Charcuterie

Charcuterie

By
Adrian Richardson
Contains
24 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740668064
Photographer
Dean Cambray

If I had a big enough backyard, I think I’d like to keep a pig, as my nonno’s family did in the northern Italian village where he grew up. When my brother and I were very young, Nonno would tell us stories of his childhood there, and lots of them would revolve around his animals and their place in the rhythm of daily life.

In small rural communities all around Europe, it was normal to grow your own vegetables and keep animals for food. The household pig was especially important for providing families with food through the long cold winter months, because just about every part of it could be used, from the nose right down to the tail. Nonno had vivid descriptions of the local butcher’s visits to his house every autumn. He’d help the men of the family slaughter the pig, and then move on to the next house in the village. The entire household would then set about converting the pig into food. A few tasty morsels would be set aside for a spot of celebratory feasting, but most of the choice cuts would be put into a brine solution for curing. Other fatty cuts were turned into fresh sausages or set aside for making air-dried salamis; blood was turned into blood pudding; the head was cooked long and slow to make brawn – nothing at all was wasted.

These were the days when there were no freezers or fridges to help prevent fresh food from spoiling, so it was vitally important to process and preserve as much food as possible for eating through the winter. Many of the preserving techniques we use today date back to ancient times, when people first realised that removing moisture from meat stopped it going mouldy or decaying. The earliest and simplest methods of preserving involved hanging meat in the air to dry and salting it to draw out the juices. Other techniques include smoking and pickling in brine, vinegar or alcohol.

In addition to these preserving methods there are also various ways of processing meat that can help to extend its ‘use-by’ date. This category, which technically is known as charcuterie, includes a huge range of sausages, potted meats, pâtés and terrines, galantines, ballotines and confits, which will often involve cooking the meat first before preserving it in fat or gelatine.

I love this thrifty approach to food and to cooking, which really does make the most of every part of the animal, and it’s something that we do a lot of at La Luna Bistro. If you visit my dry-store and cool-room on any given day, you’ll see our own range of salamis, air-dried hams, fresh sausages and blood puddings, as well as the more usual restaurant fare of pâtés, terrines and confits. While some preserving techniques involve a fair bit of science, there are many that are really simple for the home cook and I hope you’ll try some of the recipes that follow.

Dry-curing

Dry-curing is one of the oldest and simplest preserving techniques known to man. The ancient Egyptians were one of the earliest societies to work out that salt absorbs the moisture in meat, which prevents bacteria growing. This key discovery was one of the main reasons why salt became such a vital commodity around the world. It led to new trade routes, the creation of empires and was even the cause of wars.

At its simplest, dry-curing involves rubbing salt into meat and leaving it to draw out the moisture. It’s especially effective with pork, which is the reason there are such a vast number of different bacons, hams, and cured sausages to be found in countries all around the world.

Here in Australia you will be able to recognise a good butcher by his range of traditionally dry-cured products, and if you’re lucky, he may even make his own. Similarly, a butcher worth his salt (no pun intended) will also be able to supply you with good old-fashioned dry-cured bacon, rather than the mass-produced flabby stuff that crops up everywhere.

Dry-curing is also an essential precursor to other preserving methods, such as air-drying and smoking.

I’m not going to suggest that you cure your own hams and bacons at home (although you could attempt it if you can find a farmer who’ll sell you some really first-class fresh pork). At the very least, though, I do think it’s well worth hunting out traditional dry-cured products from small producers. You’ll really notice the difference.

Wet-curing

Wet-curing is simply another way of curing meat in salt, but it uses a salt solution called brine, instead of dry salt to remove the moisture. Traditional wet-curing involves completely immersing the meat in brine, and it can take a week or more, depending on the size of the cut. Today most mass-produced ham and bacon is ‘wet-cured’ by injecting the meat with a brine solution. It’s a much faster technique, which not only gets the product out onto the shelves faster, but has the benefit to the manufacturer of increasing the water content. For the consumer, this is the reason why so much bacon seems to shrivel disappointingly in the frying pan in a puddle of liquid.

Wet-curing your own ham and bacon at home can be a bit tricky, as you do have to be careful about the ratio of salt to water. But I would like to encourage you to experiment with some quick brines. These are not going to prolong the lifespan of your meat by a very long time, but they do have a couple of major benefits.

The first benefit of a quick brine is that it keeps your meat lovely and pink and moist. Second, brines are a great way of adding flavour to the meat, as you can add all sorts of aromatics to the mix. Some brines are predominantly salty, others are sweet or have an acid tang, while various herbs and spices add different flavours.

As with any recipe using vinegar (or a lot of salt), make sure you use a nonreactive saucepan – i.e. one that isn’t made out of aluminium.

Air-drying

This is not strictly speaking a preservation method, but rather, it is a way of maturing or aging meat that has already undergone some sort of curing process, either in salt or in a salt solution.

Some of the most famous dry-cured hams come from Europe, and include Spanish Serrano ham, speck, Bayonne ham and prosciutto. These are all cured in a salt rub before being aged for anything between 10 months for Bayonne ham, 18 months for a good Serrano or prosciutto, and up to 36 months for a true jamon Iberico.

At La Luna Bistro we make the Italian classic air-dried beef called bresaola, which also incorporates two types of preserving methods. The meat – in this case beef, rather than pork – is first wet-cured in brine before being air-dried for four to six weeks in a cool environment. This dries it a little more and develops the flavour, transforming it into a tasty treat for your antipasto plate.

Smoking

Smoking meat (or fish, of course) is a brilliant way of adding flavour, as well as improving its lifespan. But as with air-drying, the meat needs to be cured first by undergoing an initial salting process.

The traditional method of smoking was simply to suspend a piece of meat in the chimney space of a fireplace (well away from the direct heat of the flames). It would be left there for anything from a few hours up to many months. Extra flavour could be added to the smoke by throwing in aromatic branches or pinecones.

Modern smoking methods do essentially the same thing, which means that it is still something of a craft. Don’t confuse the ‘smoky’ flavour that has been sprayed onto mass-produced foodstuff s with true artisan-smoked products. You’ll be able to find a wide range of smoked products in Continental butchers that specialise in this technique. All sorts of items can be smoked, from pork hocks, hams and bacon, to sausages, chicken breasts, venison and even kangaroo.

Preserving in fat

This technique of cooking and preserving meats in fat is especially popular in France, but is also how the English make their potted meats. The French have their own potted meat called rillettes, made from shredded seasoned pork that is cooked and preserved in its own fat.

Another well-known technique is the confit – which is actually the French word for preserving. To make a confit, meat such as pork, goose or duck is cooked very slowly in its own rendered fat until very tender. The finished confit is then stored in earthenware pots or jars and completely covered with a layer of liquid fat. When the fat solidifies it acts as a sort of protective layer. In the days before refrigeration a confit would keep quite happily over the long winter months, to be enjoyed when fresh meat was not so easy to come by. This preserving method makes the texture of the meat beautifully soft and tender.

Preserving in jelly

I’ve talked elsewhere about the beauty of gelatine. Some cuts of meat, such as calves’ feet, oxtails, pigs’ trotters and the pig’s head, are chock-a-block full of connective tissue, bone and skin – all of which create a wonderful gelatine-rich liquid after long, slow cooking.

When this liquid is poured over chunks or shreds of the cooked meat, it sets to a brilliant shimmering jelly that not only looks beautiful, but is amazingly tasty. Brawn is a fantastic example of this technique, and I really love the contrast between the slippery smoothness of the jelly, and the coarse texture of the meat. If you’re not sure you can deal with a whole pig’s head, then try the recipe for Jambon Persillé.

Terrines

Terrines (and their smoother cousins, pâtés) are simply meatloaf by a fancier name! But this shouldn’t in any way detract from the complexity of their flavour and their wonderful texture.

Don’t be fooled into thinking they’re difficult to make. Although some terrines involve some fancy layering, most simpler versions require nothing more tricky in the way of technique than a bit of chopping or mincing. You’ll want to use a mixture of lean and fatty meats (to keep it moist), then add a few aromatics and seasonings and pack the mixture into a terrine mould. Some terrines require you to line the mould with bacon rashers, but again, this isn’t difficult – and it does look brilliant when you unmould the finished terrine. However they are put together, all terrines are then cooked very gently in a water bath, to ensure they cook through thoroughly.

Terrines usually benefit from being left to mature for three to four days, so the flavours develop and intensify.

Sausages

Sausage-making is a regular activity at La Luna Bistro, but it’s also something I do at home with my boys. They love the whole idea of it – and of course they love the end result too.

Even though there are plenty of good-quality gourmet sausages around the place these days, I do think there’s nothing that quite beats making them yourself. You can get by without any special equipment, although there are a few items that make life easier. First, a mincer makes the whole job faster, is indispensable for finer-textured sausages, and does a good job of mixing together the lean and fatty meats. Second, a sausage-filling attachment for the mincer makes the somewhat fiddly job of filling the casings much easier. If you don’t have a mincer, then ask your butcher nicely to do the hard work for you.

It’s really not difficult to make your own sausages as long as you follow a few simple principles concerning the ratio of meat to fat to seasoning – and these are the same, whichever type of sausage you make.

Meat: Don’t think you can do what the big sausage manufacturers do and bung in any old bits and pieces. To make great sausages you need to start with good-quality fresh meat. Keep your meat as cold as possible throughout the process. Start by trimming off as much of the sinew, gristle and tendons as you can, then dice the meat into small pieces or mince it. Texture is up to you, but personally I prefer a coarser texture, rather than too smooth a sausage.

Fat: As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as a low-fat sausage. Fat content is vitally important because it helps carry the flavour of the meat and keeps the sausages juicy and moist. Fat is important for ‘mouth feel’ – the way something feels while you’re chewing it. You need to aim for 20–30 per cent fat which means either using a fatty cut of meat or adding it (usually in the form of finely chopped pork back fat).

Salt: This is a key flavour enhancer and an important preserver, so don’t skimp. Make sure you add 1.5 per cent of the total weight of the sausage mixture – i.e. 15 g per kilo of sausage mixture.

Flavour: This is your opportunity to be creative. Depending on the meat, you might like to add pepper, chilli, fennel, rosemary, cooked garlic, thyme – in fact anything you think would work! Just a word of caution, don’t add too many different ingredients: keep it simple!

Casings: The best sausage skins are made from natural casings, which means animal intestines. They come in various sizes and lengths, depending on exactly which section of the intestine they are from. In general, ask for lamb or pig casings for making regular sausages and ox-bung casings for larger sausages, such as cotechino or salami. You’ll need to order the casings from your butcher – they usually come packed in salt and need to be thoroughly soaked and rinsed before using.

Filling the casings: Attach a sausage-making attachment to the mincer. Carefully ease the entire length of a casing over the nozzle, leaving about 6 cm dangling. Fill the mouth of the mincer with a good wodge of sausage mixture, packing it in carefully to avoid any pockets of air. Turn the handle of the mincer until you see the mixture start to appear in the casing, and tie a knot to seal the end. Hold the casing in the palm of your left hand, and keep turning the handle of the mincer with your right hand. Try to maintain a steady rhythm, so that the casing fills evenly and smoothly. Add more sausage mixture to the mincer as needed, and when the casing is filled to within 6 cm of the end, carefully detach it from the mincer and tie a knot at the end to seal. Arrange the whole sausage out on your work surface and, if necessary, use your hands to roll it gently to distribute the filling evenly.

For anyone who doesn’t have a sausage-making attachment, here’s a handy tip: a builder’s caulking gun does the trick beautifully!

Forming links: To form links, twist the sausages a complete 360-degree turn, at even intervals. Twist each alternate link the opposite way, which will stop them unwinding again. If you like, you can tie them neatly with butcher’s string at each join. Transfer the sausage links to the refrigerator until ready to use. They will keep up to four days in the fridge or up to three months in the freezer.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

    No results found
    No more results
      No results found
      No more results
        No results found
        No more results
          No results found
          No more results
            No results found
            No more results
              No results found
              No more results
              Please start typing to begin your search
              We're sorry but we had trouble running your search. Please try again