Mmmm,Tasso!

 

 

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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.IMG_1873

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.

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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. IMG_1882

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:

Pizza:

  • 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!

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Cured Pork

Somewhere in the development of commercial agriculture, the artisanship of food began to deteriorate…. but what remains can still be found holding strong in charcuterie. The best of the best within this category (save for head cheese) lies in all the varieties of cured porks. In this first installment of a series on cured pork and its uses, I will guide you through how its made, where its made, and when to use it and hopefully impart in you a little more of a love for these products, what goes into them and the glory they can create for your plate.

Guanciale

What:
Guanciale is an unsmoked cut of pork cheek or jowl, seasoned with salt and black or red pepper and marinated for 3 weeks to 40 days, then hung to dry.

Where:
Italy, traditionally in Umbria and Lazzo. Known aliases include

When:
Use to lard pork chops (link), spaghetti all’amatriciana, spaghetti alla carbonara. Just like you would bacon, save the fat from frying and use in sauces and other recipes to infuse them with the rich flavor. Fry like bacon or pancetta for pasta sauces, salad toppings etc.

*While it seems to be a popular consensus that you just can’t get Guanciale outside of Italy, its not true. The first Italian deli I asked (which also happens to be my favorite), Lucca Ravioli had it. I tried my next favorite Italian deli, Molinari’s in North Beach, also had it. So, that’s 2 out of 2. Not as rare in the states as it seems, I guess.

Bacon

What: There are several versions of what we all believe to be the true “definition” of bacon. Generally, it’s cut from the sides, belly, or back of a pig, then cured, smoked, or both. The USDA definition, however, is “the cured belly of a swine carcass”; other cuts and characteristics must be separately qualified (e.g., “smoked pork loin bacon”). I’m going to be honest and say that – while I admit it is, indeed, accurate – the use of the word “carcass” in a government approved definition of food is unsettling.

When: just about anytime, I can’t possibly list them all. Always save bacon fat to cook with. Great for pan sauces, cream sauces, wrap meat with it, use it to lard or bard (link) Replace for guanciale in carbonara,

*If you’re a fan of the fun that bacon brings, take a look at the Seattle-based bacon-loving block Iheartbacon.com, or baconunwrapped.com.

Prosciutto

What:
Though literally just the Italian word for “ham”, in English, prosciutto refers to an aged, dry-cured, spiced Italian ham, sliced very thin (the thinner the better) and served raw. In Italian, the equivalent of this would be prosciutto-crudo (raw ham).

Where: Regional varieties come from all over Italy, the most well known from Parma (Prosciutto di Parma), Tuscany and Emilia.

When: Perfect alone just as it is, or very traditionally with blue cheese or wrapped around quartered figs. Though when cooked, prosciutto is touchy, when used right, it can be amazing. It takes on a much stronger, almost gamey flavor when cooked, and so should be used in conjunction with equally rich or aggressive foods – heavy cream sauce, stuffed into pork chops with blue cheese, duck-fat mashed potatoes (link) etc.

Some Known Aliases: Jamon Serrano is the Spanish version, rolled in sea salt and dried for one year to 18 months, usually containing less fat. Culatello is always from Parma, Italy and is created using the best part of the meat from the prosciutto cut. It is salted, spiced and tucked into a pig’s bladder and dried for two to three months, then aged in an humid environment.

Pancetta

What:
Pancetta is similar to American “streaky bacon” (the most common cut in the United States). The belly of a pork is salt cured and spiced (nutmeg, pepper, fennel, dried ground hot peppers and garlic are most commonly used), and dried for three-or-so months and usually not smoked. There are many varieties, and in Italy each region produces its own type.

Where:
Varieties are specific to regions in Italy, Croatia and Spain.

When:
A good replacement for guanciale when unavailable, especially in Spaghetti al Carbonara. Fry with brussel sprouts or creamy polenta on toast, or with goat cheese on a baguette, wrap around leaks and poach, diced in spinach salad with shaved pecorino.

You can look forward to more cured meats, such as coppa, soppressata, lardo and mortadella in the upcoming “Guide to Cured Pork: Part Two”.