Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sows to Salami

I'm not sure that an apology for lackadaisical blogging is in order, but I'll give one anyway.

Sorry folks, but I've been too distracted over the last couple of weeks to devote much time to writing.

Writing is funny like that. Sometimes my fingers just can't shut up and the words pour out like water from a hacked fire-hydrant. Then there are there are the dry times when it's all I can do to type my user name and password. It's not exactly writer's block; not my form of writer's block anyway. It's more like writer's ennui: I try to write and become so bored by the process, I give up. Whatever, I'll get over it.

I had a very busy week at the farm turning some of the meat from our late Berkshire sows (above left) into comestible products. In addition to my typical production of soups, puddings, chicken and turkey sausage etc., I made 40 pounds of Tuscan style salami, 40 pounds of orange-cardamom salami and about 50 pounds of pancetta.

I'm sure that I have noted many times that the inspiration for my two-boots-on-the-floor return to the craft of charcuterie was a reading of Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. But what I have not said is that despite having many other references and a bunch of recipes from back in the day when I used to make charcuterie for my restaurant clients, for the first couple of weeks at the farm I mostly worked from Charcuterie.

Now, I know you all know that Ruhlman is a friend of mine, and that I'd say nice things about his book even if I thought it sucked (which I don't). But what you may not know is that by admitting that I used Ruhlman and Polcyn to reestablish my skills, I have made made what amounts to a ringing endorsement.

See, I hate reading cookbooks, even very excellent bestselling ones.

In my world, there are few types of books that are more boring than cookbooks (perhaps chick-lit and diet books?). Cookbooks always have too many details and invariably, ingredients that are either unavailable, unnecessary or unacceptable. And let's be real, cookbooks are lists. I suppose there are lots of people who enjoy reading lists (scriveners, perhaps?), but unless we're talking about a list of names of lottery winners with my name on it, I'm nonplussed to the hilt.

If a cookbook has any value to me it, is mostly in the concepts that it purveys. And that's pretty much how I read them, for the concepts. I don't want whole recipes from books, I want the idea of the recipe. That's why one of my favorite cookbooks is Le Guide Culinaire, by Escoffier et al. Le Guide is mostly a description of about 4000 dishes, with very little detail. Sure, the dishes are mostly dated and unattractive to modern eaters. But the book is nearly unparalleled in its Platonic approach to cooking as it suggests what a dish could become if only the cook had the will and the skill to prepare it.

Anyway, I found that Ruhlman and Polcyn's book, while not the Parnassian masterwork that is Le Guide (Sorry guys) was full of the kind of information that I needed to get back in the game. For example, it told me that sausage meat should typically be 25 % fatback and salted at the rate of .333 oz of salt per 16 oz of meat. (I found that .25 oz salt to 16 oz meat works better.) That's what I like, give me the Ur recipe, the simplest, most basic version without the "internal garnish cut into 5mm square dice" and chrome bumpers and let me fill in the details. Okay, okay, it's true the book is also filled with a lot of detail. If it wasn't I'd probably be the only one interested in buying it. Not too many people are going to be interested in a book that only gives names of dishes and relative proportions of ingredients.

Hmm, maybe that's the book I should write :-)

Well, so, here is a slide show of some of the stuff I made this week. All of the the items you see were made from our Berkshire sows. As you will see in the photos the meat is very dark and -please take it on faith- flavorful. It is clearly not the other white meat.

The Tuscan style salami is derived from the recipe in Charcuterie. The orange cardamom salami, inspired by a suggestion from my former apprentice, Christian the Apprentice, is my own recipe and the pancetta is almost verbatim Ruhlman and Polycn.

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blondee47 said...

oh god i am to get the jewish version - karnatzel....Bob i use an italian butcher and always buy a charcuteries style meat that he makes and he shows it together with the pig's head....i buy it all the time and never remember the name...absolutely lean, smoked dry and i could eat a pound sliced thin by myself just u know what i am talking about?

Bob del Grosso said...

No blondee47, it does not sound familiar. It's not tongue, is it?

Chris said...

Bob it all looks wonderful.
I am just getting started in the Charc world and Rulhman and Polcyn was a cover to cover read for me.

I agree with you about cookbooks but this one is easy on the eyes and soul.

Just curious Bob, where is the farm?

ntsc said...

The farm is someplace in Pennsylvania, I think Bob has a link to it's website on his blog.

I've not only made the Tuscan salami and the dry cured ham from Charcuteire, but Ruhlman has sampled both. 10 of us had lunch with him in Cleveland early in the month. We cooked the lunch.

Ruhlman did say he was working on a book about proportions in food, as example the 1 2 3 cookie and what happens when you change the ratio.

Linda said...

I know what you mean about cookbooks and lists, but I love to find evocative descriptions (Marlena de Blasi's "Regional Foods of Southern Italy"), or note the use of unusual ingredients (e.g., ethnic cuisine), or familiarize myself with ingredients and styles and methods with which I'm not familiar (Charcuterie).

For complicated cakes, I often follow recipes first in order to understand how the finished product should taste, as well as how it was put together.

Being almost completely self-taught, I once depended completely on cookbooks (my mother only liked to make reservations), and I'm still very much attached to my first real cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

If Ruhlman is indeed writing a book about proportions in food, I shall be one of the first customers to buy the book!

And Bob, your charcuterie looks delicious and tempting! I only wish you lived closer to my neck of the woods.

Johnny Disaster said...

You are right about the salt - the recipes I have tried from the book all seem a bit salty, and your suggestion is eminently reasonable, Not to take away from the new vistas Charcuterie has afforded me (I have a pork belly curing in my fridge as we communicate electronically).
Being less experienced and definitely a home cook, I actually like to have a recipe (or six) the first couple of times I try something and then I start diverging.
On an unrelated note, maybe blondee47 is thinking of guanciale?

Bob del Grosso said...

johnny disaster,
I thought that blondee47 might be thinking of guanciale too until I realized that she had mentioned that the meat was very lean.

of course recipes are indispensable at some point. but in my system they are not aspirational: they are to be grocked and moved on from (sic)

blondee47 said...

Porchetta!! called the butcher and asked...he makes his own and displays with the head...have to ask if one eats the head?

ntsc said...

You make head cheese with the head or I think the French Laundry Cookbook has pigs head try The French Laundry at Home:

blondee47 said...

my butcher said the pig is coming tomorrow and it will be ready friday...i eat it cold in a sandwich if it lasts long enough to get it home...he also makes his own sausages...must ask about salami....cause now i am craving salami...

love him cause he also gives back to the community via PBS where he sponsors Lidia B's cooking show...