Designer Meats

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Dry cure: A dry cure contains a combination of salt, sugar (or dextrose) and pink salt. The dry cure is used to cover meat and thereby draw moisture out of the cells, which creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria.

Pink salt: One of two different kinds of curing salt, colored pink to distinguish it from regular salt. Insta Cure #1 pink salt contains nitrite, which prevents botulism from growing in smoked meats and sausages. Insta Cure #2 contains nitrate, which is used for dry-cured sausages that must hang for long periods of time.

All charcuterie is made from meat or fat, usually a combination of the two. Charcuterie can be roughly divided into two categories: fresh and dried. Fresh charcuterie includes softer products like pâté and rillettes. These products require refrigeration and don't keep for as long as dried charcuterie.

Boudin: A fresh sausage made with meat (most often pork), fat and seasonings. Boudin blanc is made by adding heavy cream, eggs and breadcrumbs to the mixture, while boudin noir (also called black pudding or blood sausage) is made by adding apples, onions and pig's blood. The traditional Cajun boudin that more Americans are familiar with is made by adding onions and rice. Boudin sausages are usually poached or sautéed.

Confit: A French specialty wherein meat — usually duck, goose or pork — is poached slowly in its own fat with a generous amount of salt. It's then packed into an earthenware dish and covered with the fat until the meat is submerged. Once the fat cools and hardens, it acts as a barrier to oxygen, sunlight and bacteria and will preserve the meat — with refrigeration — for up to six months.

Lardo: Cured pork fat from either the back fat or the pork belly. The fat is cured in a salt/spice mixture for nearly two weeks while tightly covered to prevent any light from damaging the delicate fat. Once cured, the fat is hung for three weeks until dried, then sliced paper thin and served on crusty bread. It can also be used in place of regular fatback when preparing other sausages and for general cooking.

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.

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.

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