Monday, April 21, 2008

Eat Boiled Meats

Passover Bollito Misto

Chicagoans, Midwesterners, Americans, collectively, we are not a boiled eatin' group of peoples. There are, I believe, several reasons for our boil-aversion. People associate boiled meats with poverty food; the ol' hobo cooking his shoe type of meal. Sort of hand in hand with that, the meats most associated with boiling, are stuff. I mean the classic inclusion in a bollito misto is a calf's head. Tongue is mostly also included; often the stuffed pig's foot called zampone is too. Now, of that group, Chicagoans, Midwesterners, Americans, are they a stuff-foot eating, calf-head buying, kind of crowd? Two strikes. In contrast, we groups tend to favor roasts. Roasts equal middle class prosperity. And there surely is a bias towards crisp, crisp meats. 'Tis a shame.
Eat boiled meat. Bollito misto, a giant collection of simmered meats with assorted sauces has appealed to me for a long time. Partially, I like any excuse to make and eat the herbal accompainment, salsa verde. Partially, I needed an excuse to clear out some room in our freezer. Partially, I have a particular fascination with the food of Piedmont, Italy, which has a cuisine and climate, in some ways, that matches ours (some ways Antonious, some ways). Of the various limitations keeping bollito misto out of the Bungalow (cf. see above), the biggest thing stopping me was the big mess of hungry eaters. We needed an occasion. Shortly after my agreed that we could have a Sedar at our house, she agreed that we could have a bollito misto. What a woman!

I took a picture of the meal, cooking and done, but neither image is worth posting, talking gray and grayer. Let me just say flat out. Eat boiled meat.

One does not so much really cook a bollito misto as compile it. First, determine the misto or mix of meats. The classic, fanciest, Bollito Misto alla Piedmontese, includes seven meats. Seven is a lot, but the number has to be more than two from a range of beef cuts, veal, fresh sausages, poultry and offal. We decided on capon (the one taking up so much space), beef shanks (so nicely marked by our locker as "boiling beef*"); brisket, and veal shoulder (from Sahar Meat). We have the tongue still from our 1/2 cow, but that's for a more private audience. We skipped the fresh sausage because, while we do not keep kosher, we decided that maybe, maybe, the Sedar should not include pork. Instead, from Sahar, we purchased a bunch of their house made merguez sausages (spelled merkens at Sahar), and baked them for that aspect of the meal. There should be a contrast of meats, both for texture and to flavor the broth.

My wife rolled and tied the brisket and veal shoulder. We (I say we, but my wife did 82.74% of the work) used stock and water for the boiling liquid, some recipes use just water. We seasoned with carrots, celery, onion, peppercorns, fresh thyme, allspice, cloves, not too much salt as the meat was salted before entering its bath--we forgot-slash-did not have the advanced time to season the meat too far ahead, but per Alice Waters, I think it would (surely not hurt) to season the meat as much as two days in advanced. Our problem was waiting for the meats to defrost, and having taken out on Tuesday, the capon was still a bit chilly on Saturday.

The meats go in stages. We start with the two cuts of beef, later the veal and finally the capon. The key with the boiling is, classically, not to boil. As one of the recipes says, you want the flavor to stay in the meat not the broth. It is a bit of a battle to find the sweet spot on the dial, where the bubbles break the surface enough to cook the meat in time for dinner but not so much as to render the meats tough. Just fiddle.

The harder question becomes can you fit all of the meat in your biggest stock pot. We have some big ones. We also had some big cuts of meat. The brisket was about three pounds, the shanks about four. The veal shoulder, on bone, took up a lot of space. By the time we got to capon, even a capon cut up, we were out of room in the pot. We needed to bring in Bruce Sutter, finishing the capon in its own pot, having ladled out some stock and adding fresh cold water.

The hardest question is the timing. For one thing, none of the recipes had the exact mix of meats as ours. For another, the recipes tended to have vague directions such as "cook until tender". The problem is, you want tender, yet firm. It's not bollito musho. Luckily, we have the excellent tome by our guru Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Meat Book. At least this book gave cooking times for several boiled meats. I would say the meats simmered for the following times:
  • Brisket/beef shank - 4 hours
  • Veal shoulder - 3 hours
  • Capon - 2 hours

Bollito misto requires a big platter as well as a big pot. I sliced the brisket, capon breast and veal shoulder against the grain. The capon thighs we chunked. The beef shank just sort of feel into pieces. For four boiled meats, we served four sauces. Sauces for another post.

*The fact that the standard Midwestern meat locker cutting order includes "boiling beef" suggests that maybe there is a sub-rosa society of boiled meat eaters around me.

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