Dear Reader(s): My recent attempt at saucisson sec bit it. At the last minute, I decided to conduct my curing in a cooler where the humidity was >95%. I did this because I feared rodents in the basement. The run went bad. Really, really bad.
The more I read, the more pissed I got. Seems the 3 body problem of dry curing comes down to: humidity - around 70%, temperature - 55-60°F and air movement. Getting all these things is tricky; any environment I tested changed drastically when the meat was tossed in, giving off a lot of moisture.
Some days later, I reported my dreadful failure to a friend at our daily coffee and brainstorming session. He follows these efforts with great interest and provides good advice. I was retesting spots all over the house, but was skeptical of finding the perfect environment. My basement, during this warm early Summer is already up at a steady 68-70°F. My friend suggested I just hang it in the basement. Who really knows the upper limit of temperature for this curing? The aging will just go a bit faster at higher temperature - right? And the rodents? He suggested I feed the cat less and make him stand guard. I tossed my analytical gear to the side, stuffed a couple pounds worth and only used the thin (ca. 32 mm) casings giving myself a bit easier a task to dry out the sausage. So, it wouldn't have the best final attributes, but it'll still taste good (if it doesn't kill me).
I made Ruhlman's saucisson sec recipe, no fermentation, aged 20 days at about 68-71°F, 70-85% RH and plenty of air movement. Oh, and a spritz with a suspension of white mold. Finished, really, really good. But, I wait 48 hours before giving out samples. I'm still alive at hour 1.
The second Firedome is pictured above, the culmination of dozens of pizzas to date. More air, better fit to the bottom and super combustion. It was off the production line, edges polished and all in about 15 minutes. I closed up the opening a bit, left the flange intact, and left a door on despite the fact that, when opened, it enabled much greater temperatures. Keeping the door hinged on the dome allows one to lower the temperature if necessary. It has come a long way.
Tonight, I took a chimney full of lit briquettes and used it to catch about 6 lbs of Trader Joe's briquettes and reached a steady state of about 1100°F for at least an hour and, at that temperature, it's trivial to charge on the fly. Dry runs are frustrating, I didn't have any dough around, not even for a quick pita. Could this be too hot for cooking?? I will be sure to keep both of you posted on the first real run. I think it's a keeper and Firedome_3 should be the production model (minor modifications) and able to be fabricated in about 10 minutes.
Heat and oil pan, scramble egg, put on serving tray, cook pork strips and put on serving plate, then, saute greens and shrooms and deglaze with soy and rice vinegar, cook til wilted and place on tray. Serve dish in center with warm tortillas. Fill tortillas, add some hoisin to these nifty little moo shoo wrappers. Yum.
[lost image due to reshuffling on picasa]
Every good pizza starts at Lowe's. I got an inexpensive corded Porter angle grinder and a couple metal cutting wheels ... like frickin' butter. I'm only a couple cuts into it - then I had to go set up a tent for the kid's camp out/sleepover. Maybe I'll have the kids sand down the rough edges. In any event, we're in progress. Keep you posted.
For those two of you not too bored to get through the tedium that is my flatbread obsession, I made a couple observations during the pita production to propel me into a few experiments which will inevitably lead to a new and simpler design for my Firedome pizza oven. At the beginning of that video production, my thermocouple device was measuring 927°F with the door open and went as high as 987°F. The entire few minutes was filmed with the door open. I have to figure out if the top vent on the dome needs to be open or closed or if it makes a difference. Basically, it seems that the open door really kicks up the combustion.
Because that hinged door required me to break the flanged bead of the bottom of the kettle lid, the lid fits sloppy, may be getting gaps that aren't thermally productive. I may do away with the door; just cut in an opening big enough for a comfortable slide of the peel and big enough to increase combustion. Dimensions of this will be a guess, but guided by a few more dry runs. On the other side of the getting the temps up, is the rate of fuel consumption. If I boost this thing to blast furnace temps, will I be able to cook longer than an hour? It's looking like I might need a convenient means to do at least one charge mid cooking to get a couple hour feast in. Not too worried about that.
Next couple weeks, I'll probably take another kettle lid as a casualty and also play around with placement of the pizza stone (it'll be placed away from the opening, not dead center), geometry of the firebricks beneath the stone which help orient the fuel properly and lots of measurements of the headspace temperatures and the cooking surface to make sure it's uniform. Gonna be awesome!
Oh, and I'm probably going ahead with a plan with Fortin Iron Works to make a dedicated stand for this beast. Should be a nice wrought iron simple stand; pretty much a 22" diameter and 3' high plant stand. We sketched out one the other day and he quoted me about $100.
ps, To the locals: I walk the alleys of C'ville all the time and I see what must be hundreds of pounds of these kettles everywhere - neglected (you bastards). If you want, I'll take your lid and cut you an experimental design (usable on your existing bottom hemisphere). You get a cool new pizza oven (which may not be optimal, but will be killer) and I get a data point. Let me know if you're interested in the comments.