Designer Meats

In Houston, more and more chefs are curing their own pig products

Mortadella: One of the more difficult sausages to make, mortadella is a precursor to the American baloney. The fat added to the sausage is very finely ground or pureed and must be kept very cold to prevent breaking the emulsion, a delicate balance which keeps the fat evenly distributed throughout the meat. True Italian mortadella is made with ground beef and pork, diced pork fat and various seasonings, and air-dried or smoked. The result is a very soft, very airy sausage. Mortadella made in America is typically poached after preparing.

Pâté: Used interchangeably with "terrine," although terrine is simply a shortened version of the full term pâté en terrine, which refers to the fact that the pâté — a mixture of ground or pureed meats, seasonings and fats — is cooked in a terrine, or a mold. Pâté can also be cooked in a crust, in which case it's called pâté en croûte. One of the most familiar (and most expensive) types of pâté is pâté de foie gras, which is primarily composed of goose liver that has been marinated in alcohol, then pureed and baked with a mixture of egg and seasonings.

Rillettes: A cousin to both pâtés and confits, rillettes are made in the same way as confits: Meat is poached slowly in fat until it becomes very soft and malleable. At that point, it's pounded into a paste like a smooth pâté and fitted into a mold or earthenware dish. The fat is poured on top to create a barrier, which allows the pureed meat to keep in a refrigerator for weeks at a time. Like pâté, it's spreadable and best served on toast or bread.

Catalan's Chris Shepherd is at the forefront of charcuterie in Houston.
photo by Troy Fields
Catalan's Chris Shepherd is at the forefront of charcuterie in Houston.
For Shepherd, curing his own meats is a natural extension of his desire to prepare his food with local produce.
photo by Troy Fields
For Shepherd, curing his own meats is a natural extension of his desire to prepare his food with local produce.

Dried charcuterie includes products like hanged hams and hard sausages that require a lot of time to cure and dry, which is achieved by hanging the meat and keeping it at the proper temperature and humidity levels. The time required to dry can range anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to a year or more, depending on the type of sausage or meat. As the products age, they become harder and the flavors become more concentrated.

Bresaola: One of the few charcuterie products that's made entirely of beef. The beef is cured in a salt and spice mixture for two weeks, then hung to dry for three weeks. Once dried and hard, the dark red bresaola is thinly sliced and served on toast or bread. It can also be served on its own as part of a charcuterie plate.

Coppa: A flavorful product made with whole pieces of pork, usually sliced from the pig's neck or jowls, that aren't ground before being put into casings. The coppa is cured for 18 days and then hung to dry for three to four weeks. The end result is a dark, rich meat that is best served thinly sliced alongside other meats on a charcuterie plate.

Guanciale: Similar to bacon or pancetta in flavor and texture, guanciale is the dried and cured cheek or jowl of a pig. Unlike coppa, it can be eaten much sooner and requires less curing and drying time.

Salami: Not to be confused with salumi, which is another term for Italian cured meats. Salamis are a group of hard, air-dried sausages that are boldly flavored, usually with garlic and whole peppercorns, and which will keep for several years if uncut. While the most traditional and popular salamis are Italian, such as Genoa or Milano salami, there are variants from other countries as well.

Soppressata: Similar to salami but more rustic, soppressata's meat and fat aren't as finely ground and the result is larger chunks of creamy fat suspended in the sausage. Like pepperoni and salami, soppressata is hung at room temperature (around 85 degrees) for 12 hours after the mixture of meat, fat and seasonings is put into the casings along with a healthy dose of Bactoferm. This allows "good" bacteria to form, which keeps the meat safe and well preserved while it dries, usually at a reduced temperature of 60 degrees for two to three weeks.


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