Monday, May 8, 2017

The Death of Common Sense

Hey y'all,  I am guest hosting Tim Roper's radio show tonight.  So, if anyone ever wondered what my voice sounds like or just how weird the wild world of William Judson Guyton Carroll, IV could be... well, here is your chance to listen to me ramble about food, the resources of the Southern fields and forests, and the lack of common sense in our modern culture, for about a half hour.  Thanks, Tim, for the opportunity!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Meat Trapper made me famous!

Dang, Tim Roper just made me famous! Well, I don't know what to say. Thanks Tim! I love to trap, hunt, fish and forage for food. I love too cook and I love to eat - it is my family tradition going way back. Tim is a better trapper and hunter than I'll ever be... probably even a better angler. So, I'll swap a bit of cooking knowledge for his wisdom any day.

PS here is my FB Southern food group that Tim mentioned if anyone is interested:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A primer on cooking tender small game

All critters are different, but most times small game doesn't need tenderizing at all if it is handled right and cooked right.  The quality of meat always depends on how an animal lives, dies, is handled in the field and handled before cooking.  A lean animal that has had to work hard to eat or breed may be tough.  I also believe that an animal that is heavily stressed before it is killed has all kinds of stress hormones in its system that cause the meat to toughen and even taste bad - can't prove that, but I think it is true and it is one of the best reasons to trap you small game rather than hunt with dogs.  A critter in a trap won't be happy, but it won't be running and getting hot either.  Gut and skin your game as quickly as possible.  Cool the meat down and keep it dry.  Those are the basic rules I follow.

Now, to address toughness.  You can think of meat fibers like rubber bands.  You want them to relax so as not to be tough, but have the good, satisfying chew between your teeth of good meat,  and that requires rest and proper cooking.  I won't get into freezing, which can have a tenderizing effect due to the damage the ice crystals do to the meat fibers, but along with hanging, that is really another issue.  I think most small game gets eaten more quickly than large game anyway.

So, step one is to let the meat rest at a cool temp.  I like to salt and pepper my game and lay it on old oven racks, over plates in the fridge, so that as the salt pulls out moisture, it can drip away from the meat.  I usually leave it in the fridge over night.  Then, I leave it on the counter at room temp for several hours - up to 12 - before cooking.  That sounds absolutely crazy and opposed to every modern health recommendation, I know, but I think it is essential.  This process alone will tenderize at least 75% of meat to my preference.  This "quick hanging" allows the muscle fibers to fully relax and to break down somewhat just due to temp.  But, a lot more is going on.  The salt pulls some liquid and natural sugars out of the meat, to the surface, while creating an environment that inhospitable to most bacterias that can make you sick.  This creates the ideal environment for bacterias like lacto-bacterias - the same bacterias that turn cabbage into sour kraut - wild yeasts, etc.  So, there is a preserving effect, the bacterias pre-digest the meat to some extent and the flavor is enhanced.  I like the meat to get that good cheesy, rich smell before cooking.  We could call this the George Herter Method, as Bull Cook fans know..

Just before cooking, I poke or squeeze the thickest part of the meat, like the thigh.  It should feel very tender, almost as soft as your earlobe or the muscle between your thumb and first finger with your hand completely relaxed.  If so, I cook it fast and hot in a pan, oven or a hot grill, to medium rare.  Carry over heat means that the meat continues to cook on the plate, so take it off the heat before it is fully cooked to your liking.  Put some butter on it.  Cover it with foil and let it rest for 15-20 min so that the juices can redistribute.  Not letting meat rest is a big mistake that often results in dry, tough meat and a plate full of all the good juices going to waste.

If the meat is not tender enough after that long pre cooking rest, then we have to take measures to tenderize it.  To do so, we must understand what cooking actually does to meat.  Cooking meat does 4 essential things:

1) It firms the proteins.  The meat fibers contract.  This is a chemical reaction that can be caused by heat or acids, like when you put citrus juice on raw seafood and it seems to cook.

2) It degrades the proteins.  It breaks the muscle fibers down, making them easier to chew and more digestible.

3) It enhances flavor.  This is a simple concept, like browning meat.  But, it is scientifically very complicated, so I won't go into that.

4) It adds flavor by allowing the meat to be flavored by additions like salt, pepper, herbs, spices, onions and other vegetables.

Obviously, the first two of those aspects are in conflict.  How can cooking meat make it firm and more tender?  That is the art of cooking.  There are several options for tenderizing meat, and each has its place.  

1) Chemical.  A meat tenderizer like pineapple or papaya will chemically break down the muscle fibers.  This should be used very sparingly, so you don't end up with mush.

2) Mechanical.  You can grind the meat, of course.  Another great option for the larger cuts is to bone it out and pound the hell out of it with a mallet.  Make a thin cutlet, bread and fry it like chicken fried steak or schnitzel.  Or, you can mix up some cheese, herbs and bread crumbs, roll that up in the cutlets, tied them closed with string, brown them and cook them in sauce... which is awesome... and the scraps can go in with the sauce - think of a big Italian Sunday dinner!

3)  Parboil.  This is the classical method that most old cookbooks and good restaurants use.  The reason it works is that it is a two step process.  To parboil is to boil briefly, take the meat out and let it cool, before cooking it fully in another manner.  The parboil firms the proteins without cooking the meat fully through.  Therefore, after the meat rests and the juices re distribute, when it is cooked for the second time, the already firmed muscle fibers will not further contract to the extent they would with a one step cooking process.

4) Braise.  This is my favorite method.  Braising is like parboiling in reverse. Brown your meat thoroughly in a hot pan or under a broiler.  Take it off the heat to rest.  Then, either in the same pan or a deeper roasting or casserole dish, add the meat and enough flavorful liquid to come about half way up the side of the meat (not enough to cover it).  Then cook it low and slow like you would a pot roast, until the meat falls from the bone. Because you cooked it on the bone, all that good gelatin and collagen and some marrow will melt into the liquid and it will have the richness of bone broth.... and so much flavor!  This is what people go crazy over in rustic European restaurants where they make great braised dishes out of shanks, oxtail, trotters and other super cheap, tough cuts of meat that people think are worthless.  A good braising liquid is red wine, some stock, onions, garlic, thyme, etc.  Some folks like using tomato juice or just chicken broth.  Whatever you like is fine.     

5)  Pressure cooker.  A pressure cooker is another one of those things that is an easy concept with a long scientific explanation that we can skip.  Basically, it cooks the meat in a moist environment, under pressure that mechanically tenderizes the meat.  It can be a good option because it saves time and the results can be almost as good as braising if you do one thing - let it cool down and release pressure completely before taking the lid off.  The pressure squeezes moisture out of the meat.  As it cools and the pressure lowers, the meat will reabsorb the liquid and all the flavor.  Taking the lid off early can be dangerous and result in dry, flavorless but wet meat...which often confuses people.

6) Barbecue.  This is my favorite option for larger small game that can be cooked whole - like a big, fat coon, groundhog or beaver.  Barbecuing is simply cooking low and slow over the dry heat of wood coals.  A major benefit is that you don't have to trim off all the fat, sinew, etc, because it will melt away as it cooks low and slow (fast, hot cooking causes sinew/silver skin/etc to toughen).  All I do is salt my meat and let it rest as described earlier, then cook it 10 hours directly over live oak and hickory coals (NC style).  Most of the flavor comes from the fat dripping onto the coals and the smoke rising from that.  If your barbecue tradition uses dry rubs, wet mops, offset smokers, that will work too.

7) Stewing...

All of that may seem complicated, but the basics are: 1) Handle it right in the field.  2) Rest it before cooking.  3) Cook hot and fast for tender meat or low and slow for tough meat. 4) Rest after cooking.  5) Don't over think it.  Don't do something just because someone else said to do it.  Start simple.  Cook to your own taste in your own style. These are all "perfect case" suggestions, where you have everything controlled.  In camp, cooking on hot coals or low and slow in a camp/dutch oven yields results just as good.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Our South

My friend, Gary Dean Gardner, has a new blog called Our South; Its Food, Arts, & Heritage In Context With Our Modern Society.  It is an excellent blog on southern food, culture and history - far more detailed and researched than mine, for which I make no excuse.  Gary Dean Gardner is a scholar.  I am a storyteller.  His blog is a welcome and much needed contribution to our culture and our food.  I highly recommend it.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve with Big Ray

For several years, every Christmas Eve, my mother and I would make the long, winding drive up to Big Ray’s house.  Big Ray was Ray Hicks – the famous storyteller, recipient of the National Heritage award, subject of several books and a Smithsonian exhibit – the teller of the Jack Tales.  To us though, Ray and his family were like our family and going up to Ray’s was as much a part of our Christmas tradition as presents under the tree.
Orville (pronounced Arville) Hicks (a famous story teller in his own right) introduced us to Ray, his wife Rosa (pronounced Rosie) and their son, Ted.  Arville was (and continues to be) a close family friend.  Over the years, we accompanied Arville to Merlefest and Jonesboro, and through him, met many famous folks, Doc Watson, Ora Watson, Emmylou Harris, Mac Wiseman, Earl Scruggs, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Etta Baker, Roy Bookbinder, Guy Clark, Frank Profit Jr. and so many others, but none meant more to us than Ray and Rosie Hicks and their family.
The first time we met Ray and Rosie was at the Cove Creek School.  Ray had a sister who shared my mother’s name.  She died early.  When Ray met my mother, he repeated her name over and over.  From then on, we were like family. 
We would drive up from Foscoe, usually in the snow, down what was then miles of unpaved road.  We would park on the hill above Ray’s and holler out “hello”.  To my many readers whose origin  is beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains, let me give you this piece of advice:  If you ever visit an old cabin miles down an unpaved mountain road, always holler “hello” before you approach the house; it could save you a few ounces of painful buckshot in your person.
The first to greet us would always be the dogs – Ted’s beagle and Ray’s little black dog that had a mohawk shock of white hair running down the center of his head.  Then Ted would yell out, “You’uns come on in.”  Ray, who was almost always sitting in a chair before the wood stove, poking a stick into the fire would reply to our greeting of “Merry Christmas”, “Gaw, is it Chirstmas, gaw… it snuck up on me this year.” 
I guess that statement needs a paragraph of explanation.  Ray and his family lived in a cabin built by Ray’s father.  Their only electricity was one light.  There was an outhouse outback.  Rosie cooked on a wood burning stove/oven.  Ray had no way of knowing the date, nor any reason to keep up with such things.  Ray’s way of life was timeless – as old as the mountain.  Time was marked by plowing, planting, growing, harvest, hunting, winter, spring, summer and fall.
Rosie would rush into the sitting room/bedroom and hug my mother.  We would visit for a while, and then Rosie and my mother would disappear into the kitchen to talk.  We learned volumes of herbal remedies from Rosie, whose hair grew long and black well into old age due to her partial Cherokee heritage.  Her aunt was a famous “witch woman” to whom local folks went for cures and to have their fortunes told. 
Rosie didn’t approve of drinking as a rule, but she didn’t mind on Christmas.  We would bring eggnog and brandy.  Rosie and my mother would emerge from the kitchen with glasses of brandied eggnog.  Soon, the celebration would be in full swing.  I’d either bring my guitar or play a 6 string banjo (tuned like a guitar) that belonged to Ted.  Arville was usually there, and he would join me on guitar or banjo.  Ray would play his harmonica. 
We would play all of our favorites – songs by the Carter Family, Jimmy Rogers, Bob Wills, Roy Acuff, Hank Williams and Bill Monroe.  Ray’s favorite songs were the mournful “Precious Jewel” by Roy Acuff and good old “John Henry”.  I knew four or five versions of John Henry, so I would play them all as Ray sang and played harmonica in his absolutely devoid of rhythm style – if you could accompany Ray, playing with Willie Nelson would be a piece of cake!  Rosie would sing the old mountain ballads, in the old shape note style – all those beautiful songs about murder, dying lovers, etc. 
We would also sing a few hymns, which was always risky.  Ray had a unique understanding of the Christian doctrine and theology.  As Arville put it, “A preacher came up here once and he and Ray got into it over the Bible.  Ray ran that preacher off, and you never seen a preacher cuss so much!”
Hours would pass but time would stand still.  We would exchange gifts, which always included Ray’s favorite old fashioned candy and a pouch of tobacco.  Ray rolled his own cigarettes, and they were the worst looking cigarettes you’ve ever seen.  Burning bits of tobacco would fall everywhere as he smoked and told unending variations on stories like “Wicked John and the Devil”.  Arville would tell a story, punctuating it with his deep chuckle.  Then would come my turn and I’d do my best in my own awkward manner.  Ray would always cheer me on afterward, encouraging me to take up the tradition, “Gaw, that was pretty good!  You could almost pass for a Hicks as tall as you are.  There are two kinds of Hicks, the crane neck Hicks and the Bull neck Hicks.  Arville’s a bullneck!  Gaw”  I stand 6’4”, and even in his late 70s, Ray was a good three or four inched taller than me!
Ray and Rosie would both invite us to stay the night and would get a little choked up when it was time for us to leave.  Ted would walk us up to our car.  It was always so cold up on Beech Mountain on Christmas Eve.  The wind would blow the snow around.  But, usually, the sky was clear and the moon would reflect on the snow so brightly that it was never really dark.  You could see city lights in Tennessee in the distance.  The silence and cold was such a contrast to the warmth and celebration inside the house.  I’ve never experienced anything else like it and I doubt I ever will.
Ray passed away a few years ago.  We went to the funeral in Boone.  Ted and his older brother Leonard met us at the funeral home.  “I knew you would come,” Ted said.  “You’uns are just like family,” Leonard told us.  My mother went to talk with Rosie.  I sat with Ted and Leonard, reminiscing.  I’ve always had a knack for mimicry, often imitating people’ voices without being aware of it.  “Daddy would have appreciated you’uns coming,” Leonard said.  I know just what he’d say, I replied, “Gaw, it’s Beeeecky and her boy, gaw!”  Ted and Leonard both laughed and remarked how I sounded just like him.  We all got choked up about then and stepped outside.  “I never did like crowds of people; I guess I’m just used to being up on the mountain.” Ted explained. 
Someone’s rooster had gotten loose and was strutting around the parking lot of the funeral home – an odd sight in the center of bustling Boone.  At Ray Hick’s funeral though, it didn’t seem at all out of place.  The New York Times and National Public Radio ran obituaries on Ray; somehow though, that colorful, strutting, crowing rooster seemed a more appropriate tribute.  We talked about the rooster until our throats loosened. 
This Christmas Eve, I’ll remember those nights at Ray’s; I reckon I always will.  If y’all have children or grandchildren, here is a gift idea for this Christmas:  buy them a recording of Ray or Arville Hicks telling stories, or buy a copy of The Jack Tales, collected by Richard Chase, and learn to tell the stories.  There will never be another Ray Hicks, but the Jack Tale tradition can live on through generations to come.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Stew Basics

My friend, Tim Roper (a.k.a. The Meat Trapper) just emailed, asking if I had a stew recipe.... actually, I don't.  Stew, as he pointed out about chili, is more of a style of cooking than a recipe and can be made with a variety of ingredients.  It may be surprising to some that where I come from, beef stew isn't the norm.  On the coast, we have traditional salt water caught fish stews that have origins in the British Isles.  Around the rivers and swamps, we have catfish stews and even catfish stew festivals.  Further inland, venison stew or bear meat stew is a meal for special family gatherings.  Somewhere in between those regions, we have North Carolina style Brunswick Stew.... named for either Brunswicktown (an abandoned colonial fort), Brunswick County or a British royal... which does not get the respect it deserves. 

NC Brunswick Stew may be older than Virginia Brunswick stew, and is certainly older than Georgia Brunswick Stew.  Unlike VA and GA, NC Brunswick Stew is not solely pork based.  It is usually a mix of at least three meats, two of which are usually wild game.  The recipes depend on one's personal taste and the meat on hand - any combination of pork, chicken, venison, squirrel, coon, rabbit, possum or turtle would not surprise a NC Brunswick Stew connoisseur.  Added to the meats are usually tomatoes, corn and lima beans.  Truly, this is a mix of a British stew tradition with American ingredients from an era long before when America became a nation or even when British immigrants had access to more English style ingredients in true colonial times.

So, what is stew?.... well, it isn't soup.  Soup is a thinner, usually broth or stock based liquid dish.  It isn't chowder.  Chowder is usually milk based, not counting Manhattan Clam Chowder (btw, did you know that the residents of Manhattan rioted in support of the South's God-given right to secede and that Lincoln essentially had to invade New York before he invaded the South? ...I bet that wasn't in your US history book in school... or that Union officers were allowed to keep their slaves... just "food for thought").  Stew isn't chili.  Stew isn't gumbo.   

To add a little more confusion, "stewing" is a cooking technique that does not necessarily result in the dish we know as stew.  Stewing is to cook meat, vegetables, etc. low and slow in liquid until soft, purely for the purpose of making them soft.  So, a can of stewed chicken doesn't taste like chicken stew.... it is just soft, bland... unappetizing canned chicken.

Stew is usually made from a tough, flavorful cut of meat (but can be made from fish, chicken, etc).  Stew is usually thick - thicker than soup but thinner than gravy.  Stew usually contains vegetables.  Stew is usually mildly seasoned - it isn't spicy.  Stew is comfort food and especially good on a cold day.  

Meat:  These days, folks probably associate stew with beef, so lets take that as an example.  Any of your tougher, more coarsely grained cuts of beef would do.  You want meat that will stand up to long hours of stewing and still have some chew between the teeth.  Chuck would be a good choice, as would bottom round... or anything labeled "stew meat".  In many countries, their stew meat is a cow's foot... and their stews are all the better for it... but, we'll stick with what you can buy at your local Piggly Wiggly (you do shop at Piggly Wiggly.... the southern chain that is America's first modern grocery store... don't you?).  Stew meat is not ground.  Cut your meat into cubes or chunks about an inch... maybe a little larger, in size.  Dry well, salt and brown well in a cast iron dutch oven or pot (cast iron is better), in a little fat - beef suet is best, but oil will work; butter would burn on its own, but if clarified or added to cooking oil, it will work fine.  My preference is to fry some bacon along with the beef, so that the beef browns in the bacon fat.

Vegetables part 1:  After the meat browns, add plenty of chopped onions and chopped mushrooms (any type you like) and brown them. 

Thickening: Stews can be thickened with several ingredients - flour, potatoes, corn starch, arrow root, masa and even blood.  Yes, blood.  In fact, blood is the most traditional means of thickening stews.  If you use blood, you add it at the end, with the stew not boiling and off the heat but still hot.  Just stir it in slowly and let it thicken.  If you use blood, more power to you.... it is very healthy, but it is not my choice.  Potatoes would be most people's choice, but not mine.  If you use potatoes, you can either cut them into chunks a bit smaller than the meat and add them to the stew after other liquid has been added, so that the potato starch will thicken the soup as they cook in the stew.  Or, you can stir in some mashed potatoes, or even dried potato flakes.  My choice is flour.  After the meat and onions have browned, I push them to the side, add a little more fat and brown two spoons full of plain, all purpose flour, just like I would for gravy..... which is basically the brother to stew.... so is pot roast, btw.

Liquid:  After the flour browns (or before adding an other thickener) you need to add some liquid to make your stew a member of the soup family as opposed to just beef and onions in a thick gravy.  Here, you have 5 choices: 1) Water, 2) Stock or Broth, 3) Wine, 4) Beer or 5) the liquid from shellfish like Oyster Liquor or Clam Juice.  I use wine or dark beer and broth or stock.  Water has no flavor.  Why use water?  In this recipe, I would add about a pint of good, rich stock or bone broth (bones with a little meat on them and vegetable trimmings browned before slow boiling for 24 hours+).  I would also add about 8 oz of a rich red wine that is not too tanic or brightly acidic - red zinfandel or shiraz would be my choice.

Vegetables part 2: Add your favorite vegetables.  I would add celery, carrots, maybe a little crushed garlic, green peas or baby limas... definitely some kind of green bean or pea.... maybe some whole kernel corn... maybe.... tomatoes, turnip root, parsnip, celery root, asparagus cut into one inch pieces, chopped spinach, mild green peppers like bells, squash, pumpkin, leaks.... whatever you like that will not over power the stew, but not too many so that the vegetables over power the stew.  Those that would not work well would be those that would over power the stew, like okra due to its mucilaginous properties, strong greens like turnip or collard or starchy legumes like black eyed peas... unless you particularly like that combination.

Seasonings:  Black pepper - I wouldn't use red/hot peppers in a traditional stew.  Salt to taste.  Thyme - meat loves thyme and its use in a stew is very traditional.  That is all that is essential.  Other good additions could be bay leaf, rosemary or parsley.  I would not use any spices other than pepper, but a tiny pinch of allspice or nutmeg is traditional... so is one or two whole cloves.  I like cloves with onion, so I might go that route... the decision would be made by sniffing stew and the cloves a few times, taking a sip of wine and getting an idea of how the combination would taste.  Lavender is another traditional herb... but I hate lavender and it may lower testosterone, so that is a definite "no" for me.

So, depending on which thickener you chose, and when it should be added, that is it.  Cook it low and slow, "stew" it for a while - the longer the better - uncovered so it will cook down and thicken.  Taste from time to time.  When it is thick enough, salt to taste.  If you salt to taste before the water evaporates, it will end up too salty. 

Comfort:  Serve in a big bowl, grab a freshly baked, buttered yeast roll, pour some more wine or beer and dig in.... stew is simply satisfying.

End Notes:
1) Be sure to check out Tim Roper's YouTube channel - he's a damn good cook:
2) Two very cool, short documentaries on Brunswick Stew.... which conveniently leave out the king of Brunswick stews, NC style, but is good anyway:,336 and,333
3) Catfish Stew Festival:
4) History of Piggly Wiggly:
5) The photo is just one I found online - I'll switch it out the next time I make a good pot of stew.
6) Frogmore Stew is not a stew.  It is just a regional name for a Low Country Boil... it is absolutely fantastic though.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Free Meat

I was just talking with a guy who owns a deer processing center. It is the rare processor, that has facilities for aging the meat and makes really good sausage. Of course, we got to talking about what is done with the odd cuts and the deer skin. He sells the hides when he can for less than $5, to a tannery. This would be a huge opportunity for anyone wanting to make leather goods, btw - just go to your local deer processor and buy the hides. Your state will likely require... a paper trail, but you could make anything from fine upholstery and jackets to decorative items. But, what really bothered me was the waste of the meat. Most folks field dress their deer (gut) and few take the heart, liver and kidneys home. To not do so is wanton waste of good food. Sometimes a deer comes into his place not gutted..... by then, he has to throw away the spoiled organs. That is such a shame. Of course, the tripe and lights should also be utilized, but convincing folks to eat such things is harder than putting sense in a fool's brain. But it gets worse. People are not using the head meat, often including some of that excellent neck meat that is so good ground for sausage.. The tongue is a delicacy. Boil the tongue, then skin it and let it cook low and slow with lots of onions and whatever else you like. But, the cheek meat is so obviously good meat, just being wasted. Not everyone likes eyes, I get that... but the meat around the eye is very good. The brain is a bit more controversial ... there are a handful of viruses that can infect the brain, but it is very rare for them to present in the brain only, so that the liver, etc shows no other signs... but, if you have a healthy animal, the brain is very good. Breaded and deep fried, or slow braised in cream and mustard...WOW! Thorough cooking should ensure safe eating. The tails can be used in soups and stocks. But, all those bones that are just thrown away -they often have to pay someone to dispose of them! Look up "bone broth", or check out Clint Locklear's video, on the Wolfer Nation channel on youtube. Even the hooves could be turned into gelatin and the intestines used for sausage casings or chitins... but I won't insist on that point. This waste is shameful. There is free food available, and far better than in many restaurants. I urge everyone who reads this, whether they hunt or not, to contact a local deer processor or to talk with deer hunters and to ask for these things.... deer liver or kidneys, grilled or braised, are among of the finest meals to grace any table. If nothing else, use it for dog food. Your dog will be healthy and happy!