The last couple of years bacon and burgers have dominated the food headlines but I kind of get a sense that artisanal charcuterie is starting to hit the mainstream.  I suppose that since bacon is charcuterie it has already arrived but I am seeing more restaurants adding house-made charcuterie items to their menus than ever before.  Home cooks are also starting to dive in and as such, some bloggers started up Charcutepaloooza, a blogger challenge to make one charcuterie recipe each month in 2011, with inspiration coming from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie – The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing 
I am not officially joining in the ‘palooza (I find that if I am assigned a  task to blog about it becomes a chore and I lose interest.) but I am kind of playing along but at my own pace and with the recipes I am interested in.  Since EatWisconsin isn’t really a recipe site I decided to just talk about some of the stuff I have done so far.
Duck Prosciutto
To get started I decided to follow the advice of the founders of Charcutaplopooza and start with duck breast prosciutto.  Assigning this dish first brilliant move to get people excited about this project because it’s a ridiculously simple thing to do. The only thing you have to overcome is fear. The recipe is all over the Internet (and in Charcuterie) so I won’t include it but here is the basic technique:  cure the duck breasts for a day in kosher salt, rinse, season with white pepper (I added some rosemary and thyme), wrap in cheese cloth, hang for a week or so, then enjoy.  I shit you not, it’s that simple and the results are nothing short of amazing. 
I approached the first bite with a bit of trepidation.  Was I going to poison myself? was this going to taste like gamy piece of rotting duck? or a salt lick?  I popped a thin slice on my tongue and was instantly pleased with the results.   It was delicious.  Not too salty, not gamy at all, and full of flavor.  Despite being an entirely different species from the pig the taste sensation was eerily similar to that of prosciutto.  The fat had a rick mellow flavor, enhanced with the salt, herbs, and white pepper and the interior was a dark crimson red.
As I type this I have a larger goose breast prosciutto hanging in my basement. The fat was completely trimmed from it by the friend who gave it to me so it will be interesting to see how it turns out sans the delicious fatty layer.
Beef Jerky
Next up was some Beef Jerky.  Most recipes have you soak it in soy sauce with some flavorings.  Ruhlman and Polcyn recommend a salt, garlic, and onion cure with some chipotles in adobo.  I did half of my batch like that and the other half I substituted some Stubb’s Bourbon BBQ Sauce.  I put the jerky in a food dehydrator which made it very easy but I think it dried out too much as the exterior was a but crunchy.  The bourbon bbq turned out better than the chipotle.  The bourbon taste and slight sweetness really came through.  Next time its going in the smoker.
Corned Beef
The next item isn’t new and isn’t from Charcuterire (though the book does include a more straightforward corned beef recipe).  It’s a corned beef recipe from Bruce Aidells (another charcuterie guru) that appeared in Bon Appetit a couple of years ago and it has become a St. Patrick’s Day staple in my house. 
I’ll confess that in general I am more of a Pastrami fan than a corned beef fan and the ony way I really like corned beef is on a sandwich, either a Reuben or corned beef on rye with some grainy mustard and mayo.  Corned beef and cabbage just doesn’t appeal to me so every year my corned beef is destined to be sandwiched between two pieces of bread.
I use the brine from this recipe (I used Wasatch Polygamy Porter beer instead of the lager in  the recipe) and after a week in the brine I’ll soak it for about 8 hours in water to make it a little less salty.  Then I cook the corned beef in a 1:1 mixture of Guinness and water with some aromatics (2 carrots, 1 celery, 1 onion) and some coriander seeds and black peppercorns.  This year I used a pressure cooker which makes quick work of this notoriously tough cut of meat.  It only takes about an hour as opposed to 2 1/2-3 hours using the traditional boil method. 
The results are amazing.  The brown sugar in the brine adds a nice sweetness to balance the salt and the maltiness of the beer really comes through.  Even though a lot of salt is used, the corned beef doesn’t come out as salty as commercial brands and it tastes 100 times better. 
Three months and three successful projects! I also did a batch of pickled grape tomatoes, based loosely on a recipe from Michael Symon’s Live to Cook.  Next up is some sausage (Italians and Boudin), preserved lemons and limes, and probably pastrami. 

4 thoughts on “Charcutepalooza

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your charcuterie adventures. Love, love, LOVE the idea of that duck… and the corned beef sounds absolutely delicious.

    We keep talking about brining our own corned beef — but have never done it. That said, this brine recipe sounds like one that I would be really tempted by.

  2. Glad to hear about someone else in WI interested in the Charcutepalooza challenge. I signed up officially for it because I needed a little push jump into the world of Charcuterie. I have had the book for about 3 yrs but have been too intimidated to try anything. My first product was fresh bacon and I totally know what you mean about that first bite. After that I was all in. Now I have more pork belly than I know what to do with but at least it will be fun.
    I dont have a chance in a million of winning anything; the challenge has unearthed some very skilled meat maker/bloggers out there, but at least it is fun to participate.

    I am looking forward to hearing how your goose breast turns out. I was thinking of trying that as well. The duck breasts that are readily available in Milwaukee are so small that it has hardly seemed worth it so I am waiting to get a hold of something a little bigger.

    I look forward to reading about your future Charcuterie adventures.

    Audrey Evans

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