“Scoot over, Oscar,” or, “THAT’S NO BALONEY”
Bologna is a city in Northern Italy with a rich heritage. It’s communal existence dates back to 1000 BC, so it has seen a lot of history. It’s an internationally recognized artistic and cultural center, and it’s the seventh largest city in Italy. But when Americans say the word “Bologna,” or, it’s bastardized American version “Baloney,” we are not usually talking about a city in Italy.
I would speculate that many Americans don’t even KNOW that Bologna is a city in Italy, or anywhere else. But we are familiar with the word baloney, that’s for sure. Love it or hate it, bologna (which is a version of mortadella), and all the other “mystery meats” occupy our childhood cheap meal memories. Sometimes those recollections are fond, sometimes not so much. I remember Mom feeding it to me, and me eating it, but mostly I remember wondering, well, wondering why it looked like that.
Kids don’t like liver, but they don’t utter it in everyday speech once they grow up. The word “baloney” is so ingrained in our minds, in our lexicon, that we politely use the word to describe something that we don’t believe. “Ah, BALONEY!” To make matters worse, bologna, the sausage, is not called bologna in Europe, but, rather, a Lyoner.
The suspension of disbelief
Sausage making is ancient, and the food that we call baloney did actually originate in Bologna, way back when. My understanding is that the original version was made with pork. Authenticism and food history is tricky and full of lies and misappropriations, so we’re not going to quibble on that stuff. But more important than where baloney comes FROM, is the way baloney comes OUT.
It’s the method that evades our comprehension. In our dumbed down culinary culture, we have no way to reconcile the difference between what we know as “meat” and that pale, shiny stuff called “lunch-meat.” Mortadella and all of its progeny have that fine, smooth, super processed appearance. In the 70’s, we decided that baloney must be just another element of the ongoing military/industrial conspiracy to poison us with chemicals, additives, and meat from abused cattle.
“DANGER, Will Robinson!”
So, the alarms were set off to warn us about nitrites and nitrates and bacon and potato chips and peanuts. As usual, it was promptly discovered that these things were unlikely to be the true cause of our malaise. We still worry about it of course, playing into the hands of the vitamin peddlers and other advocates of fad diets and therapeutic enemas.
The fact is, there are a lot of recognizable things that are worse for us than baloney. A nice thick cut of Wagyu Prime Rib, for example, or some mercury inoculated Ahi Tuna. There’s a reason that baloney looks the way it does, but it’s NOT a result of using inferior ingredients. The ingredients may be inferior, but they are not the reason that it looks that way. Sure, the meat is ground extremely fine, that’s fairly obvious. But what really makes lunch meat look the way it does is ICE. Not WATER. It has to be ICE, BABY.
NOTE: Don’t ask me where they got ice in Roman times. Bologna the city is sub tropical. Of course, they didn’t have refrigeration either, so they managed food preservation on the basis of season. It can still be pretty cool in the winter, so, you slaughter that sow, hang it out to cool, and proceed. By hand. No meat grinders, no Kitchenaid.
How to make food like baloney, and baloney like food.
Mortadella/Bologna is cured with salt and a tiny tiny amount of sodium nitrite, in the same basic way that bacon, ham, sausage, and many other meats are. There was a false alarm about nitrites in the 70’s, too, but it kind of stuck with us for some reason. Nitrites kill bacteria and botulism, even though the amount required is only about 100ppm of the meat’s weight. To learn how to make the basic cure used in the recipe, go HERE.
There are recipes for these sausage/deli meats that are much longer and more complex. Some call for wine, and a laundry list of spices like cinnamon, coriander and mace. Many call for powdered gelatin. And all of these items are good in this type of sausage, but are not really so much a part of the chemistry as they are style and flavor statements. The recipes always specify that everything be as cold as possible–even the mixing bowl. I will explain this. In retrospect, I should have added the gelatin. I will explain that too.
- Ground beef, 2 lbs/.9Kg., @40F/4C or below, 80/20 (meat to fat)
- Basic Cure, 2 Tblsp./30ml.
- Non-fat dry milk, 1 oz./30g.
- Black pepper, ground, 1 Tblsp./10g.
- Nutmeg, grated, a pinch
- ICE, chips or small cubes, 4 oz./120g.
- Parsley, dried, 4 Tblsp.
- Red Bell Pepper, roasted, peeled, and cut into strips, 1 ea.
We’re going to use ground beef, even though the “original” recipes call for pork. The original recipes for Mortadella also call for large, visible cubes of lard interspersed throughout the sausage, and we’re gonna leave that part out too. I read that the law forbids the inclusion of those “health pellets” these days, so there’s that. Of course, once again, the experts have now reversed their position on pork fat, too. Feel free to continue worrying though.
Use a Kitchenaid type mixer to combine the:
- ground beef,
- powdered milk,
- black pepper, and
Mix well, and then refrigerate it for at least two hours.
The Daily Grind
The sausage must be ground again. If you don’t have a meat grinder, a food processor actually works quite well. If you do use a food processor, do half lb. batches, rather than trying to do it all at once. We’re doing everything we can to avoid the sausage mixture from getting warm, and even prolonged friction can interfere with that.
Now we know kind of why baloney looks the way it does, and, yeah, it looks kinda like baby food. I don’t know if they had baby food in Roman times.
Put the mixture in the Kitchenaid bowl again. This next step is really difficult by hand. Using the paddle on slow, mix the sausage, and start adding little chips of ice. Watch it mix, and keep mixing until ALL the ice disappears. The sausage will take on an almost fluffy appearance, because the fat is so cold. If we fail at this process, they call that “smearing.” That means the fat is too warm, and it “smears” on the paddle and on the side of the bowl.
Add the roasted peppers and parsley, mix until the sausage is uniform. Traditionally, the sausage is then loaded into casings, we’re not going to do that, or even talk about it. Perfectly wholesome, but kind of a turn-off. Instead, I just loaded all the sausage into a Ziploc gallon freezer bag, squished it all down into the bottom, and then rolled the thing up like a big fat, um, er, CIGAR, let’s say. Then I tied some string around it to make it look like it’s supposed to, and vacuum sealed it in another bag. I know, I should have taken pics, but it’s really even easier than it sounds.
For that matter, just push the sausage into small loaf pans. A lot of the stuff you see in the deli case is rectangular anyway, so just load the loaf pan(s) into a large vacuum or even Ziploc bag.
Process the sausage sous vide @
We use this low temperature, because we’re going to smoke the sausage, just like they did back then. Well, may be not exactly like they did, but we’re going to smoke it.
It looks somewhat artificial, even though it’s not! Who would have thunk it? You can see, though, that mine is still a little bit more “meat looking” than the stuff in the deli case. And I only put about half as much ice in it as some recipes call for. There’s a limit to how much ice you can incorporate without breaking the emulsion. And that’s where our good friend “profit model” rears its ugly head. There is this substance called sodium phosphate. That term is actually generic for a class of compounds. There is one in particular called tri-sodium phosphate.
It’s a USDA approved food additive, “generally considered safe,” and has numerous beneficial applications. They use it to purify water and stabilize acidity, and other non-food related stuff, too. But when you add a little tiny bit to the ground meat, that sausage will hold a LOT more water, in the form of ICE. Man, you can add so much water that the meat starts to look like something that you would put VANILLA in, it’s so white.
It makes your body hold water too, a good thing to know for diabetics and CHF sufferers. It’s like the Chinese food effect, you’re bloated and dying of thirst at the same time. It doesn’t really TASTE that salty at the time.
So, we all remember when we discovered fried baloney, right? It worked, but a lot of water came out and the slices scooch up and form domes. That’s because when you add heat, the TSP loses its ability to hold the water in. Remember, we would make a cut from the edge of the circle to the center, and then come out with the PacMan looking thing? Good times.
Okay, we shocked the pimiento loaf down, and now we smoke it @
Here’s what I use, a RecTec 680. I love this thing. There’s a very limited number of products that I endorse, and this is one of them. That’s because I’ve had a lot of BBQ/Smoker devices over the years, big, small, primitive, sophisticated, and this is my favorite one. All the usual reasons, but the kicker is the precision. You really can set it and forget it. I don’t stand around the Q and drink beer, not because I wouldn’t, but because I shouldn’t, doctor’s orders. Precision is necessary, and these things have it. Heavy. Solid. In the 70’s, we would say this Q was Bitchin’.
Internal temperature should hit about 165F/74C or thereabouts. Then, you vacuum or bag it and cold shock it again. This is just safe practice, a great habit to get into.
Once you’ve done that, you get this:
And that’s pretty cool! And delicious! Look at that close-up, and you can see tiny air spaces between the peppers and the sausage itself. If I had put the gelatin in, that would be sealed up better. I knew that, but I had forgotten it. The cost of doing business.
Even so, very proud. I love the green stuff in there, you don’t usually see that. If I had a signature ingredient, it would be parsley. I guess.
We all knew it was coming. Fried baloney. well, sort of. I toasted the bread. Just a little bit burnt…yum.Get some Yukon Gold potato chips on there.
Home made MUSTARD…
Some of that French Gray Salt, Black Lava Salt, and the new Dark Side BBQ sauce. Did I mention I live in a trailer?
Thaaaaaaat’s right, a little bit of French dressing.
I know what you’re thinking. What we have here is the makings of a Baloney Benedict.
Not to be disappointed
Sous Vide, Sous-B-Q, BBQ Baloney Benedict
Grill the Mortadell’
Cottage Fries from Sous Vide Yukon Golds
Some assembly required…
The old fashioned poached eggs, vinegar in the water…
Sauce Foyot, slightly spun…
Dark Side BBQ drizzle.
And we’re back!
The BBQ Bologna Biscuit, Egg Optional…
Like I said, I live in a trailer. Dark Side BBQ Sauce.
A little spicy sauce
All tore up, black lava salt.