If you’ve never had Tasso ham before, it probably means that you don’t live anywhere near the south. Before visiting New Orleans and moving to Texas, I had only heard about it in Emeril recipes, always to be followed by the obligatory asterisk – “*if Tasso is unavailable, substitute with bacon or ham”. I suppose it’s a little true – if Tasso is totally unavailable, bacon is better than nothing – but I surely wouldn’t call it a substitute. Tasso is it’s own beautiful, wonderful, glorious beast that allows no substitution.
It is important to note that while it’s called “Tasso Ham”, it is not actually “ham”. Ham is made from the hind leg of the pig, while Tasso is traditionally made from the shoulder. As many of the best southern traditions have been, it was created out of necessity – a way to use up the left over scraps of the least used cut of the whole pig.
A good way to get a better perspective on how any traditional dish is supposed to be made is to think about that – how it started, where it came from. Then, grab Michael Ruhlman’s “Charcuterie” as a great reference and read as many additional recipes as possible. Everyone does it a little bit different.
Here is my way:
First, make sure you have a large enough pan (or pans) to hold all of the meat comfortably without overlapping. Cut up the big pork butt into large, thick pieces, leaving on all the fat and cutting against the grain.
Next, give the meat a good salt cure:
2 parts kosher salt to 1 part white granulated sugar. (Enough to fully cover the meat in a thick, even coating.) Pour the salt cure as evenly as possible and massage into the pork, leaving a fairly thick coating. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Third, while the meat is curing, mix up your dry rub with the following ingredients to your preferred taste:
- Ground white pepper
- Ground black pepper
- Ground cayenne pepper
- Ground allspice
- Ground paprika
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Dried thyme
- Dried oregano
Then, after 3-4 hours refrigerated, rinse the cure off of the meat, dry with paper towel and and cover with a nice hefty coating of the dry rub; cover and refrigerate to cure overnight.
Finally, while the shoulder is sitting in the fridge, find access to an awesome smoker.
If you don’t have access to a smoker, you can use your oven. In order to get an imitation of the rich smokey flavor that is so important, try wrapping smoking chips in tin foil and putting on the bottom of your oven, on the rack beneath the meat. Heat the oven to 220 degrees, make sure the heat is nice and steady, and put the pork in for 4 or so hours. Try your best not to open the door to look at it so you can maintain that good steady heat.
If you do have access to a smoker, I suggest using pecan chips and if you can control the heat, try to keep it at 220. Cram the meat in there with excitement and don’t open the smoker for 3 hours.
To check the done-ness of the pork (smoker or oven) use a meat thermometer, which should read somewhere between 150 – 180 degrees. Poke the meat a little as its finishing to see how done it is: is it solid but tender? Then it’s good to go.
Once done, here are some ideas on what to do with it:
- Remoulade sauce (mayo based, heavy on the mustard)
- Medium Cheddar cheese, grated
- Very thinly sliced and quartered green tomatoes
- Thinly sliced red onion
- Tasso, sliced long and thin (like pastrami)
Layer pizza with all ingredients (Tasso on top) and bake at 500 on a thin crust, until crust is golden brown, about 8 minutes.
Also try it:
- cubed in jumbalaya, gumbo or sauteed greens like spinach or chard
- use the same pizza ingredients as a po’boy sandwich
- use anywhere in place of normal ham for a little extra pizzazz.
Have any more great ideas? Let me know! And enjoy!