By Rona Lewis
Photos by Cathy Arkle
Back fat. I don’t want it on me; I don’t want it in my food. Unfortunately, this week, we didn’t have much choice. We were learning about Charcuterie or prepared and cooked meats primarily from swine including sausage, pate and terrines. What makes all these dishes taste the way they do? Back fat- specifically from pigs.
To be fair, charcuterie also includes smoked and cured fish and meats. There’s lots of salt and seasonings in all of these dishes. This is because the technique of charcuterie is quite old. Ancient actually. It was used for preservation. Think about it, they had no refrigeration, so they used salt, instead.
Pâtés and Terrines are almost the same thing. Both include various types of liver, fat, spices and meat in some form or other. These are put together and prepared by grinding them all together to form an emulsion. This end result is called Forcemeat. Pates and Terrines are meat specialties of charcuterie and include “loaves” like head cheese and olive loaf. Head cheese is literally made from the head of the pig and using the gelatin that’s left from the cooking process.
I would love to know who actually eats that. Really. Send me their names.
There are 4 different kinds of forcemeat:
1-Mousseline Style: This is when delicate meats like salmon or chicken are combined with cream and eggs.
2-Straight: This is when lean meats are ground together with fatback.
3-Country Style: A courser texture usually containing liver.
4-Gratin: Similar to straight forcemeats but a portion of the meat is seared and then cooled before being ground.
When making any kind of charcuterie, you have to make sure that everything, utensils to food, is clean and well chilled. This makes sure everything mixes together well. Tonight, we were concentrating on making sausage meat with one exception. That was smoked trout. It was actually my favorite thing, as I don’t like sausage. You’ll see the recipe for that later.
Sausages are forcemeat stuffed into casings. They also come in patties and loose. The casings can be from lamb, hog (the classic sized sausage) and beef (big sausages, like mortadella). Casings hold the sausage meat together and prevent air from getting into the meat. It’s more sanitary. No bacteria can get in.
There are a few different ways to buy or make sausage. Trust me, when you see what a pain in the neck (or back) it is to make, you’ll just buy them.
Fresh-These are not smoked, cured or cooked. You would do that yourself.
Uncooked/Smoked-These are dried and uncooked, like the traditional Andouille. Smoking can be hot or cold. Hot just means it is over 200 degrees and involves smoke that coats the food and flavors it. It also is a bacterial deterrent.
Cooked/Not Smoked-These are usually steamed, like Liverwurst and Mortadella.
Cooked/Smoked-You know these. Hot dogs and Kielbasa are examples.
Dried-You can either get these fully or semi dried. Examples are salami and Spanish chorizo.
There are certain rules needed to make your own sausages. The ingredients must be chilled to less than 40 degrees for safety and sanitation. Sausage meats are handled a lot. This helps prevent bacterial infection. Fat at this temperature stays fully formed and won’t get greasy and ruin the texture of the finished product. You can chill the equipment, too.
The cured meats of charcuterie include smoked oysters, fish, ham, prosciutto and jambon. Most of these are brined before they’re smoked.
Cathy and I were put together this week to make a white sausage. It included chicken along with the pork butt and back fat, along with cream coriander, nutmeg and cloves. I had the pleasure of cutting the fat from the back. (Sarcastic much?)
I’ve never seen back fat no less handled it. Honestly, it was all I could do not to run screaming from the classroom! It comes in a long, wide slice and I had to peel the skin away from the solid mass of fat. Ick. I have a photo of me and my friend, Mario, working hard on this very task. OK, I’m laughing, but I was crying on the inside…..
I’m not going to share this recipe with you. I’m choosing to give you the smoked trout recipe instead. You can buy a small smoker at Bed Bath and Beyond or any good kitchen store. This, although salty, tasted light and fresh and just like Sunday mornings in my house. You can read about Cathy’s take on Pork Butt on her blog.