking for a handful of volunteers for Kate’s Big Country Skills Bacon Challenge!

If you want to try something new and very cool – making your own bacon at home – and have a UK postal address, get in touch, and I’ll provide the curing salt.  Then, just brag about your bacon wherever you blog and to whoever will listen!

Thank you everyone, I now have a full set of volunteers!  Instructions, and hopefully feedback, coming soon!

Finally – Kate’s Big Country Skills Bacon Challenge is here!

I love home-cured bacon, and I think you will too!  The experience of making streaky bacon for the first time was one of the main motivations behind setting up this blog, and more recently I’ve had great success with home-cured back bacon, too.  And yet despite how simple it is, and how wonderful the final product, the most common reaction I get is ‘Oh but that sounds very complicated, you’re braver than me!’.

Home-cured back bacon

In order encourage as many people as possible to try this simplest of all foody experiences, I’ve come up with the following, very simple plan.  I’m calling it ‘Kate’s Big Country Skills Bacon Challenge’.

I will post an 80g pack of ‘Supracure’ curing salt (enough to cure up to 1kg of bacon) to the first 10 people to send me their UK postal address.

Then, I’ll post day-by-day instructions to follow.

Thank you everyone, I now have a full set of volunteers!  Instructions, and hopefully feedback, coming soon!

That’s it, simple as that!  All I want from you in return is to make your bacon, and to write about it, take photos of it, tweet about it, post to facebook about it and generally brag to anyone who’ll listen about how awesome, easy and worthwhile it is!  With any luck, for some of you it may even become a habit of a lifetime.

In order to make your very own bacon, you will need to provide a piece of fresh pork belly or pork loin up to 1kg in weight (ideally with the skin on), a non-metallic dish big enough to hold the meat, ~20g of sugar (soft dark sugar is best), some cling film, a refrigerator, and a couple of minutes a day for five consecutive days.

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Feedback on Country Skills – hyacinths, candles and chickens

I love hearing from my blog readers, especially if you’ve tried out something I’ve written about!

After I wrote my butchery tutorial ‘how to portion a chicken’, blog reader asciiqwerty contacted me to me to let me know how she’d got on following my instructions, and sent me this photo of her finished portioned chicken.

Portioned, skinned and boned out chicken

This time the portions have all been skinned, and the thigh portions have the bones removed – this would make them great for using in a stir-fry or a curry.  She commented particularly on the size of the chicken breasts – which weighed in at about 200g each.  A supermarket pack of two chicken breasts will usually be about 250g in total, so you can see how much more you get for our money.  Well done asciiqwerty, and I hope it was as tasty!

Moving away from food, back at Christmas I made hyacinth bulbs with hydrogel beads, in recycled jam-jars, as gifts for friends and relatives.  I kept one for myself, of course, and thought you might like to see how it all worked out when it came into flower a few weeks ago.

Hyacinth bulb in flower, with hydrogel beads

The smell was amazing, and after this flowerhead died back and I cut it down, the bulb produced a second unexpected bonus flower!  The hyacinth stayed nice and compact and didn’t fall over despite not being secured by anything other than the roots in the jar of beads, which I was very pleased with.

Finally, the recycled chunk candle I made a few weeks back.  I was amazed with this, it turned out so much better than I’d anticipated.

Recycled wax chunk candle

After looking initially as if the melt pool would be a bit pathetic in the centre, it actually burned down very nearly edge-to-edge leaving a thin shell which the candlelight flickered through like stained glass.  I burned it every night for several hours after work, and it lasted a whole fortnight – I’d estimate around 45 hours burn time.

I’d love to hear about any successes (or otherwise!) you might have had trying out country skills – either in the comments, @countryskills on twitter, or by email at countryskillsblog@gmail.com.   Or perhaps there’s something you do that you think I should try – I’m always happy to hear new ideas, so please get in touch!

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Back To Basics – home cured back bacon from start to delicious end

Home cured streaky bacon has been a constant fixture in my house since I first made it back in October – in fact I’ve not bought any ‘commercial’ bacon since.  Back bacon used to be our house favourite though, before I started curing.  A couple of weeks ago I saw a tied pork loin ‘roasting’ joint for sale half-price in the local co-op, and it seemed to good to refuse.

Home-cured back bacon

For home-cured back bacon, you will require –

  • Ingredients for home-cured back baconA piece of pork loin.  The roasting joint was a bit big so I cut it in half to give me a piece about 650g in weight.
  • Curing salt such as Supracure (see the Suppliers List for details), 8% of the total weight of the meat, and
  • Sugar (soft brown sugar is ideal) 2% of the total weight of the meat, to make a total cure weight of 10%
  • A non-metallic dish big enough to contain the meat, and some cling film to cover.
That’s it – I wanted to keep the first effort as simple as possible!

First day - dry-cure rubbed in

Weigh out the cure ingredients and mix them together well.  Now rub about a quarter of the cure mix all over the pork, including on the skin.  You can see it start to draw out moisture from the meat straight away.  Cover the dish loosely with some cling film, and put it in the fridge until tomorrow.

Second day - with 'pickle' in dishThe next day, there will be some liquid in the bottom of the dish.  This is the ‘pickle’ and is made up of some of the curing mix dissolved in the liquid that’s been drawn out of the meat.  It’s completely normal, so don’t worry.  Pour it away, or your dry-cure will pretty quickly turn into a brine cure.  Now take about a quarter of the remaining cure and rub it all over the meat again.  Put it back in the dish the other way up to last time (so skin side up, if you started skin-side down).

Third day - the bacon should be changing texture by this timeRepeat this process for another three days (so that you’ve rubbed cure into the bacon five days running).  By day 3 you should notice a distinct difference in the texture of the meat, it will be firmer in consistency and a bit darker pink in colour.

Finished back bacon, ready to sliceOn the sixth day (so one day longer than the streaky bacon process – this is because the meat is thicker than belly pork), remove the bacon from the dish, rinse it under the tap, dry it carefully with kitchen towel, wrap it loosely with greaseproof paper and put it back in the fridge.  Ideally, wait a couple of days before you start eating it, do let it rest at least overnight.

Home-cured bacon, fryingThen slice your amazing bacon with a sharp knife, and cook however you prefer.  I like to pan-fry my back bacon.  This one is gorgeous and I can only heartily recommend you make some for yourself!

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Basic Butchery – how to portion a chicken

A whole roast chicken is a wonderful treat – more on that later – but it’s not the sort of meal most people want to wait for on a week night after work.

We eat a huge amount of chicken in the UK, and a lot of that is bought pre-portionned and packed from the supermarket, it’s certainly convenient and the portion sizes are more practical.  We’re in love with breast meat in this country, to the extent that the UK is a net importer of white chicken meat – mostly from Thailand and other East-Asian countries – and an exporter of leg meat.  When you think about it, that’s pretty bizzare, not great for the environment (think of the fuel involved in sending the ‘wrong’ chicken backwards and forwards half way around the world!), and leaves us eating lower health and welfare-standard poultry meat than would have been produced in the UK.

Fully portioned chicken

It’s really easy to portion up a whole chicken, and learning this basic butchery skill will save you money.  Even if you just buy a ‘bog-standard’ roasting bird from the supermarket, you get more for your money buying a whole bird and cutting it up yourself, and the savings are even better if you’re buying free range or organic chicken.  And with a bit of kitchen creativity, one whole chicken can provide three or four meals for two people, as well as a lovely batch of chicken stock – bargain!

First, un-wrap your whole chicken and remove any trussing string / elastic holding the legs together.  Pat it dry with kitchen towel as this will help with handling it while you’re cutting it up.  You will need a very sharp knife with a long but reasonably slender blade.  Feel down the centre of the bird, and you should feel a bone running the full length – this is the ‘keel bone’.  Starting on this line, cut downwards parallel to the bone along the full length until your knife stops.

You can now pull the top of the breast away from the keel bone to get a better look at what’s going on.  The bone beneath the knife is the ribcage, so continue carefully cutting the breast meat away from this.  If you work carefully you’ll leave surprisingly little meat behind on the carcass.  After you’ve done this a few times, you’ll get a lot quicker, but speed is not of the essence the first few times.

Once the breast meat is mostly free from the bone, cut the skin between the breast and the thigh and finish removing the breast from the bird.

Portioning chicken - step 4Now we need to detach the legs.  Grasp the thigh and extend the leg away from the body.  You should be able to feel the hip joint (indicated with the knife point in this photo).  Insert the knife firmly into the joint to separate the leg from the body, then cut the leg meat away from the torso leaving as little as possible behind.

Portioning chicken - step 5

Grasping the wing in the same way, identify the joint and push the knife firmly through it, separating the wing from the body of the bird.

Portioning chicken - step 6Congratulations, you’re half way there!  Repeat the process on the other side of the bird.

You will now have two breasts, two legs, two wings, and the remains of the body.  Put the body in a saucepan ready to make stock.  You may be happy with the portions you have now, but more commonly we’d divide the legs into thigh and drumstick portions

Portioning chicken - step 7Grasp the leg, and feel where the joint moves between the thigh and the drumstick.  Simply cut down firmly along this line.   If you’re accurate your knife will pass through the joint space, but the bone here is actually quite soft so if you’re not quite on target, you should be able to cut through anyway, it will just take a little bit more force.   Cut off the ‘knuckle’ part at the bottom of the drumstick in the same way, and discard these (the only bit of waste in the process, as it happens!).

Portioning chicken - step 8You’re there – one whole chicken transformed into two breast portions, two thighs, two drumsticks and two wings, to do with as you please.  With practice it’s less than a five minute job.  Better still, think of the costings.  With standard supermarket chicken (I costed this in my local co-op the other day), starting with a £4 bird, and bearing in mind two breast fillets retail for £3 (smaller fillets than you’ll get from a roasting bird, with the skin off and frequently robbed of their ‘mini fillets’, too!), you’ve just got two thighs, two drumsticks, two wings, and a pint of excellent fresh chicken stock for £1.  Use what you want today, and bag and freeze the rest.  How’s that for thrifty!

I said I’d come back to roasting chicken.  That’s for the next post!

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