Feast: Resolve to Be a Better Cook in 2015 With These Five Culinary Techniques

Dutch Oven Cooking

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Though Dutch ovens are usually associated with camping, they can be used just as easily on your stovetop or in your oven to make biscuits, crumbles, bread and a wealth of other items. If you find your oven filled with dishes or your house sweltering with some unexpected heat, set one up in your backyard!

Metier Cook’s Supply currently has four hand-hammered Dutch ovens in stock. Co-owner Todd Duplechan prefers vintage cast iron to even the highest-quality new stuff.

“It’s made with a lot nicer material because the materials available at that time were high grade cast iron and a lot less expensive,” he says. “Not to mention, it’s what people used back then. It was their main method of cooking since they weren’t working with stainless steel or aluminum cookware as we do today. So, because of it being overbuilt for what it is, it lasts for 100 years.”

Lenoir recommends making chili or gumbo in a seasoned Dutch oven for great flavor and even heat distribution. “You basically build a fire and kind of nestle it down in there and cover in coals so it’s cooking on all sides,” says Duplechan. “You could also take a small bird, like a chicken, and put it in a Dutch oven, cover, bury it in fire and roast the chicken from all sides.”

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Fermentation

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This year’s Austin Fermentation Festival keynote speaker, Sandor Katz, has been a proponent of fermented foods since before he made his first sauerkraut in 1993. “I spent a couple of years following a macrobiotic diet, and macrobiotics really places a lot of emphasis on the digestive benefits of pickles and other live culture foods,” says Katz. “So, I started associating consumption of live culture ferments with good digestion. And I started noticing that, when I ate sour pickles or sauerkraut, or even when I smelled it, I could feel my salivary glands squirting out saliva. In a literal sense, even before I was making fermented foods, I was associating them with the idea of getting your digestive juices flowing.”

The live cultures found in sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kefir, etc. are thought to improve digestion but also immune function, nutrient assimilation, and perhaps even mental health. But don’t ask Katz to explain what makes these bacteria the “good” kind. “I reject those categories,” he says. “We don’t know enough about bacteria to project our values of good and bad on them… I think that the more relevant issue is, how do we cultivate healthy microbial communities in our bodies?”

Luckily, fermentation makes it quite easy. It only takes a few supplies and ingredients, and there are recipes all over the Internet. Best of all, there’s no need to be scared of food poisoning, which is a concern for people experimenting with canning, due to the acid produced during the fermentation process.

“The brilliant thing about acidification as a strategy for food safety is that none of the kinds of organisms that have been associated with disease can survive in an acidic environment,” says Katz. “It’s the acidification that tells you it’s safe.”

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Roasting a Whole Animal

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Need to feed a crowd? Celebrate the new year by roasting a whole animal this season. “It’s a beautiful centerpiece, and a great way to celebrate an animal or special occasion,” says co-owner and chef Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due, where customers can order goat, hogs, duck, and deer at varying sizes and prices with seven days’ notice.

Salt and Time also sources whole lamb and goat for around $7.50 a pound and hogs for seven to nine dollars a pound. “I would always recommend roasting a whole animal!” says butcher and co-owner Josh Jones. “I think it is a great option because it is visually stimulating, an ethical way of eating and delicious.”

Jones highly recommends using a La Caja China box, a tool he says is becoming more affordable and is “somewhat error proof.” Griffith’s thinks going with a traditional smoker is the best route because it’s easiest to use and requires the least amount of setup. Both agree that small pigs (30 to 75 pounds) are the best animals for beginners.

“The fat layer is kind of like an insurance policy,” says Griffiths. “Just cook it really slow and low until it’s tender.” Jones suggests that first-timers roast with a friend who’s done it before, just for good measure. “It can be a little tricky, but with a little planning it can provide for a much tastier and rewarding experience,” he assures.

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Alternative Proteins

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Though Texas raises 70 percent of the goat meat in the US, according to Ty Wolosin of Windy Hill Farm in Austin, 90 percent of it is shipped out to the high-end Halal market on the East coast. And, ironically, much of the goat in Texas grocery stores comes from Australia to supplement low-cost markets.

Besides lessening that painfully obvious carbon footprint, there are many other reasons to give goat a place at the head of the table this year. It has less cholesterol, calories and saturated fat than chicken, turkey, pork or beef, not to mention the fact that its tender, fragrant meat pairs deliciously with all the traditional flavors of the harvest.

Wolosin sells whole goats between 35 and 75 pounds, which are in the $250 to $350 range. With one week’s notice, he can place, order and deliver the animal to town at the end of that week.

“A goat leg roasted for six to eight hours, while time-consuming, can be jaw-droppingly good!” he says. “Be patient and don’t let it get too dry from too much heat or not enough liquid.”

Sign up for one of Jesse Griffth’s hunting classes to truly learn more about the world of alternative proteins. The last one was a duck hunting school held January 18th through 20th. Classes include hunting, plucking and cleaning, as well as preparation. To reserve a spot, email ckbrokerage@aol.com.

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Barrel Aging

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Barrel aging cocktails is certainly a trend that’s swept bars across the nation in recent years. But why leave it to the pros when you can achieve the same delicious outcome at home?

Dustin Courtright, Lead Libationist at the W Hotel’s Trace, says barrel-aged cocktails are a good choice for the holidays. “They are generally more warming, boozy cocktails, great for cooler weather,” he explains, “Adding some seasonal spices to the aging cocktail is a wonderful idea for a comforting fireside sip.”

Tyler Naumann of Searsucker says barrel aging calms down harsh flavor profiles in cocktails. “The barrel will fuse the flavor profiles of all of the ingredients together as one unit, making the drink smoother and full of flavor.”

Courtright recommends starting with a classic cocktail, such as a Manhattan, an Old Fashioned or a Sazerac. “They aren’t overly complicated, and you don’t have to worry about spoilage as they are all, or almost all, alcoholic ingredients,” he says.

The most important ingredient, however, is time. Naumann recommends six to eight weeks, warning that anything less than six might not get enough barrel flavor portfolio, and over eight could lend too much.

Barrel aging is usually done in New American Oak barrels, which can typically be purchased online in three, five or ten-liter sizes. Local breweries are also a good resource because they tend to only use their barrels once and are usually glad to make some money off an old one.

So, skip the punch bowl this year in lieu of a barrel. You’ll still get to use glassware reserved for special occasions, but its contents will be conveniently readymade – and delicious.

“The best part is, all the work was done two weeks ago when you put it in the barrel to age,” Courtright points out. “Come party time, you just open the tap on the barrel with a glass of ice under it, and you have an awesome craft cocktail that doesn’t take you away from your guests to mix, shake, or stir.”

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Written by: Veronica Meewes
Photos from:
Cosma via Shutterstock, Lenoir
Elena Schweitzer via Shutterstock, courtesy Sandor Katz
La Caja China and as linked, courtesy of Salt & Time
ONiONAstudio via Shutterstock, courtesy of Dai Due
Goritza via Shutterstock, courtesy of Searsucker
 


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