I carry no phone
An aspiring Luddite
In a wired world.
Jeff Berry is an early adopter of the Internet and the Web, a late adopter of Twitter, and declines to adopt Facebook. With the death of Google+, he's experimenting with federated platforms. He admins a medievalist Mastodon instance, and can found on the PlusPora diaspora pod. He hates cell-phones.
Let me start out by stating up-front that, this week, I'm not going to present much in the way of recipes that will be useful to most people. I'm going to talk about playing with a spleen. So think of it as a work in progress report, or something in that vein.
It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I am a fan of Community Supported Agriculture, eating locally and seasonally, and supporting local, high quality producers of food-stuffs. There are a lot of reasons for this, but setting aside any moral or philosophical points for the nonce, there are still many other good reasons to hook up with your local producers. I'll mention two.
First, quite simply, there is the quality. Fresh and seasonal just tastes better. For meats, free-range, organic, grass-fed and all the other buzzwords translate into better tasting meat. Contrary to the impression one might get from this site, we don't actually eat a huge amount of meat. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall articulates the point elegantly and at great length in The River Cottage Meat Book, but the summary is, "Don't eat a lot of meat, but only eat good meat."
The second point is that by building a good personal relationship with your sources, cool stuff can happen. This week is a good example of what I mean. There is a network of upstate NY small farms that come into NYC once or twice a month to drop off orders of, well, all kinds of stuff. Mostly I get flour, chickens, pork and the occasional duck or rabbit. Six or eight months ago, I found a recipe in Fergus Henderson's cookbook for rolled pig spleen. It sounded interesting and I'd never worked with spleen, so I emailed my providers and asked if they could get one. After they checked with their butchers, they said no. Disappointing, but life moved on.
A few months later, I got an email out of the blue from them, saying they had added a new provider to their collective, and would I be interested in a buffalo spleen? The answer was, naturally enough, an enthusiastic yes. And the rest of this article is the result ...
Fergus Henderson says that spleen is a convenient organ to work with, and, sure enough, I plopped it out on the cutting board and it rolled right out into a straight, relatively flat slab. (Top image in the "filmstrip.") His recipe called for stuffing and rolling, so the slabness was a good thing. Here, however, I made my first mistake. I'm faintly embarrassed by it, but, in my defense, I will say I had a plan. It wasn't a good one, but I had one. Since I was going to roll and then poach it, I decided to leave the membrane on to help it hold together. More on this later.
Next, I rather aggressively salted and peppered the spleen. Then, I cut some thickish pieces of bacon and laid them across the spleen diagonally. I had some purple sage from the CSA that had been drying for a few days, so I crumbled it across the spleen. (Second and third images.)
I rolled it up, and it looked lovely. The membrane was doing what I wanted it to, so far. It was biding its time, however, as membranes are wont to do. (Images 4 and 5.) I had made a stock with some pork bones and vegetable scraps, and now I skewered the roll, covered it in stock (well, nearly) and let it simmer for two hours. (Image 6.)
Even at this point, my membrane plan looked good. The roll had held together well, and the result looked sort of haggis-y. Which is OK, since I'm alright with haggis. (Images 7 and 8.)
Since spleen is described as sort of liver-like, I served it with scallions and some homemade pickled beets, onions and cucumbers. Homemade bread went with it, of course. Then I was ready to slice the spleen. (Main image and filmstrip 9.) Here I suffered The Revenge of the Membrane. It was quite strong and chewy. The cutting was a bit tricky, and I ended up using a serrated knife. Futhermore eating it was annoying. The taste was fine, but working around a stringy and nearly inedible membrane to get at the livery, spleeny goodness was a pain. I retired to my lair to plot vengeance.
Spleen, we are told, is often used as an ingredient in terrines, it just doesn't get the press that liver does. So I decided to make a pâté like substance out of it. I threw the whole thing, bacon and all, into the food processor with a head of roasted garlic, a couple of tablespoons of flour, two eggs and some more salt, and blitzed it down. Two or three times, I paused and cleaned the blade which was doing a fine job of catching the membrane - at least the bits it didn't demolish. Then whole thing went into a water bath in a 350F oven for maybe an hour, I just wanted to cook the eggs and flour and let it set a bit. (Images 10 and 11.)
My vengeance was complete. The membrane had been mostly removed and what was left had been puréed. I didn't get the nice presentation of the roll-and-slice, but the flavor and texture was grand. I've been making spleen and lettuce sandwiches on lightly mustarded bread, and that's a fine lunch.
The bottom line is this: I'm not going to go out of my way to get spleen (and I really did go out of my way to get this one.) But, if it shows up, and is reasonably priced, I wouldn't hesitate to buy it and put it to good use. Now that I am Master of the Membrane, that is.