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Michael Ruhlman: Expert in Residence!

Michael Ruhlman will be in residence on Chowhound for the week starting today, Monday, October 5, responding to questions about everything from DIY charcuterie and sausage making to his latest book, "Ratio." (http://www.chow.com/stories/11708) Brian Polcyn, who co-wrote "Charcuterie" with Michael, might be stopping in as well.

Michael is a cookbook author and food writer from Cleveland. You may have seen him on "No Reservations Las Vegas" riding shotgun with Anthony Bourdain, or seen his name on "The French Laundry Cookbook," which he coauthored with Thomas Keller and the FL team. His work also includes the "… of a Chef" series of books, which explore the world of professional cooking; "Charcuterie," on making cured meats and sausage at home; and "The Elements of Cooking," his riff on the famous writing handbook "The Elements of Style."

You can check out some of Michael's work here:

Michael's blog: http://blog.ruhlman.com/

"Ratio": http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1416...

"The Elements of Cooking": http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0743...

"Charcuterie": http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393...

Michael will be checking in at least once a day October 5-9 to respond. He's a great resource for any questions you may have on making sausage and charcuterie at home or mastering basic cooking ratios. Some ideas for what he might discuss are:

-What's the easiest meat to start curing at home?
-Where do I get sausage-making supplies?
-What's the best way to case sausages?
-What's the most versatile cooking ratio to remember?

Keep Michael busy -- start asking questions!

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  1. Hi Roxanne, thanks for having me. I'll try to get my lazy-ass partner in charcuterie, brian polcyn, to weigh in as well.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Michael Ruhlman

      Welcome - I'm looking forward to the discussion.

      1. re: Michael Ruhlman

        I saw someone, I think it was Keller (as in Hubert) make a homemade sausage without a casing. I believe he took the meat mixture and rolled it like sausage then encased it in plastic wrap to keep it's shape. Of course the plastic was removed before cooking. What do you think about a method like that? I wish I had a link but can't find one right now.

        1. re: danhole

          you can wrap in plastic and poach then saute

          1. re: Michael Ruhlman

            ...and as is stated in 'Charcuterie' it's a good way to test a small portion of your sausage mix before casing it.

        2. re: Michael Ruhlman

          Hi Michael, In my quest for sausage making and finding some fatback I've mostly encountered "Salted Back Fat." Is this a suitable alternative for fatback? Is unsalted the way to go?

          Thanks!

        3. I've tried to make sausage with plastic wrap and got nothing but heartache. Can you add more specific cooking instructions for people who only have plastic wrap as a viable way to make sausage?

          4 Replies
          1. re: cnorris

            I have a link but you have to go to the ask the chef, or something like that. It is from episode #221. I can't link to that directly, though.

            http://www.hubertkeller.com/

            1. re: cnorris

              why heartache? why do you even need plastic wrap? just roll, or make patties

              1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                Chef LeBlanc at CIA has a hot dog recipe that uses plastic wrap and a night in the fridge in lieu of casing. I've never had it, and only made it in class (Saturday for day trippers), but The Yummy Mummy has done it with her two.

              2. re: cnorris

                I've seen Jacques Pepin do it - he wrapped the meat mixture in plastic wrap, twisting the ends to tighten the roll, then tying the twists. Then he wrapped that in aluminum foil before poaching. It looked like a simple procedure.

              3. Michael-

                You guilted me into buying fresh pork belly to make bacon. Question...just how optional is sodium nitrite? I don't want botulism, but I also don't need any extra nitrosamines in my life.

                Jay Fanelli
                Pittsburgh, PA

                3 Replies
                1. re: thebristolkid

                  if you're cooking it anyway, i don't think there's a big botulism concern. botulism primarily in dry cured sausages and home canning. but also, i think the nitrosamines issue is overblown. unless you're eating tons of really burned bacon. we get 95% of our nitrates/nitrites from vegetables. if they formed nitrosamines in us, it wouldn't make sense. studies are now finding cardivascular benefits from nitrites for heart attack patients.

                  1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                    I am very curious about the studies you mentioned about the positive health effects of nitrites/nitrates. I avoid using nitrites/nitrates because of a perceived health risk, and would love to either find a reliable substitute or see the studies you mentioned to put my mind at ease.

                    For example, Applegate Farms sells a nitrate free pepperoni.

                    Ingredients: (Pork, beef, sea salt, dextrose, spices, sugar, paprika, garlic powder, lactic acid, and starter culture)

                    Could lactic acid and starter culture be a substitute for nitrites/curing salt?

                    CB
                    https://lastoneeating.wordpress.com/

                    1. re: chefbrian1

                      They are using celery juice, which contains nitrites. They are able to bury that under 'spices' in the ingredient list...

                      IMO, it's more than a little misleading.

                      Here is one sheet about Nitrites citing some of the studies

                      http://www.meatami.com/ht/a/GetDocume...

                2. I've been wanting to cure sausage, but everything I've read stresses hanging it in a cool, dry place to cure. My struggle is that I live in Houston, which for most of the year is neither cool nor dry. Am I out of luck for curing sausage, or is there some way to get around this?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: wynk

                    you can buy a mini fridge and put it at's warmest setting with a pan of salt water in the fridge. got to watch the drippy ice cube tray though.

                    1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                      HI Michael: "Charcuterie" has added a very exciting aspect to my cooking. THANK YOU and Brian!

                      Just wondering, when using a mini fridge to cure, why salt (as opposed to fresh) water in the fridge? To keep from spoiling?

                      Thanks. Jeff.

                  2. Michael,
                    Have you ever used rose water or orange blossom water in dry curing a sausage before? Do you know if the flavors will break down or will they hold up to the curing process?

                    Thanks,
                    -M

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ChefMattRock

                      no, they're kind of volatile so might not translate. i would use orange zest instead of water

                    2. What is your opinion on freezing home-cured pastrami. Recommended, not recommended, "eat it all now"? Also, would whole or sliced make a difference?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Dave Weinstein

                        i'm sure you can freeze it safely but how good is cooked meat that is frozen then thawed?

                        1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                          Better than most comercial cold cuts, but I use a -10F chest freezer, which freezes very quickly if things are put in the center.

                      2. I'd like to make some dried cured sausages, but apartment living means I don't have have a great place to hang them. Would a small wine refrigerator work? Any other suggestions - short of moving out of the city?

                        1 Reply
                        1. Michael, I've just purchased your book and ordered curing salts from sausagemaker.com. I'm eager to get started.

                          I have a question about dry curing salami and pepperoni. I have a spare refrigerator to use for dry curing, but because we keep other foods in there that may become perishable if I keep the temps above 60+ degrees, I wondered if it was possible to dry cure at temperatures 50 or below.

                          What are the problems I would be faced with by dry curing at lower temps with lower levels of humidity? Will the sausages not cure correctly? Will they dry out too quickly? Thanks!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: philnigash

                            temp is less an issue than humidity, that needs to be higher. again, a mini fridge will stay at 55-65 degrees

                          2. I have a small room in my basement, formerly for coal storage back when my house was built in the 20’s; it's cement walls on 3 sides and is about 5 by 7 feet. The humidity hangs around 70-75 percent. The temperature is the only wild card. What’s the best way to regulate the temperature so I could cure meat year round?

                            Essentially- what's the best way to go about setting up your own curing room at home?

                            1. Did you talk Chef Polcyn into writing Charcuterie 2 yet?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: JanPrimus

                                he talked me into it. it's started and will address all these issues of dry curing.

                              2. I' ve been looking in vain to find something I' ve only had in Spain, called Sobrassada. It is the most decadent of all charcuterie, it is a SPREADABLE saucisson. A jam of curred meat with the aromas of chorizo. If you tell me how to reproduce that, you can have my soul.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: chloe2000

                                  cosentino makes it and sells it from his boccalone, look for the spreadable salami, can't remember what he sells it as, the italian name for it.

                                  1. re: chloe2000

                                    If you're looking for a Sobresada recipe try this link:

                                    http://lpoli.50webs.com/Sausage%20rec...

                                    It's listed under "Salami and Salami-Like Products from Various Countries". Also listed is 'Nduja, which is a spreadable Italian salami from Calabria.

                                    Hope that helps.

                                    1. re: chloe2000

                                      They also sell it at Despana, by the way, and it's available by mail order from them.

                                    2. Hello. A friend and I made some pancetta last spring, using the directions from your book. It's the third or so time we've done it; always awesome. However, the last time (which was the biggest load -- four bellies) the conditions in my hanging area were more humid than usual. I didn't notice until I pulled them down, but they had developed quite a bit of white and green mold.

                                      I didn't throw them away. I just cut off the mold and went at it. There seems to have been no flavor penalty, and I'm not dead (nor was I sick). But the question remains: how much mold is too much mold?

                                      http://www.flickr.com/photos/blork/35... Our four pancettas, hanging (Flickr)

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: blork

                                        use your common sense. wipe mold off. and you're cooking it so the bad bugs are dead if any

                                        1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                                          True enough. It's just that with mold there's the risk of chemical toxicity (such as you find in mushrooms), which is not affected by heat. Just wondering if there is any specific "mold meter" or whatever.

                                      2. Like my fellow Michigander Jan Primus I'm hoping to hear about a Charcuterie follow up. As slow as things have been in the Motor City this year lets hope Chef Polcyn weighs in as well. I hope it's ok if I take a second to wish him well with Cinco Lagos. The financial environment in Detroit has been nothing short of brutal this year.
                                        I'm not sure where to begin as you have been involved with some of my favorite books.
                                        Alinea is my idea of food porn, not that the the FL or Bouchon suck but Alinea for me is on another whole level.
                                        My question is about how your involvement with a book for other Chef's develops. Can you share with us how this takes place? Do you contact the other Chef's or is it just some thing that comes up with friends over a good bottle of wine and some stinky cheese?
                                        Which book did you enjoy working on the most?
                                        If Chef Polcyn weighs in my question for him is this:
                                        When you look back at the past how do you feel working with Milos Cihelka impacted your career?

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: Fritter

                                          for charcuterie, i asked brian if he wanted to do it with me. he said yes, happily. for salumi, he really wanted to get moving on it, so that's where we are, every book is different. for the other chef collaborations i've done, the chefs have asked me. have always loved working on these.

                                          1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                                            Thanks for taking the time to respond Chef. Is there any projected time frame for "Salumi" to hit the street?
                                            What was your inspiration for "ratio"? It's such a unique book. IMO it rates right up there with Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking for a must read, must have book.
                                            As some one with an interest in photography I have to add the photos in the book and on your blog is exceptional.
                                            I've put the lilac Jelly on my mental list for next spring. I hope to try the same technique with lavender.

                                            1. re: Fritter

                                              salumi won't be out for a couple years, just started it.

                                              1. re: Fritter

                                                The inspiration for Ratio was addressed in Ratio - a small chart of ratios the headmaster of the CIA had that Ruhlman was fascinated with and decided to write a book about.

                                          2. Cleveland, let's talk Cleveland. (I'm a native, but gone now, and honestly glad for it - still come back to visit though). I saw you on Bourdain's show, and thought - Hot Sauce Williams, really? I don't imagine you get to pick the spots, but do you have any other barbecue recommendations in town?

                                            I'd also love to know of any decent (or great) Mexican food in town, and any other favorite spots or hidden gems I might not know of.

                                            1. Michael,

                                              Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.

                                              Restaurants that produce "house made" dry cured meats have to follow some strict sanitation practices (as they should) issued from their local Department of Health. Aside from the obvious precautions that we all needs to take, is there anything that these establishments must do (since they produce a larger volume) that the home dry-curer doesn't have to?

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: cosa

                                                it's still a gray area for restaurants. they know how to keep things safe but if the health dept sees meat hanging out at room temp for days on end, they can tell the restaurant to dump 500 pounds of meat, even if it's been cured perfectly. the heatlh depts don't yet have a standard protocol for dry curing. they need to get up to speed.

                                              2. I've thought of making dry cured salami, but I don't want to kill anyone I like and might want to share it with. Is there a sure-fire scientific test for the safety of home made? I couldn't even get a straight answer from some informal discussions with some people from the local health department.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: yayadave

                                                  no but if you use the right quantity pink salt #2 you won't have a problem. of mine, i always have the first slice.

                                                  1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                                                    Thank you. That "first slice" tradition may be why I'm so interested in making sure it's safe to eat.

                                                2. Blood sausage:

                                                  I worked on a farm that was "harvesting" a cow." The farmer let me collect some fresh blood during the harvest, which I planned to use to make blood sausage. I figured when would I ever get the chance to get fresh blood.

                                                  Unlike most sausage making which consists of using ground meat, blood sausage is liquid and in my case required trying to pour a warm mixture of cream, blood, rendered fat back, and seasonings through a funnel and into sausage tube, before cooking them off and cooling them to a solid sausage.

                                                  A few of the sausage castings burst open resulting in what only could be describe as a crime scene in my all white kitchen. I managed to make a good batch of sausages from blood.

                                                  They were OK. They had a strong (blood) organ taste, like liver but more so. The most interesting thing was how the blood turned solid in my refrigerator before a made the sausages.

                                                  I saw that most blood sausage was made from pigs blood. Is there a big difference?

                                                  CB

                                                  https://lastoneeating.wordpress.com/

                                                  1. Michael: I made the duck breast prosciutto within hours of buying your book, but after the proscribed amount of hanging time, it looked great, but still just tasted like raw poultry. I went ahead and smoked it and used it like pancetta (very good, chopped into little cubes), but was wondering what might have been missing in the process. The curing room was cool enough, but maybe wasn't humid enough? Thanks.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: jeff_in_redmond

                                                      maybe its surface dried and the interior moisture was unable to get out.

                                                    2. this week we ( sous chef and chefs de partie at the forest grill) made foie gras and sweetbread sausage, it seperated on us and we might have freaked out a bit, but we managed to bring it back together with a duck mousseline, thought you or a reader would find this interesting/helpful.

                                                      pleasure meeting you at schoolcraft, watching you and chef butcher those hogs was great, hope to see you at the restaurant sometime soon.

                                                      - regards,

                                                      Adam kachman
                                                      cook @
                                                      The Forest Grill

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: akachman89

                                                        very interesting! how do you reckon it worked?

                                                        1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                                                          texturally is a bit more interesting and theres slightly lighter mouth feel due to changing the ratio of fat to other components by adding the mousseline. on the other hand its harder to make clean cuts. so our conclusion ; chefs prescribed ratios take more skill to execute and if done correctly will result in a sausage that is both rich, silky, and cuts nicely. but if there is a mistake in execution and the emulsion breaks, or if youre a home cook and want to play with texture, the mousseline can both bring the sausage back together and give it a different, and still pleasing texture.

                                                      2. Hey Michael,
                                                        Love your work. Easy one for you- Whats your favorite kind of charcuterie? Favorite fresh Sausage?

                                                        1. Years ago, you've said not to make the Bouchon quiche in a springform pan, but in a ringmold as it will leak in a springform. Well, I was being a bit of a smarty pants and thought that I would be the exception to that rule as I would line the pan with aluminum foil. Ha! The joke was on me as I was scooping up custard at 1:00A.

                                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/607783

                                                          In the future I will try lining the bottom of my springform pan in foil as I'm too cheap and too apartment-challenged to buy the appropriate ring mold. As your comment was made several years ago, I was wondering if you have any current insight as to why the quiche leaked. I've actually asked a couple of chefs and they are baffled. Or is this one of life's greatest mysteries?

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                                            still don't know, but it always does. you can also bake in a cake pan lined with parchment.

                                                          2. Hi Michael! Long time no see.

                                                            I followed a recipe (Jamie Oliver) to make a fish soup with salt cod. It was basically a vegetable soup (chicken broth based) but you add fish (trying hard to eat more fish here, not a big fish lover). As I didn't have salt cod, the recipe said in lieu of that, buy fresh cod and "pack it in a few handfuls of sea salt" and leave overnight, then rinse before using.

                                                            I was actually afraid I didn't have enough sea salt. I had a few tablespoons of very finely ground sea salt as well as some coarser, grey sea salt so I first covered with the fine-ground and followed up with the grey.

                                                            The soup was so salty it was like brine water, it was nearly inedible. I was reluctant to add more broth as my homemade broth is salty. I ate a bowl anyway (determined!) and then I added some water and a couple of halved potatoes to try to soak up the salt but it basically ruined it, and it just tasted watery and awful after that. Do you think it was because of the fine ground salt? I shudder to think if I had really had more salt and "packed it" around the fish as directed, what it would have ended up like. I don't even know what salt cod looks like, any idea where I could buy the real thing locally here, and should I expect it to be just as salty? I mean, should I use unsalted broth and unsalted tomatoes (called for "good quality canned tomatoes" - I used San Marzanos) when I make this? Seems silly. I thought maybe should just make it without salting the fish at all, but that's the point of the dish, it's soup "baccala" which apparently means salt cod.

                                                            2nd question, if you'll allow it. My husband followed Bourdain's Les Halles recipe to make his first cassoulet. Instead of soaking dried beans, he used canned. Directions said that when you first bake it, add liquid just to cover. We did, but it didn't bake off and was extremely watery. We have yet to do the day 3 stage, which is a final bake just prior to serving, but I can't imagine much of the liquid coming off and DH feels this is ruined. Do you think it's because we used canned beans?

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: rockandroller1

                                                              hi, rockandroller1,

                                                              i would never use salt cod that hadn't been soaked/reconsituted. his directions don't make sense if there's no step for getting rid of excess salt.

                                                              very likley because of canned beans, you can try simmering gently on stove to cook off water.

                                                            2. Sorry to veer off topic, but any thoughts on the new season of Iron Chef? Miss you on the panel.

                                                              5 Replies
                                                                1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                                                                  Ouch... that sounds a bit political and all.

                                                                  I still think you could take Andrew Knowlton in fisticuffs. Steingarten may take a Tyson ear bite out of ya though....he will eat anything I hear.

                                                                  1. re: JanPrimus

                                                                    not political and not a comment on the show. how is it?

                                                                    1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                                                                      Way more over the top than the first time around. Sure they're all skilled, but was very surprised by the lack of big name chefs. And the chairman certainly is dramatic -- annoyingly so. He should take it down a few notches.

                                                                      And while we're on the subject, what the heck was Knowlton's problem with Aaron Sanchez during your season? Seemed a bit personal.

                                                                      1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                                                                        Good but not as good without you as a judge. Also, the chefs, except for a few, don't seem as talented as they were last year. Although with some of the odd and downright disgusting ingredients they had to work with - was not a good test in my opinion. I'll wait and see if it improves.

                                                                2. Michael:

                                                                  Thanks for Charcuterie! I've made about 120 lbs of bacon and 40 lbs of pastrami so far (Berkshire and American Wagyu, respectively -- we get wholesale at the office). Simply light years ahead of store bought.

                                                                  I've got 2 pig legs that I'm making prosciutto-style per "Charcuterie". They are currently hanging in the office walk-in wine cave (pretty handy - I think the temp/humidity should work).

                                                                  They've started to develop some dark grey, and whitish molds. I've rubbed down with vinegar once. They are wrapped in cheesecloth, which makes really getting at the mold more difficult. What is the purpose of the cheescloth? If' it's essentially to ward of flies, I don't need it. Can I remove? And is there any particular mold I should be wary of (it smells OK so far)?

                                                                  Finally, is 6 months enough time to hang? I hung in June, wanted to use at least one for office Christmas party -- but not if it's too soon.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: sbp

                                                                    Hi Mr. Ruhlman!

                                                                    What a coincidence you are chatting with chowhound members today as I just placed a pork belly in the fridge this morning following your instructions from the book.

                                                                    Many websites suggest trimming the belly so that the sides are square in order to get nice, straight slices I presume. Would it be ok to trim after the curing process is done? Any other tips you can impart to a first time bacon maker? Thanks for your work!

                                                                    1. re: sbp

                                                                      impossible to say about timing. I'd think it would take nine months. cheese cloth for protection, can remove. get rid of any mold that's not white and chalky. you may want to purchase a mold culture from butcher-packer.com to ensure you get good mold. protects ham from rancidity and bad molds.

                                                                    2. A big thanks here, for your wonderful book 'Charcuterie'. The bacon recipe is perfect and delicious, every time. My neighbors beg for us to toss them a few slices, every time we make bacon. They think we are bacon heroes!.

                                                                      Question - I have made made the canadian bacon a few times, and I really like it. My husband would like it better if it were more like 'peameal' bacon. Do you have any tips for making peameal bacon?

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: jeanmarieok

                                                                        peameal is how some do it in canada. canadian bacon rolled in corn meal. not an expert on that--don't know if corn meal instead of smoke or in addition.

                                                                      2. Hi Michael, I've really delved into curing chapters of Charcuterie the past few months and am having mixed success with curing whole cuts of meat. Specifically I'm finding my products coming out too salty. I've tried both the salt box and measured methods. I guess my question is what are the indicators that a cut of meat has been cured long enough? Obviously the duration depends on the size/shape of the cut but do you have guidelines for that like "x inches thick needs x days". Or is there a reliable method like comparing weights that works like in the drying process?

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: chrisdecusine

                                                                          that's a good question that doesn't have an answer. if recipe too salty for you, hold back on the salt or the time on the cure. if something has been over salted, you can soak in fresh water to remove it. i'll be working on this issue for the new book. great question.

                                                                        2. Hi Michael,
                                                                          Thanks for taking the time to answer my question. In all of your reading about and studying how to make charcuterie have you come across a way to cure the summertime blues? Thanks again.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. Hi Michael, I severely restrict my carbs to control my diabetes, and typically replace sugar in a basic brine with either splenda-sweetened syrup or stevia. I would like to make dry cure items, and wondered whether the sugar/dextrose in the recipes is necessary to feed the Bactoferm. Do you think I could substitute a non-caloric sweetener, perhaps in smaller amounts, for flavour?

                                                                            11 Replies
                                                                            1. re: foodarazzi

                                                                              Oh, really good question! I was also wondering if the sugar is necessary to make gravlax. Didn't know whether the sugar was imperative in the curing process or more for flavor.

                                                                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                                Hi Miss N, I have made gravlax at different times with sugar, and also pure stevia powder with good results. I expect the salt has a preservative effect in gravlax, but for fermenting meat when drying, the sugar may add more than flavour.

                                                                                1. re: foodarazzi

                                                                                  Thank you so much for your reply. I think I'll try making two batches side by side -- one with stevia and another with sugar and see what I think.

                                                                                  Generally, I tend to find a bit of an aftertaste with stevia. But I had the most wonderful meal at Basement Bistro in Earlton, NY where the chef sweetened many of his dishes with his homemade stevia infusion. It was amazing how different it tasted from the commercial stevia out there.

                                                                                2. re: Miss Needle

                                                                                  not required for the cure, only to balance harshness of salt.

                                                                                  foodarazzi, i went to the trouble of answering in full to you by hitting replay but now don't see my reply. write again if it didn't come up. i'm having trouble with this format.

                                                                                  short version is that the bacteria need sugar of some sort to feed on and thus release lactic acid, but you only need .3% to .8% glucose or dextrose.

                                                                                  1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                                                                                    Hi Chef!
                                                                                    Is there any benefit to using a vacuum sealer during the curing process over the usual zip bag? Secondly, do you prefer applewood smoked bacon or hickory and why? Thanks!

                                                                                    1. re: jac0077

                                                                                      I've made the maple-cured bacon using Foodsaver vacuum and using ziploc. Just my two cents, I thought the vacuum seal provided a few advantages. After a few days, when the dry cure turns into a semi-wet brine, the sealed bags do a very good job of keeping the meat in close contact. I would still flip every day, but didn't have to worry about the brine pooling in the excess space of a 1 gallon ziploc. This becomes a more important issue when you're stacking 16 two pound slabs. Moreover, it eliminates the bags popping open and creating a mess.

                                                                                      Finally, if I'm freezing the finished bacon, the vacuum bags do a much better job of warding off freezer burn.

                                                                                      1. re: sbp

                                                                                        Thanks for the info. I'm curious to hear what Chef Ruhlman had to say on this.

                                                                                        1. re: jac0077

                                                                                          I dont think vacuum seal has big impact on cure, but it's def the way to go when freezing. and for bacon, i prefer fruit woods

                                                                                    2. re: Michael Ruhlman

                                                                                      Thanks, Michael, for your generosity in sharing your knowledge.

                                                                                      1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                                                                                        hi michael,

                                                                                        thanks in advance.

                                                                                        do you you know how to make belly lox? i know how to make nova (brined and then cold smoked) as well as kippered (hot smoked) and gravlax (2-3 days of cure in the frig, much akin to the fennel cured salmon in your charcuterie book.) but i'd like to learn how to make classic belly lox. do you have a recipe?

                                                                                        thanks.

                                                                                        1. re: yussdov

                                                                                          no don't have recipe, but it's all basically the same thing, with small variations in aromatics, whether you smoke or not. people are all over the board as to what "classic" lox are.

                                                                                  2. Hi Michael, thanks for the short answer, and sorry, your original reply didn't seem to make it - thank you for inviting me to repost my question:
                                                                                    I severely restrict my carbs to control my diabetes, and typically replace sugar in a basic brine with either splenda-sweetened syrup or stevia. I would like to make dry cure items, and wondered whether the sugar/dextrose in the recipes is necessary to feed the Bactoferm. Do you think I could substitute a non-caloric sweetener, perhaps in smaller amounts, for flavour?

                                                                                    Also, I have read that the traditional way to introduce friendly bacteria was to use wine. I make red wine from real grapes, and wonder if I could use some of last year's vintage, or this is just inviting trouble?

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: foodarazzi

                                                                                      i dont know how wine, without the grape skin, could introduce bacteria. bacteria needs a little more sugar to feed on than is naturally in the meat so best to add some. then again, perhaps you could just add vinegar--the sausage needs a certain level of acidity, 4.9 or lower. i don't know that the form of the acidity matters.

                                                                                    2. Hi Michael,

                                                                                      Your December 8, 2008 blog post, "Pig Day," says you got a whole hog for ~$1.65/lb. This is the first time I'm going to buy a whole pig, but I can't seem to find any local farmer here in New Jersey that will sell me their pork for less than ~$6/lb. On top of that, the couple of farmers I've talked to assure me that any pork costing $2/lb is going to be from factory-farm raised, mistreated, unhappy pigs. I'm still going to get a whole hog no matter what, but I just want to know, financially speaking, am I getting ripped off?

                                                                                      The animals are grass-fed, pastured, fed an organic grain, and allowed to roam where ever they please on the farm.

                                                                                      Thanks.

                                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: Conway Yen

                                                                                        Are you looking to buy a whole hog, or just cuts? And, where do you live?

                                                                                        Both are very relevant factors here.

                                                                                        1. re: andytee

                                                                                          I have never seen whole hogs dressed go for much more than 99 cents a pound.

                                                                                          1. re: andytee

                                                                                            Whole hog. I want everything: ears, tail, intestines, blood, organ meats -- you name it. I want it all.

                                                                                            I live in central New Jersey. Farmer says he doesn't know ANYONE who can raise a pig for under six bucks a pound, especially not organically like he does.

                                                                                            1. re: Conway Yen

                                                                                              Weird. At my local butcher, there isn't a single cut of pork that is more than $4/lb. Mostly about $3.

                                                                                              1. re: sbp

                                                                                                Yeah, but that's your butcher. I'm trying to buy direct-from-farmer.

                                                                                                Upon re-reading parts of Charcuterie last night, I think it's probably safe to say I'll be paying too much. According to the book, Michael and Brian each bought pork in '05 for appx. $0.80/lb, live weight. This ended up being about $1.35/lb after slaughter and trimming, etc.

                                                                                                Sigh. The search continues.

                                                                                                1. re: Conway Yen

                                                                                                  At 6 bucks a pound I could buy one in Dallas for a buck and ship it to you for less. Look for another farmer, or move.

                                                                                                  1. re: DallasDude

                                                                                                    Yeah, organic does cost more (and is worth more, imo) but $6/lb is a lot for a whole animal.

                                                                                                    localharvest.org is a good resource for finding other pig producers in your area,

                                                                                                    1. re: andytee

                                                                                                      @ DallasDude: HAHA. I plan on it. On both suggestions, in fact.

                                                                                                      @andytee: local harvest is where I found these farmers in the first place!

                                                                                          2. re: Conway Yen

                                                                                            paying $1000 for a whole hog is way too much. are you sure that isn't broken down? a whole hog should be much less than $6/#. I wouldn't pay more than $2. I'd look around a little more. these guys are who I'm getting pig from, you can see what they charge. granted, this is pretty inexpensive, but $6?!

                                                                                            http://newcreationfarm.tripod.com/ind...

                                                                                          3. Sorry, nothing about charcuterie here.

                                                                                            Michael, I'm finishing my first novel and for a future project I'd like to write or co-write a cookbook (I have a specific focus if you'd like to hear about it.)

                                                                                            When you worked on "The French Laundry," what kind of pre-writing prep did you do apart from recipe testing? How did you decide what questions to ask? How did you maintain a consistent voice throughout all its many pages? Assuming you're still on speaking terms with Thomas Keller after moving in with him (IIRC), how did you keep your relationship with him smooth, especially after asking him countless questions?

                                                                                            I will cease with my countless questions now. Thanks so much for your help.

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: KenWritez

                                                                                              i learned to cook first, then he invited me out there so he wanted me asking questions. i asked what i was curious about. just be curious. i didn't do any of the testing or even recipe writing.

                                                                                            2. Michael,
                                                                                              What are the best places in Cleveland to buy local meat? Currently I buy from Plum Creek Poultry at North Union, Mister Brisket or the Sausage Shoppe. So many of the purveyors at the West Side Market don't use local farms, it's hard to know what's good. Also do you know a source for locally produced cream?

                                                                                              Thanks!

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: bethdean

                                                                                                don't know--i try to buy all meat from the farmers at north union. love the plum creek chix duck and veal. need to figure out how to get this stuff this winter!

                                                                                                1. re: bethdean

                                                                                                  Cream - Miceli's or Hartzler's. Hartzler's products are available at the WSM at a shop called Annemarie's. Miceli's products are avilable in most of the chain groceries. Heinen's also carries Hartzler's milk. I do not know if they make cream separately, you could contact them and ask.

                                                                                                  re "local" meat, depends on how far away is local to you. For example, Jim's Meats gets their pork products from a farm in Sandusky. To me, that's local enough. If they can't tell you where it's from or if it's from really far away, that's understandable, but I am surprised.

                                                                                                  You might also try Chef's Choice meats in Berea.

                                                                                                2. I am not interested in getting into charcuterie in any big way, although that seems to be the interest of most of the people posting on this thread. I forgot to look at "Ratio" when I was in Borders last month. But I want to thank you, Michael, for the concept. I made note of the baking ratio chart that appeared in Chow. This is the way food was cooked through most of human history, still is in much of the world, and is an approach that all cooks should learn, so that they develop the ability to create a dish, not just follow a prescribed recipe. Many folks become sheepish when they reach for the measuring cups, fearful of making a mistake even though there can be a serendipitously fine line between error and innovation. Your method provides sufficient guidelines to allow experimentation with confidence in an acceptable result. I imagine it would make as excellent a testbook for a newbie cook as a reference tool for those with more experience.

                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                  1. Thanks for doing this, Michael.

                                                                                                    I've just finished Ratio, and my son is now enjoying it thoroughly. We've loved every food-related book that you've written. I really appreciate how in Ratio you highlight the interconnectedness of so many things we tend to think of as being disparate. It really puts a big picture on so much of what we do in the kitchen.

                                                                                                    I made the crepe recipe tonight, and it worked very well. I was surprised that you didn't call for any added fat, and was a bit wary since many recipes call for melted butter or canola added to the batter. The texture was perfect, though, and I'm assuming that the large ratio of eggs to other ingredients added some richness.

                                                                                                    (I'm serving the crepes with strawberries, raspberries, bananas, whipped cream, hot fudge and salted toasted almonds. Sort of choose-your-own. Great combos.)

                                                                                                    By the way, I wanted to make small crepes since this will be part of a pot luck so I used my old small (6"?) anodized aluminum Calphalon saute panwith a quick wipe of a very lightly oiled paper towels after every five crepes or so. No sticking at all...worked great.

                                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: bear

                                                                                                      hi michael,

                                                                                                      thanks in advance.

                                                                                                      do you you know how to make belly lox? i know how to make nova (brined and then cold smoked) as well as kippered (hot smoked) and gravlax (2-3 days of cure in the frig, much akin to the fennel cured salmon in your charcuterie book.) but i'd like to learn how to make classic belly lox. do you have a recipe?

                                                                                                      thanks.

                                                                                                      1. re: bear

                                                                                                        i dont think crepes need fat, the fat comes from the finished dish. glad you like the book!

                                                                                                        1. re: bear

                                                                                                          glad your crepes came out well! i don't think they need fat but nor do i ever shy from fat!

                                                                                                          1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                                                                                                            This wraps up our expert thread with Michael Ruhlman! Big thanks to Michael for spending the week with us sharing his knowledge, and to everyone that participated in the discussion.