January 7, 2010

CHARCUTERIE ~ Meat Transformed

Charcuterie ~ the craft of salting, smoking and curing meat to transform it into something better than its beginnings. The tastes and shapes make it seem like magic, but anyone can make that magic happen. My foodie friend, Tiffany, and I got together this week to see what we could create. Since she's from Louisiana, the theme this time was New Orleans style recipes. We settled on making Tasso, a cured and spiced ham used in many dishes, from jambalaya to sauces to etouffe, and a mild Andouille sausage.

Tasso, dredged in salt and spices

Freshly made Andouille sausages

We bought all the meat, the wood chips for smoking, the hog casings and salt, then hurried back to start the mixtures.The scent of spices was heavy and heady in the kitchen! Cayenne, mace, allspice, thyme, white pepper, garlic, paprika, onion. Swoony smells! We started with the Tasso ~ making two different recipes so we could compare results. One called for "pink salt" - a curing salt that is Valentine pink, for a 4 hour cure. The other relies solely on salt and spices and a 3-5 day cure in the refrigerator. That one is still curing. The kitchen chemistry always fascinates me ~ what happens to the meat after a few hours. The texture and color change; flavor development and intensity. Barely pink pork turns rosy after curing, then reddish after smoking.

Starting the smoking process - soaked alder & hickory chips below

One thing we learned: it's virtually impossible to make sausage without LOTS of sexual innuendos flying ... Don't squeeze it so tight ... Wait! We're gonna have a blowout! ... It's not fitting in the hole ... Oh, that's a nice fat one ... how long do you want them? ... try to push against it as it's coming out ... twist it one way and then the other ... Hmmmmmmmmm. At times, we were laughing so hard, we could hardly hold onto the sausage! HAHAHAHA! When sausage and wine collide, only one thing can happen.

We had to taste-test our sausage before stuffing, didn't we???

Our hard work and laughter paid off in nearly perfect results. Okay, it WAS perfect. I'm just trying to be modest. As we tasted our meats, we could hardly believe that WE made this! The fat content was just right, the meats were juicy, spices were well-balanced and the shapes ... well, we know how to work a sausage. It's all in the handling, baby.

As a note on equipment, we used the Pro KitchenAid mixer with grinder and sausage-stuffing attachments. It leaves something to be desired and didn't work as well as it should have and has design flaws, so next time we will likely try another type of meat grinder and stuffer.

We're already plotting our next meat fest and choosing recipes. One I want to make is sturgeon sausage. Tiffany wants to make a chicken and green onion sausage. We still have 75 feet of hog casings, so lots of experimenting to come!


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