"It was bright red, and it was sealed and it was stiff. I figured it was so stiff just because there was no air in the container," he says. "So I got everything ready to go. I chopped the apples and sautéed them. I chopped the onions and sautéed them. I ground up some fatback and a little bit of pork and had all this stuff ready to go because I knew that once I opened the container, I'd have to make the boudin noir immediately. Blood can't just sit around."
But when he opened the container, it was so solid, it seemed that it had been petrified. "So I open this gallon of blood and I go to pour it in, and nothing comes out," says Kerr. "And then I realize: It's pasteurized. Shit. Can I still use it?" Necessity is the mother of invention, and Kerr wasn't letting a solid chunk of blood stand in the way of good sausage.
"I thought, 'Fuck this.' And so I pureed it until it was liquid again."
"It looked like the set of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," he laughs. "I've got all these guts and blood everywhere. I'm covered in blood from putting the mixture into the funnel and trying to shimmy it into the casings. I was tying and poaching the links over and over. I eventually made 30 pounds of it. In fact, my sous chef took a picture of me because I looked like I'd just massacred somebody."
Justin Basye, who runs the kitchen and the fledgling but well-respected charcuterie program at Stella Sola, is so devoted to the craft that even his Twitter handle is @BigSalumi. He's gesturing to his collection of cured, hanging meats, speaking of them proudly.
"I really like doing various pork salamis like boar cacciatore," he says. "It's a boar and fennel sausage that will take about three or four weeks to hang," he says with a broad smile. "I also really enjoy soppressata and playing with the bigger diameter ones because you get a beautiful cut. We actually take that extra step and add our own cured lardo into our salami instead of just diced fatback."
He says that the occasional failure is par for the course when you're making your own charcuterie. "A scary one that can be tough is hams, because it's a lot of curing time and hanging time. When you cut one open and it's rotten inside, that's the worst feeling," he says. "With charcuterie, there's a certain amount of patience involved."
Both Basye and The Grove's Ryan Pera brought a basic knowledge of charcuterie with them when they moved to Houston from other parts of the country, but have learned a lot here. Our meat-loving city has been an excellent playground for the chefs, who can now easily get quality pigs from local farms and whose ambitions and creativity feed one another as they expand their programs.
As charcuterie has become more prevalent in Houston, Pera has seen sales of his Picnic Platter increase. "It's generally a pork-driven product, and some people shy away from pork," he says, "but other than that, it just goes so well with their dining habits. People are looking to share a lot of little things and charcuterie is perfect for that. They can sit down with a glass of champagne and talk and nibble and just have a great time."
James Silk of Feast believes the charcuterie movement in Houston is here to stay. More restaurants are putting it on menus, and more diners are coming to understand the history and the processes behind these intricately crafted meats.
"I don't think it's just a fad," Silk says. "It's not like molecular gastronomy or things to do with foams. I don't think it's going anywhere, and it's certainly not going anywhere back home," he says, speaking of England. Knight nods his head in agreement.
"Perhaps some will move on to the next hot thing, whatever that is. But people like us will just keep doing what we've always been doing," Knight smiles. "It's what we've been doing for thousands of years."
Charcuterie: A Glossary
Certain tools are required to make any kind of charcuterie, whether they be natural tools like salt or manmade ones like meat grinders and sausage stuffers.
Bactoferm: Essential for making sausage, Bactoferm is a brand of starter cultures or live bacteria. The bacteria feed on sugar and produce an acid that lowers the pH level in the meat and thereby prevents bacterial growth.
Casings: The inner lining of the intestine, usually of a cow, pig or sheep. Casings both contain the meat mixture that makes up a sausage and at the same time allow moisture to leave the sausage while it's hanging. Without this process, the sausage would never dry. Casings are also used to make fresh sausage and provide a lovely browned color and texture to products like sautéed sausages.