Seductive in their papers and casings, hams and salamis always peer at me from my favorite butcher's deli case, luring me with their heady fragrances of garlic and smoke. I have a not-so-hidden love of cured meats and it's not unusual for me to come home with extra packages of proscuitto and Genoa salami tucked in my bag. As I stand looking at all the rolls stacked high, I conjure up images of meats wrapped in paper, trussed tightly and hanging from the rafters of some imaginary old-world artisan. My mouth always waters.
Due to this fascination, I have dabbled on occasion with making old-world artisan-style cured meats at home, but have often set aside the recipes as time-heavy, technically intricate, or expensive. However, in light of Jenny's post last week about foods you can stop buying and start making at home, I was inspired to try once again to create a recipe that would draw from the flavors of what I love about old-world meats but that would be easy to make on a regular basis.
Easy Starts for At-home Charcuterie
At first I thought I'd try coppa di testa, which makes use of every part of a pig's head and leaves nothing to waste - the meat is tenderly braised and the pork bones are simmered to produce a gelatin-rich stock, then everything is pressed together and chilled to produce a nutrient-dense lunch meat fit for kings. Problem is, I don't regularly have access to a pig's head and if the whole point of this is to come up with a recipe that's easy to make regularly, this one wouldn't fit the bill. So, the pig's head was out.
Next I thought, why not try mortadella? It's the real-food, old-world predecessor to bologna in which pork is ground to a paste with herbs and extra cubes of fat to make it smooth, then stuffed in casings and cured like salami. I was absolutely tempted, but finding casings regularly once again sounded like too much work to make it practical.
So, I started experimenting, drawing on flavors and techniques I use regularly when making other similar dishes, such as my favorite French country-style pate and chicken and bacon roulades. I purposely only chose ingredients to which we regularly have access, and I substituted cheesecloth for the casings, just to keep it as simple as possible.
Our family loves this meat on sandwiches, as well as with Cranberry & Rosemary Jelly on the end-of-summer picnics we've enjoyed lately. (That recipe is from our new DIY pantry staples e-book due out next month. Sign up to be notified when the book hits the presses.)
And here's another idea: If you want to make really easy sandwich meat, take a cue from roast beef - it's literally that, a beef roast sliced thin. You can brine it first if you like, but that's optional. Whether you use beef or pork, it's a great way to use up leftover roast.
Resources for Home Charcuterie
If you're game to try your hand at homemade charcuterie, take a look at the Art of Charcuterie which provides simple, practical recipes and steps as well as vivid step-by-step color photos of most of the foods. It also provides seasoning guides for classic sausages, and outlines safety measures that must be considered for the more elaborate, aged and cured salamis and meats. The Art of Charcuterie usually retails for $65 (it's a massive book), but you can get it's on sale right now for $39.81 (click here).
Where to Find Good-quality Gelatin for Charcuterie
This recipe calls for the use of gelatin to help solidify the lunch meat in the absence of using a pig's head (often used for traditional charcuterie, but in short supply in most areas). You can find powdered gelatin at any grocery store; however, it is typically produced from pigs held in confinement operations which are deeply and fundamentally damaging to the local environment. Instead, consider purchasing a good quality grass-fed beef gelatin which can be found by mail order and online (see sources).
Easy, Everyday Lunch Meat
- Chop the pork into 1-inch cubes and coarsely chop the bacon. Chill in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water or stock and let stand in the refrigerator until needed.
- When the meat is thoroughly chilled, place the garlic, rosemary, and salt in a food processor and pulse until the garlic is very finely chopped. With the motor running, add the meat and fats to the bowl a few pieces at a time. (Work quickly to keep your processor from overheating.) Grind until they are a smooth paste, then pour in the gelatin mixture and process until the mixture is once again smooth.
- Shape the paste into a 3-4″ diameter log and place at one end of the cheesecloth. Lay extra sprigs of rosemary all around the log, if desired. Roll the cheesecloth up as tightly as possible and tie the ends with kitchen twine. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
- When you’re ready to cook the pork log, preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the meat in a baking pan and create a bain marie by pouring in boiling water to at least halfway submerge the meat. Bake for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes (give or take 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the log), until the meat registers 155 F on a meat thermometer.
- Cool completely, then using a very sharp knife, shave it into very thin slices.