Boiled Dinners: Simple Elegance


by Dan Hugelier CMC




Back in the fifties, white porcelain stoves with built in soup wells were a norm in Michigan. My Mother would secure what was only known to us children, as a good soup bone from the local butcher. As she always expressed her enthusiasm regarding the condition of the bone, my younger brother and I wondered if there were bad soup bones she was avoiding.


It was also a trend in those times, for women to bake soft, Betty Crocker style white pan bread. Our entire neighborhood, scented with the aroma of that freshly baked bread, made us rush into the door on a cold winter day, anticipating a slice of that bread with sweet, soft butter and a bowl of soup. The soup always had a little fat on top, the result of the rendering of bone marrow and the surface fat. There were carrots, leeks, onion, some tomatoes canned from our garden and meat from the bone if one was lucky. That meat was a succulent and tender as any I’ve ever had. The old saying “the sweetest meat is that which is nearest the bone” is meaningful to me.


Stews, soups and boiled dinners are important foundation of cooking elements. Tough cuts of meat lend themselves to this class of dishes. Desirable because the connective tissues break down under moist heat, offering a rich depth of flavor, sticky goodness and nutritive benefits which seem to have healing effects on the ailing . Economics also come into play, making this fare affordable, a staple on the menu of working class families. I have often said that a poor man eats better than the rich because those lesser cuts yield the most incredible taste.


I feature many versions of these preparations on my menus from the professional kitchen. Pot au Fue (translated-pot of fire) a French speciality involving short ribs, brisket and root vegetables, often served with Marrow toast or Marrow dumplings. New England boiled dinner with fowl and beef brisket, smoked tongue and vegetables. Kosher chicken soup with Matzo balls, or Corned beef and cabbage, an old favorite which always sells well.


Boiled dinners are served in the finest restaurants, resorts and hotels in the world. They can be done with equal success at camp or in the home kitchen. Dutch ovens, large crock pots and kettles hanging over a campfire all work well. The additional aroma of a wood fire with simmering game, lending special memories, to savor forever.


The process of corning meats is a simple one. Anyone can do this without special equipment. Corning sets the color of the meat to a deep pink-red, similar to the color in a ham or smoked pork loin which has been cured. Corning is a process of curing, perhaps the most simple aside from Confit which means simply to cure.


Curing is done with nitrates and sodium, natural ingredients used for thousands of years to extend the shelf life of protein rich meat, fish and poultry. It works through a process of locking in the color pigment of myoglobin, which gives muscle tissue its red color. The sodium and nitrates may be introduced to the meat through dredging, rubbing or dissolving the salts in water to create a brine. Brines used for curing are sometimes refereed to as pickle or pickling brine by commercial meat processors.


I would like to offer the following simple recipe for corning Black Bear Feral Hog or Venison, to introduce those of you who have never cured meats before to the process. I will then, starting with the spring issue, start a series of articles under the title of “Preservation of Wild Game”. I will begin with basic smoking methodology, curing, drying and some examples of how to hot smoke and cold smoke. Sausage making and other Charcuterie specialties will be the featured items in subsequent issues over the next year. I’ll also share other methods for drying, canning, pickling, and salt curing, as well as enlighten our readers with recipes from fellow sportsmen.


Finally, for those of your who are “Butchery Challenged” and left to wonder how the heck to get all the meat off the neck of that monster buck you just shot, worry no longer.. Shaun Webb has a suggestion for that as well as a great recipe for genuine Venison Mincemeat pie. I had the pleasure to hunt with Shaun in Laredo and Spearfish SD where he brought a pie to deer camp last fall. It was the best Venison Mincemeat pie I ever had. It was awfully cold in the Black Hills last October; I was mighty grateful to have a slice of his creation with some hot coffee. He learned how to make this version from a local farmer while hunting in Maine one year, boiling the venison neck and simply pulling the meat for this preparation. Try his recipe and you won’t be disappointed.


Dan Hugelier


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