When bringing home the bacon’s just not good enough
Making bacon is a project that is generally undertaken only by the rare chefs afflicted with the need to cure meat compulsively. (There should be a word for that. Charcutophile? Salumaniac?) Curing pork belly with salt, sugar, and spices not only takes subtlety, precision, and skill, but it also takes up a big chunk of valuable real estate in a too-full walk-in fridge for at least several days before it’s ready to serve. No wonder most chefs opt to pay for the pre-made stuff rather than go with the do-it-yourself version. But Tony Maws of Craigie Street Bistrot is not most chefs. He’s not even your average food-obsessed monomaniac. Your everyday fanatical meat curer would make his bacon, serve it as the star of a dish, and pat himself on the back. But at Craigie Street, making the bacon is just the first in a series of increasingly complex steps.
Once the bacon has developed the fermented tang of a well-cured piece of meat, it takes on a supporting role, providing a subtle backdrop for house-made venison sausage. Maws is as exacting with sourcing his ingredients as he is with salting his meat, and this particular venison comes from Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas. Raised under truly wild conditions (the animals spend their lives foraging on wild herbs on the million-acre ranch) and harvested via long-range sound-suppressed rifle (a trip to the slaughterhouse can cause stress, diminishing the quality of the meat), these deer have the kind of happy life and pain-free death that perhaps even a hardcore vegetarian could learn to support. The resulting complex and tender meat is carefully ground with the bacon, Armagnac, and spices in a recipe that Maws has spent more than a year tinkering with in his basement kitchen (the key is to add just enough bacon to guarantee juiciness, but not so much that the venison is overwhelmed).
Surely, you think, this is the end of the rainbow. Not at Craigie Street.
The sausage then becomes a flavorful bit player itself in a savory ragoût of hon-shimeji mushrooms and micro herbs. Served around a velvety purée of split peas (cooked with house-made petit salé, another complex cure job), the final piece of the dish is a farm egg slowly cooked for more than two hours in a 140-degree water bath — the temperature at which its proteins just begin to coagulate. The result is an egg that acquires a custard-like creaminess with a liquid center that oozes out like golden lava with the slightest provocation from your fork, coating the sausage and mushroom in the ultimate layer of over-the-top indulgence. Most restaurants don’t put this kind of care into their entire menu combined. At Craigie, it all fits on a single, opulent forkful.
Available for $17 at Craigie Street Bistrot, 5 Craigie Circle, in Cambridge. Call 617.497.5511.
: Hot Plate
, Tony Maws
, Culture and Lifestyle
, Food and Cooking