Goose neck sausage. Goal: complete.

Just before Christmas, my buddy who sourced our last goose sent me a note.

"Greg shot a pair of geese today. Much bigger than the last. Would you like one? This one has the head still!" 

It has the head still? Well, of COURSE I'm going to take it. 

Unlike the first one, I hung the goose from the rafters of the barn for 5 days. With game birds, the flavor can be a bit strong, and hanging them for a bit (3-7 days, per the experts) mellows the flavor. 

I took it down and brought it in the kitchen to pluck. I knew I'd have a bit of mess to clean up, but it was 20 degrees outside, and that was a bit too cold for me. Fortunately, the Boy had some friends over, and I ended up with a few helpers. 

This goose was really beautiful. I followed the same process as before - it was a bit quicker, and I was a bit more comfortable with the whole thing this time around. There's a point where the bird turns from "goose" to "meat" when you do this, and your brain switches into the same comfort level that you'd have in cleaning a turkey you brought home from the store. 

I was, however, especially careful with the real prize of this bird: the neck. 

Years ago, I had watched an episode of River Cottage, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dress out a goose and set the neck aside for a special treat. A stuffed goose neck sausage. 

I have since found several recipes for this, from River Cottage and Darina Allen. Variations on the theme and method, but they all start by peeling the fatty skin back off the neck, taking care to keep it intact as one long 'tube'.  

We've bought several geese from the butcher over the years (goose is always on the Christmas dinner menu), but none of them ever come whole, or with the neck. They're prettily dressed and wrapped, just like the Butterball turkey you pick up at your local grocery. So this was a real treat. 

The goose roasted gorgeously, shedding tons of crystal clear fat, and browning deliciously. It wasn't quite as pretty as a farm raised goose, but I have to say I'm pretty proud of the way it turned out. 

I turned my attention to the neck - I stuffed it with a pork sausage (ground fresh from our pigs), mixed with diced bacon (again: our pigs), sage, thyme, salt, white pepper and a little brandy. Little bits of goose trim - heart, liver, etc. - cooked and chopped are also acceptable. 

Tie the little end of the neck up with some kitchen twine, and I set it into some goose fat to crisp the skin a bit. 10 minutes or so on a side. Then put into the oven at 300F for 30 minutes. 

The next step took me out into the snow for a bit. 

I cranked my smoker up to 275F, and put the neck sausage in for 45 minutes, with some peach wood. You can see that I didn't seal up the 'fat' end of the neck (where the neck joined the shoulders of the bird). But that's ok. I just took care to fold the loose flaps over the sausage. 

Oh this thing is beautiful. 

Every time I opened the door to check (I had to force myself not to check every 3 minutes), my nostrils were filled with the delicious smell of the meat and woodsmoke. I was practically dancing in anticipation. 

When I pulled it out of the smoker, I slipped it back into the fat and the oven to crisp a bit longer (maybe 10 minutes) while I carved the rest of the goose. (I've gotten pretty good at this by now, actually - taking out the whole breasts  before slicing, and taking out the thighs and other meat pretty neatly.). 

When I sliced the neck open, it looked like a perfect sausage.  The skin was nicely crisp, and the meat inside savory and a little fragrant with the smoke and herbs. 

I slices up the meat and sausage and we took the feast (along with creamed spinach and a sweet-potato & apple soufflé) over to my Bride's parents for dinner. The goose was a little tougher and I should have taken the time to make a gravy, but the meat was rich and flavorful, and the Boy went back for seconds and then thirds of the sausage. And then he asked if he could pack the res for his first lunch back at school tomorrow. 

I'm guessing he'll be the only kid there with goose neck sausage. 

It was a small goal, but totally worth holding out for. If you ever get the chance to order/make/try, believe me when I say: don't hesitate. It was delicious. 

Three... I mean, er... Two little pigs

The first year I had pigs, it was on a lark. And raising our own bacon in our backyard turned out to be way easier than I expected. I fed them some grain, a ridiculous amount of peanuts, and watched them get big and docile, roaming around under the trees in our backyard. 

This year's lot, on the other hand, turned out to be more than a handful of pain-in-the-ass. 

First there was that time they went missing, and lived in the woods for a month.

Then, there was the recapturing, and building a pig pen that would make the inmates of Guantanamo give that low whistle of respect that says 'Holy shit, brother. What did you do to get put in here?'

About two hours before the 'Coppa & Collards' dinner party, two of them managed to push their way out of even that fence, and take a little walk around the yard. I managed to get them back up to the pen, and told the boy to go in and get his mother. She came outside and looked at me like "These are your pigs, mister." 

"I'll grab the front side," I told her. "You grab the rear." And before she could say anything, I reached down and grabbed the front legs of one of the pigs. 

If you haven't had occasion to wrestle a pig yourself, you should know that an upset pig can squeal loud enough to be heard for miles. The saying "squeal like a stuck pig"  could also be "squeal like a pig you just tried to pick up".  

My Bride took one look and said "I am not picking up the back end of that pig. That's where they poop." 

"Would you rather to grab the squealy, bitey end?"

There was a lot of swearing. And a lot of pushing. And some more swearing. Most of it aimed at the pigs.  But we got them back in the pen.  

When we decided to move north to Maine, the logistics were all pretty easy. Except for the pigs. 

It was a corporate relocation, so we had a packing and moving crew helping us load up and take everything to storage until we could get into our new place outside of Portland. A very nice gentleman with a large clipboard and a measuring tape came by to do the inventory of our household goods. 

"Are those pigs yours?" 

I don't get asked that question every day. It would have been awkward to deny it. 

"We can't put the pigs in storage, you know..."

Thanks, funny guy. 

Fortunately, I had a plan. I have a buddy with a trailer who likes to go to Maine. He brought the trailer over one evening so that I could load up the pigs, and we could schlep them up to the great white north the next day. Loading last year's pigs was pretty easy. I figured I could handle this. 

Nothing with this group of pigs was ever easy. 

There was more shoving. A whole lot more cursing. And I only fell in pig crap twice. I began to wish that I had never found the pigs again after their escape. But eventually, they were loaded up, and off we went. 

I had called the sellers of our new house a couple of weeks before. "Listen, Peter. I need to bargain for a favor. I need to move the pigs in before the close date."  

Just a totally typical buying a house conversation to have. 

He laughed. He used to raise pigs.

I liked the couple we were buying the house from a lot. We didn't involve the realtors.  The Critter and I showed up for a few evenings in a row and built a new pen around the barn. 

The pigs settled in. And eventually, we closed on the house and moved the rest of our household good in. And ourselves while we were at it. 

These three pigs were on the small side compared to last year. I am pretty sure the month in the woods foraging didn't help. They grew taller, but didn't put on as much weight when they were young. And maybe it's just their litter. They were smaller, and more active. They took to their pen with gusto, rooting up all the mint and clover, and enjoying themselves immensely. The end stall of the barn was theirs, so they had a place to huddle and sleep. And there is a huge oak tree across the driveway, so the kids would scoop up acorns to add to their meal. 

Other than the fact that I had to fetch water in buckets from the pond down the hill, it was a pretty terrific setup. 

Soon, though, The Spare got listless. 

She lay around for days. I wasn't sure if she was just getting lazy as she grew or if there was something wrong.  She moved. Just slower, and with less pep than the other two. 

I watched her for a while, and figured that, well, it was already early October, and they didn't have much longer before slaughter anyhow. I'd let her be. 

A week later, I was out in California for a conference and some visits with our customers. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Oakland. It was my birthday. I was celebrating by joining one of our sales team as he called on local veterinary practices. I got a call on my phone about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. 

"Your f*@#ing pig is dead."

It was my Bride. She was not her normal chipper self. 

It was raining in Maine. And cold. And dark. And there was a dead, 225 lb pig in the yard. 

"How do the other pigs look?"

"They're fine. But There. Is. A. Dead. Pig." 

"I suppose we should move it out of the pen before the other pigs get to it." 

"You move it. I did NOT sign up for this. I'm f*#@ing done with f#@$ing pigs."

You people have only met the lovely, sweet, friendly woman that I married. My Bride is patient, and kind, and beautiful. And she can swear a blue streak when she encounters a large dead animal in her backyard.  I'm standing in the sunny parking lot of a small animal vet practice on the opposite coast. I wasn't in the best position to be much help.  If we were still in Massachusetts, we had enough friends with animals and a sense of humor that I could call on to help. But we had been in our new Maine house for exactly two weeks. We had met pretty much no one. 

Except. 

I did know a guy. 

"I will handle it, my love."

In my first couple of weeks at work, I had shared some stories with my colleagues. Including the whole pig/ham/bacon hobby. One guy on my team ALSO raised pigs. AND he lived in our town. 

It was a little awkward, but on the off chance he might be around, I called him. 

"Hey, Ken - aren't you in California?"

"I am. But I need a huge favor." 

I explained. I felt like I was calling The Cleaner on Pulp Fiction. 

"I'll be over in 15 minutes." 

They moved the pig out of the pen and rolled it in a tarp. I sat in the airport later on, Googling "How deep do I need to bury a dead pig?"

I am pretty sure I'm on a new list someplace now. 

Turns out, the answer is "under 4 feet of soil, and not near your drinking water." 

I'm still not sure what killed the Spare. Pigs are susceptible to pneumonia and a host of other diseases, just like any livestock. But Rocky & Tocino were both perfectly fine. It wasn't contagious. Some livestock get cancer. Or something lodged in their system that keeps them from eating. She had sat in the tarp for two days waiting for me to get home, and I wasn't really prepared to do a necroscopy to figure out what might have happened. And not knowing what took her down, we weren't going to eat her. We just chalked it up to lessons in owning livestock, and kept an eye on the other two. 

And, ok, probably naming her 'The Spare' wasn't the best karma. 

Joe and his partner Joanne came back this past weekend with their trailer. They had kindly agreed to help transport the (remaining) pigs to slaughter. Joanne quickly took charge. "Joe - stand behind the pigs and push them up where I can guide them into the trailer.  Ken - stand over there. No. Over there. More out of the way."  I held the gate so it didn't fall over. And I did it gladly.  I knew when I was in the presence of an expert. 

Tocino went more or less right in. Rocky was being his normal stubborn self. He grunted a lot. He squealed some.  Joanne stood there and let him catch his breath. Then she reached over and grabbed his front legs and hoisted him into the trailer. 

"Hey, Giuia! Come check out what Joanne just did!"

I found that funnier than my Bride did. 

Lamb prosciutto

Last year, my Bride had given me a copy of Edward Lee's fantastic cookbook Smoke & Pickles, which is just full of fantastic goodies & recipes. (It's where I got the bourbon-pickled jalapeño recipe, which my whole family loves). 

One of the recipes that I was really itching to try was his lamb prosciutto. I've occasionally found this on menus at restaurants with good charcuterie plates, and I was especially intrigued as the recipe said you could get a good cure on in about 100 days. As opposed to the 18-24 months it takes for a pork prosciutto. 

So when I dropped off my pigs at the butcher in November, I asked Mike to set aside a bone in leg of lamb for me.  I don't know why the hell we're so averse to lamb here in the US - when we lived in England, it was easy enough and therefore relatively reasonable to get a leg of lamb for a Sunday dinner. Fortunately, our butcher is well equipped to source pretty much anything. 

Leg of lamb? No problem.  I've spared you the raw photo - but here it is after the cure. Isn't she lovely? 

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Edward Lee's recipe is for a curried prosciutto - mixing the normal salt and spices with a curry powder rub. I like a good curry, but I had a hard time imagining it on my prosciutto. And besides, this was my first go at this one, so I kept it simple. 

I followed my typical prosciutto cure - a whole lot of salt, and a little pepper thrown in for good measure. I rubbed the whole leg down well and left it to sit in the salt box for a few days - checking on it and rubbing salt in the areas that were exposed every other day or so. Give it a good turn. Check again in a couple of days. 

After about a week or ten days of this, I hung it with the other prosciuttos, and walked away. 

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I actually ended up leaving the leg to hang for about 120 days or so.  Because it was winter, and because I was leaving it for less time, I didn't bother putting a muslin sack on this one (which keeps any flies off in the summer). 

The leg of lamb is, of course, smaller than a pork leg, and because it cures faster, the change in the texture, size & heft of the meat is more noticeable.  When I pulled it down, the surface felt taut & firm. And the leg was so small, I wasn't sure how the slices would turn out. 

I cut off the main portions of meat as you can see above, and the meat was a lovely, dark, dark rose, with beautiful firm streaks of fat still visible. I sliced a few slivers off on my deli slicer to try. The flavor was amazing - more rich and (for lack of a better word) "lamb-y". 

I kept slicing. 

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I ended up with more than I thought I would, from such a small leg. My slicer was set on about as thin as it could go, but still, the leg wasn't huge. However, as you can see - I ended up with plenty to keep, and plenty to give away to a few friends. 

Because the meat was so rich, a little goes a long way - a few slices on top of a nice salad with goats cheese & light citrus vinaigrette, or maybe paired with a perfect poached egg for that lovely yolky silkiness. Perfection. 

I'll definitely be doing this one again.