Chef's Introduction

Posted on September 24, 2012

Hello to all and welcome to the first ever 'From the Kitchen' blog.

My name is James Stapley.  I've been the Executive Chef at Whare Kea Lodge and Chalet in Wanaka for nearly six years.

I would like to share with you my culinary journey at the lodge, discovering all that is good about New Zealand food and produce. This blog, like the lodge, is designed to follow the seasons and give you an insight into how we deal with the bounty that nature provides us.

We pride ourselves most in the lodge kitchen on the produce we procure daily from a range of local suppliers. It could be live crayfish, baby Paua, Nelson scallops, wild venison or a vast array of vegetables, fruit, herbs and free range eggs my wife grows and supplies to the lodge from our own rural property. On top of what we buy in we try to make everything we possibly can 'in house' including jams, chutneys, breads, sausages and recently I turned my hand to making cured goods including salami, bacon, pancetta and bresola.  We do a five course tasting menu with canapés for our guests each night, so this keeps us pretty busy. I would like to share with you my amazing job and some of the recipes and dishes we create here at Whare Kea. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

From Starter to Finish
Have you ever waited three weeks for a bacon sandwich? Well I have and let me tell you it was worth the wait! This was no ordinary bacon sandwich. For this bacon sandwich I cured my own bacon, made my own Bread Starter and sour dough bread.
There were two experiments I was doing in the kitchen that coincided with each other to produce an awesome bacon sandwich – making a sour dough starter and dry curing bacon.

Let’s start with the bacon. I started, as I do with all the food at the lodge, by sourcing the best ingredients I could find. A small South Island producer of free range pigs called 'Cressy Farm' was the perfect place to start for the pork belly I would turn into bacon. I use the Cressy Farm pork a lot. Not only are they happy, outdoor, free ranging pigs but the flavour of the pork is incredible.
I’d never cured bacon before so I started to do some research. I looked around at various recipe books I had on-hand, nosed about on the internet and I got a local butcher’s advice. Armed with this knowledge I came up with a recipe that seemed to be a good starting block.
I have to say I discovered curing bacon is very simple and something I wish I had done a long time ago. The basic recipe involves using a salt mixture to dry the pork belly out and cure it.

I used:

Pork Belly
For every 1kg of Pork use
35g Salt
10g Brown Sugar
40g Preserving Salt
3 Tbsp Manuka Honey

I combined the dry ingredients with the honey to make a curing salt and rubbed this vigorously over the pork belly, making sure I covered the whole thing. I then vacuum sealed the belly but if you haven’t got a vacuum sealer you can put the belly on a plastic tray and cover it with cling film. I then refrigerated the belly and left it for seven days. If you haven’t vacuumed packed your belly, make sure you turn it every day and keep rubbing the excess salt back in to the meat. If it is vacuumed packed this will be done for you by the pressure of the vacuum sealing so just leave it be. After seven days, wash off the salt cure and pat dry with a clean tea towel. Wrap the belly in muslin and hang it in a cool place for two weeks, an empty fridge is perfect. You don’t need to do anything to it while it is hanging. Just leave it be.


   Rubbing on the cure
  
   Vacuum sealing (optional)


With the bacon hanging I moved on to creating a sour dough starter for the bread part of the sandwich. This again was relatively easy but it does require a certain amount of commitment as you have to ‘feed’ your starter every day. To begin I mixed flour and water and left it a few days to ferment. Then I fed the starter with more flour and water and I repeated this every day until I had a starter that smelt and tasted sour. This sourness gives a wonderful taste to the bread.

After two weeks of feeding the starter I was ready to go. The day before my bacon was ready I mixed a couple of spoonfuls of the starter to my trusty No Knead Bread recipe and left it overnight to prove slowly. I came in early the next day and baked a beautiful loaf of sour dough bread.

 

Once the bacon was cured and thinly sliced and the bread was baked I whipped up a batch of fresh aioli from Belinda’s free range eggs and garlic, local Cairnmuir Olive Oil and a bit of seasoning. All that was left to do was grill the bread, fry the bacon and there it was - the Three Week Bacon Sandwich!


I think there are a number of things that make a great dish - the combination and provenance of the ingredients, good quality produce and the care taken in the execution of the dish. I’ve made a bacon sandwich that is completely unique to my area. I’ve used all local produce and I know I won’t taste a bacon sandwich exactly like this anywhere else. This experiment showed me that even the humble bacon sandwich can be propelled into a gastronomic delight if you take a bit of extra time and add some extra effort.