Chili Sauce by Mama Mills

This recipe comes from my friend Jerry Bullard. He is among the few people in north Mississippi who not only appreciate the culinary heritage of our area, but are preserving and practicing it as well. This recipe is from his great-grandmother, Tempie Mills.

Chili Sauce by Mama Mills

This is a long cook recipe (8 hours). I cheated and ran the ingredients through a meat grinder, but Mama Mills had to do this by hand with a knife.

24 ripe tomatoes washed and decored
12 large onions peeled and quartered
10 hot peppers
1 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
4-5 cloves garlic mashed
1 tsp cinnamon or nutmeg

Add all ingredients to a large heavy bottom or cast iron pot and bring to a boil. Now the work begins; simmer until very thick, stirring most of the time. This will take several hours. If you burn this it is junk. When cooked, have sterile canning jars and lids ready, fill jars and process in boiling water canner for 15 minutes. Good stuff!

Paleolithic Pleasures

Ever since the Fall, no food has sparked more controversy than meat: some eschew it and even more restrict it, but meat, for most people, is what’s for dinner. By meat we mean red meat. The USDA considers all meat from livestock red because they contain more myoglobin (aka “red stuff”) than poultry or fish. For most people, this means beef or pork (yes, “the other white meat” is red), though sheep and goat as well game such as venison—and for that matter, whale—fall into the same category. Beef and pork in their various incarnations constitute a significant portion of our diets. An average American consumes 67 lbs. of beef and 51 lbs. of pork annually, most of it at home, meaning that the majority of people buy meat raw and cook it themselves.

Most people do this without a great deal of fuss or bother. A cursory glance at the label is often all that the average shopper needs for a selection. But given the expense and importance of meats, care and discrimination is warranted when it comes to their purchase and preparation. A description of meats demands a language of its own, one based on cuts and quality. While the vocabulary of cuts requires a basic knowledge of quadruped anatomy (leg, back, etc.) in addition to an arcane phraseology stitched largely from antique versions of French and English (brisket and loin, for instance), quality descriptions of meats derive from strict, precise government standards imposed by the United States Department of Agriculture.

steak-classificationUnderstanding this language requires instruction. Paul Koury, owner and operator of Paul Anthony’s Markets, says, “This business has been a huge teaching process from day one. When I first opened up, almost every customer was looking for a solid red piece of meat with no marbling, and that’s probably going to be your lowest grade,” Paul says. When it comes to the quality of meats, marbling is the key factor. Marbling describes those small streaks of white fat within the red lean muscle that are essential towards making any cut of meat tender and juicy. The degree of marbling is the primary determination of quality grade. A prime cut will have abundant marbling and a choice cut moderate, while a select cut (the lowest marketed grade) will have only slight marbling, making the meat tough and dry.

“I have a few pieces of choice rib eye that I’ve prepared in a display tray with a prime rib eye to educate people in the difference between the marbling. Less than 3% of all beef in the United States rates a prime grading.” Paul says that supermarket chains are not an ideal place to shop for the best cuts of meat. “Most supermarkets aren’t even cutting their own products locally. Kroger, for instance, has most of their meats cut in Cincinnati and then shipped out.” Paul explains that their reasoning behind this is the liability factor in using saws and other cutting instruments in their stores.

The practice of aging beef is another factor contributing to flavor and tenderness. “All of my prime beef is wet aged, vacuum-sealed in a package in its natural juices. Wet packaged beef will have a stamp that tells me how many days it has been aging since the slaughter. Dry aging is a whole different process,” Paul says. ”Humidity and temperature are keys. Every product is out of the bag with no liquid around it, and the enzymes are breaking down the meat, making for a really rich flavor.” Paul explains that quality pork is the product of a nationwide program in which farmers are raising heirloom breeds of swine without using hormones or strong antibiotics. Sometimes referred to as heirloom or heritage breeds, examples in the marketplace today include Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta, meaning “black pig”), Duroc, and Tamworth “There’s an amazing difference in the taste and tenderness between this pork and what you’d find in most supermarkets,” Paul says. .

Adelaide_champion_Berkshire_boar_2005Pork has become a “foodie” fad. Dan Blumenthal, chef at Bravo! Restaurant, says, “It’s interesting. I really don’t understand why pork is trendy now. But there’s a lot of pork meat that doesn’t have a lot of fat on it and can be used like veal or chicken; the tenderloin, for example.” Dan points out that some bone-in cuts of meat are also coming back. “They’re introducing cuts with the bone in it, for various reasons. Meat really does taste better if it’s cooked with the bone, and if you cut it right, there’s not that much work to do. I also serve a chicken breast, called the airline breast, with the wing bone still in it,” Dan says. “It’s essentially the drumette once you take the breast off.” When it comes to cooking methods, “You’re going to get the best flavor out of grilling,” Dan says, “but unless your grill is really hot, I’d prefer pan-searing, dry-rubbing the meat and almost “Pittsburgh-ing” it (meat cooked “Pittsburgh style” is charred on the outside and juicy on the inside). I don’t use a dry skillet; you need oil in the skillet to conduct the heat.”

bonesAs to a meat sauce, Dan says, “Here is where it gets a little bit tougher. One of the easiest things to do if you’re cooking meat is to take the pan juices and reduce them with a little red wine if it’s a dark meat or white wine if it’s a light meat, then finish with butter. Short of that, if you’re grilling, for instance, you’re going to need some sort of stock,” Dan says, “and unless you can get veal bones and you know how to make a beef stock, most people can use a lighter or darker chicken stock and get away with it, and chicken bones are pretty easy to come by. Brown the bones in the oven with seasonings and aromatic vegetables, then add liquids to complete the stock. You’re not going to get something that’s as rich and dark (as a veal stock), but it might suffice, especially if you cook it down and add red wine or a little tomato paste.”

Then there are marinades and dry rubs. “Marinades flavor and tenderize meat,” Dan says. “A marinade normally incorporates an acid, which is a natural tenderizer, whether the acid is wine or vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice. For a tougher piece of meat you’d want the marinade to penetrate more. But if you’re cooking a rare piece of meat, and the marinade penetrates too far, the acid will cook the meat, and it will soak up the marinade like a sponge, giving the meat a different texture. Dry rubs are another excellent way to flavor meat,” Dan says. “You always want salt and pepper; something with a little heat, like different types of peppers, then some dried herbs like rosemary, oregano or fennel as well as powdered onion, garlic and paprika.”  Dan recommends that any cut of meat, once cooked, should rest for a few minutes before carving or cutting.

Pork Saltimbocca

12 oz. pork tenderloin, sliced into 6 medallions and pounded thinly
6 thin slices prosciutto
6 large fresh sage leaves
Dredge pork in all-purpose flour seasoned with salt and black pepper. Arrange 1 prosciutto slice over pork. Top with 1 sage leaf and spear with a wooden pick. Heat about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan, add pork and brown lightly. Remove pork; add about a tablespoon of finely chopped shallots and a teaspoon of garlic. Add about 1/4 cup each white wine and chicken stock to pan, cook until reduced by about half, finish with about a tablespoon unsalted butter. Arrange pork on a warm plate and drizzle with pan juices. Serve immediately.

saltimbocca2-1-1

 

The Wicket Set

Winslow Homer’s painting of a game of croquet remains a definitive image, but this genteel depiction of the sport belies its demands.

Jackson businessman Mike McRee, a devotee of the game for over 20 years, says the game takes considerable strategic and shot-making skills. “We finished (the first) croquet lawn back in 1989, and in 1992 we finally learned how to play the game.”

“I had some farmland near Pocahontas, and my friend Grady Jolly had been to Meadowood Country Club in California, which has one of the finest croquet lawns in the country,” Mike says. “His cousin, who he met out there, was a friend of Robert Mondavi, and they all got together and played croquet. He came back quite enthused about it, and gave me a croquet set, one which I thought was pretty fancy at the time, not one of those backyard sets with the coat-hanger wire hoops.”

court_9_setup“So I went to the library and got a book on croquet and another one on how to build a golf green, since croquet lawns, which are called ‘greenswards’ are pretty much like a flat green. I leveled off this little peninsula that went into the lake, put in French drains and made it regulation size, 105 by 84 feet, which doubtless corresponds to some metric equivalent. I actually made this one a little bigger so you could move the game around to reduce wear.”

“We started having some people out to play on Sunday afternoons, and ended up having a pretty good group, fifteen to twenty couples who played fairly regularly, which in this country is a big club,” Mike says. “We started having tournaments, and the U.S. Croquet Association gave us a club of the year award. When I moved from Pocahontas to Flora the first thing I looked for was enough room for a croquet lawn. Now we have a group playing in Flora, mostly new folks that we introduced to the game. It’s a great social sport, a good way to bond and get a group to relax and get to know each other.”

“It’s also very complex; the pocket rule book is 54 pages long, and there are probably at least half-dozen shots you need to master. In golf, you’re playing against the course, but in croquet you have to be able to assess the skill level of your opponent. It’s like playing billiards on a green; typically the clearance between the ball, which is 3 5/8 inches around, and the wicket is about 1/32 inch. You always play four balls, even if you’re playing singles,” Mike says. “If I’m playing you, I might play the blue and black balls, and you would play the red and yellow ones. If you’re playing doubles, four players, you’d only play one ball each. So only four people can play, but you can have two games going on the court at the same time.”

“The guys who play at the upper levels of the game are amazing. I once played a fun game with a champion, and at one point I thought I had him in pretty good position; he’s 80 feet away from the wicket with 1/32 inch clearance. He said (with a British accent), ‘Mike, you’ve made a mistake, you’ve left me in front of my wicket!’ I said, ‘Yeah, Robert, but you’re 100 feet away from it.’”

“He takes three practice swings and BOOM shoots his ball right through,” Mike says. “I was definitely out of my league.”