Here is an essay I wrote about my experience taking a Charcuterie class in New York. It was very interesting and enjoyable! I hope you enjoy reading it. My love of charcuterie began at a young age, our mother would feed us chicken liver pate spread on pita bread with raw onions- quite a delicious sandwich! While I certainly have my favorites in the charcuterie realm, there are things I don't care for, head cheese for example.
My first chacuterie class was last night. We changed into our uniforms (grey checkered pants, white double breasted chef jackets, white neckerchiefs, aprons, low white hats and sturdy shoes) and went to our class room. There were knife sets in black bags for each of us. Chef Jeff was our teacher, assisted by Chef Janet and Garrett, who hasn’t graduated yet. Chef Jeff is very serious. Chef Janet is a tiny blonde from Minnesota with a terrific accent. She worked in a slaughterhouse last summer.
A large, roughly 125 lb. pig was wheeled into the class room. Chef Jeff needed assistants to lift the pig and move it around and at that point I figured out why the class was 80% men. Chef Jeff asked who hunted in the class, about 60% of the hands went up. We looked at the pig, talked about slaughtering, and then Chef Jeff took the pig apart in pieces. First, he cut into the jowl and we talked about Guanciale, which is an Italian bacon made of jowl meat (I’ve never had it). I believe there’s a Southern equivalent called Jowl bacon, but I don’t think it’s considered high end in the US. Then, we took apart the rest of the pig, first the leg, which could become a ham, then the shoulders, then the mid section. Apparently, pork butt comes from nowhere near the rear. We looked at bacon and fat back. We cut the shoulders and mid sections and some additional pork butt into chunks that we’d make into sausage.
We then watched demonstrations on making a French garlic sausage with a sausage grinder and a smoother Bratwurst with a ‘buffalo chopper,’ which is like a large metal food processor. We split up into teams of four, I was with Natalie (French, taken many classes there before, a Food writer), Charlie (friend of Natalie’s, retired from advertising) and David (looking to start a restaurant with chacuterie on the North Fork of Long Island). First, we decided what type of sausage to make, the French garlic. This contains garlic, pistachios and red wine. We weighed our meat and measured our other ingredients. We then ground the meat and then using our hands in a large metal bowl, mixed in the other ingredients and worked the meat until slightly firmer and sticky (kind of like working dough). It’s important to keep meat cold when making chacuterie, otherwise it gets hard and tough. The bratwurst recipe in fact calls for crushed ice to be ground into the mixture. We then learned how to use a manual sausage machine that puts the meat in casings. For the sausage we were making, we used medium sized beef casings. We learned how to tie the ends, because they can be slippery and our group made 4 sausages (one burst, we had to do it over, we blame Charlie’s aggressive tying). We were done earlier than most groups, especially the bratwurst groups because they had to sauté their garlic and onion first. The bratwurst groups made a large coil of sausage instead of foot long links like we did. I watched Thomas (hunts, from Wisconsin, feeds his son venison beef jerky in the morning before school) shape the bratwurst into links, like it was a balloon animal. He gave me some bratwurst to take home and instructed me to simmer it in beer and chopped up onions, then grill and serve with the simmered onion (this was truly delicious). We also took home some of the garlic sausage, which was boiled and just needed to be grilled.
Other standouts from the class: We were fed a dinner of a romaine salad, cauliflower and broccoli gratin and rigatoni with ground beef and carrots and celery. There is a Peruvian man with a mustache that is very full above the lip and waxed to points half way out his cheeks. This is Kenten, who I rode the subway with after class. During class he wears a gauze surgeon’s mask over his lower face. There is also a man that has a pig farm, don’t remember his name. He is very into heritage breeds and there was a conversation during the butchering that worried about the leanness of some heritage breeds. There is a surly man named Jock (seriously). He’s really into talking to the guy with pigs.
My second chacuterie class was last night. Chef Pasqual led our class. He is French and was originally a butcher. Chef Jeff and Chef Janet were also there. We made several things that are curing and will be ready on Wednesday for us to eat, take home, or finish making at home. We worked in teams of 4 again, I worked again with Natalie (French, food writer) and our other team members were Dominic (took La Technique with Natalie, experienced in Italian sausage making, thinks I look like Hilary Swank and calls me ‘Hillary’) and Jock (not surly in fact and really nice, helped me quite a bit). The guy who raises pigs was drinking the cooking wine quite a bit, which was fairly humorous.
The first thing we made was a pate / terrine. Chef Pasqual talked to us about the importance of pork in pate and the ways you could combine pork and pork fat with other leaner meats, such as venison and other game that is quite lean. The ratio that is typically used is 2/3 pork and 1/3 other meat. We talked about other ingredients that could be complimentary, for instance, why not put carrots in a rabbit pate, or an herb that deer eat in a venison terrine. Chef Pasqual believes in authenticity of recipes, but also harmonious interpretation (i.e. the carrots in rabbit pate, but not necessarily in another kind). Chef Jeff prefers dried fruit in his pates, such as cherries, cranberries, apricots. Things like apples will not cook well and not be appetizing. Our pate contains duck liver, pork, foie gras, garlic, brandy, truffles and seasoning. There is a seasoning called pate spice, which we included, but Chef Pasqual said this could be many things. I am curious what it would taste like if you added something like ground cardamom or cinnamon. First, we sautéed the duck liver with the garlic and added brandy, and set it on fire. We chilled this, and then added it to the pork and fat back. We ground this together. We then mixed together the ground mixture with finely chopped duck breast and foie gras, from which I removed the vein(s). We added our other ingredients and mixed until it was sticky and the foie gras had slightly ‘melted.’ Then, it was time to pack the pate into a terrine mold. These are rectangular ceramic dishes that according to Chef Jeff, are becoming harder to find. There is one made by Le Cruset, however. (I will probably ask for one for my birthday, I love Le Cruset). Le Cruset was also referred to as ‘Le Robberie’ since it is so expensive. We lined the terrine mold with caul fat, which is like a white net with veins of fat. You could also use bacon, pork fat or nothing, but you probably want to use something because the pate is going to shrink. We used Madeira on our hands to pack the pate, so it wouldn’t stick to our hands. We are letting the pate cure until Wednesday, when we will cook it in the oven in a water bath until it is 145 degrees internally.
Next, we made a cooked salami. A cooked salami is different from a dry cured salami in that it is cooked, not hung and cured over a longer period of time. This salami recipe contains whole peppercorns, red pepper flakes and paprika. We were shown and allowed to try a venison salami Chef Jeff had made, which was shaped with dowels pressed into its sides to form a pattern on the edge. The venison salami was a lovely shade of violet and was very tasty, although I probably prefer a more refined or smoother grind, to make the pieces of fat back (which are the white spots in salami) smaller. We combined pork with tenderquick (this is our curing salt that contains nitrate and nitrite, which are the curing agents) and red wine and ground it together. We mixed in the other ingredients and pressed the salami into medium sized beef casings, like we did with the fresh sausage last week. Tightness in the sausage is important, otherwise mold can form in the air pockets. In order to ensure tightness, we put the fishnet casing over each sausage, like you see on salamis at the store. The fishnet casing is made of string and I was quite talented at putting it on the sausage. This was because it is like pantyhose, where you roll it up like you’re going to put on a sock and stretch it out a little. The men on my team were impressed, Natalie and I told them it was a ladies’ thing and was because we were very used to hosiery.
Next, we made a Jambon Blanc, which is a deli ham, but in the French style. Chef Pasqual talked about the difference in French ham vs. American, which in his opinion is the sugar content of the brine. Chef Jeff, who is American, prefers more sweetness. We made a brine out of rosemary, sage, garlic, tenderquick and a little sugar. We then injected this into a ham using a large metal syringe that is called a spray pump. This is going to be cooked and it is aging in the brine until Wednesday. Our final item of the evening was a duck confit. We each took a duck leg and we cut off the excess fat on the sides, but not on the top of the leg. We removed the lower thigh bone but not the bone that is coming out of the leg. We cut around the skin and fat on the upper bone left in. We placed this, skin side down in a perforated tray on top of another tray (like a colander). We mixed thyme, bay leaf, cloves, pepper, shallots and garlic into a mixture and spread it evenly over the top of the duck legs. Those are also aging and we will cook them on Wednesday. We’ve been instructed to bring containers on Wednesday to take these things home.
Last night was my last chacuterie class. All three chefs were there, Chef Pasqual, Chef Jeff and Chef Janet. When we arrived and set up our stations (get a cutting board, put a wet paper towel under it so it does not slide, take out some knives, get some kitchen towels), our terrines that contain duck liver, pork and foie gras were out on the counter. Our hams that were sitting in brine were on one of the side counters, still sitting in their large plastic containers of brine. Our salamis were cooking in water on very low heat. A large pot full of duck fat was slowly simmering our duck confit (after the curing mixture has been brushed away and discarded).
Our teams stayed the same, I was with Natalie (French, food writer), Dominic (Italian, very nice) and Jock (who is a doctor when he’s not cooking). The class had slightly thinned out; Charlie and Darryl were not there. Natalie told me later Charlie is a much better teacher than student and the ratio of men to women may not have interested him much either. There was no Inglenook (cooking wine) around, much to Bradley’s disappointment. At one point in the evening, Chef Jeff called Kenten’s extreme mustache ‘a chacuterie mustache if he’d ever seen one.’ The ovens at our stations were preheated. Each station is like a large kitchen island of steel, there is a counter area to the far right, with two levels of shelves underneath, a burner with a constantly burning pilot light to the immediate left, a griddle plate to the left of the burner and underneath this, a two shelf oven. Each island is made up of four of these joined together at the griddle plate.
The first thing we did was to tie up our hams. Using fairly thick cooking twine, we began tying the hams at the thickest part of the middle and using double knots (one knot, with the twine going over and under itself twice instead of once as in a typical knot). Then moving above and below in equal increments, we tied the ham with several more pieces of twine and once vertically. The hams then went into roasting pans with roasting racks with a small amount of water in the bottom (because the fat dripping off into a hot, dry pan will burn). We cooked these hams until they were 150 degrees in the center in a 400 degree oven. To prepare the terrine for the oven, we placed the terrine mold, covered in tinfoil, top only, in a roasting pan with (hot) water halfway up the sides of the mold (like baking a cheesecake). We placed this in a 350 degree oven and cooked until it was 145 degrees in the center. Since this was primarily pork and contains Tenderquick (curing agent), 145 is a safe temperature and with a terrine or a pate, erring on the side of slightly undercooked will yield a moister result. Chef Pasqual stressed the importance of ‘low and slow’ cooking when it comes to chacuterie. The objective is to retain moisture and also prevent extreme shrinking and toughness of the meat, caused by high heat.
One of our new projects last night was a chicken liver pate. While I have not tasted this yet, I am probably the most excited about this item, since my love of chacuterie begins with Sell’s chicken liver pate. When my sister and I were little, our Mom fed us chicken liver pate with sliced raw onions in pita bread, which we loved. Instead of a grinder, we used blenders for this recipe. We began with chicken livers, from which we removed sinew, fat back, milk, eggs, gelatin, spices, flour and cream. This was blended together first in a blender, then with a whisk in a bowl (adding the flour and the cream, you can’t blend with the cream, it will whip and separate). We then poured it into an aluminum loaf pan lined with plastic wrap. Some was poured into small ball jars. We talked about presentation in the small ball jars, which could be sealed with duck fat on top (will keep longer) or jam, which would be a lovely sweet and acidic counter to the rich pate. Chef Jeff asked us if we had had any good chacuterie lately and I told the class about the amazing chicken liver and foie gras pate I had last Friday at Orsay, that was topped with a jam, served in a ball jar with thinly sliced toasted baguette and fleur de sel. This excited everyone and we talked about the types of condiments you can have with pate and chacuterie. This was placed in a hot water bath and cooked at 350 until it was 160 degrees in the center (chicken needs to be cooked to a higher internal temperature than pork). The chicken livers and liver in general has a lot less protein than meat (pork) and that is why secondary binding agents, eggs and gelatin in this case were necessary.
Our next project was bacon and or pancetta, because the process is mostly the same. You start with a pork belly and you mix, on a per kilo basis, a curing mixture that contains Tenderquick, brown sugar, juniper berries, peppercorns, garlic and thyme. You rub this mixture over the non-skin side of the pork belly. You then cure this in a refrigerator for 1 day per inch (1 week for a 7 inch piece of pork belly), turning once each day. Then, if you are making bacon, you cook at 200 degrees, no hotter, otherwise the fat melts. If you are making pancetta, you roll it like a newspaper and tie it tightly, cover with a cheesecloth and hang in a cool, dry place with air circulation for two weeks. Pancetta is uncooked and bacon is slightly cooked. I don’t have anywhere to hang this in our little apartment, so I let Dominic take the bacon home.
We next talked about prosciutto and dry curing ham. Chef Pasqual took us down to the L’ecole wine cellar, where he ages his prosciuttos. They take one year to make. He then showed us a part way done prosciutto and we watched him prepare another. There is a curing mixture that contains a lot of salt and nitrate (not Tenderquick in this case), pepper and sugar. The fresh ham is trimmed of fat at the bottom and the pelvis bone is removed, the top bone left in. The skin is left on the top and roughly 75% of the ham. The salt mixture is poured around the top bone and rubbed over the entire surface; the ham is then placed in a large plastic bin on a cutting board that is held up at an angle by a bowl underneath. The remaining salt mixture is poured over the ham and then a cutting board held down by large cans of tomatoes (weights) is placed on top. This helps the ham to compress and gain its flattish shape as it dry cures. After curing for a while, the ham will be rinsed, covered with lard, wrapped in a cheese cloth and hung for about a year. We tasted one of the finished prosciuttos, it was delicious and a beautiful pink. Instead of the regular dinner, we tried nearly all of the chacuterie we made. We tried the baked ham (delicious and soft), the cooked salami (surprisingly my favorite), Chef Pasqual’s prosciutto, head cheese (I couldn’t do it), and the terrine (I was surprised, but I didn’t like it). We had accompaniments of cornichons, several different types of bread (an olive loaf that was terrific), and a traditional remoulade that was made with fresh, uncooked julienned celery root mixed with equal parts homemade mayonnaise and Dijon mustard (terrific). The lack of Inglenook was lamented… At the end of class, we packed up what we wanted to take; I have 1 duck leg confit, a small cooked ham, cooked salami and a chicken liver pate. Chef Jeff gave us little diplomas (I may frame mine and hang it up in the kitchen) and we talked about the class and feedback. I asked about a dry aging of beef class, and Chef Jeff said that class would probably only be about 45 minutes. Don’t butcher your meat too much and hang it somewhere that is a very controlled refrigerator without much humidity, put a padlock on the fridge if you have to.