I Put The “Cute” In Charcuterie

So this month’s Charcutepalooza process was brining. The day they announced it was the day I finished off a lovely pastrami, and the week before we had eaten the last of a tongue pastrami. So that was bad timing. But it did give me an excuse to make something else.

Various forms of grilled sandwiches with home-cured meat played a big part in getting me through this winter. Versions of the reuben in particular really spoke to me, and I’ve been missing them since the last pastrami ran out. (Here’s an account of my from-scratch reuben, and here’s the post about the recent tongue pastrami). I love Moroccan flavors, and in general I prefer lamb to beef, so I thought I’d make lamb pastrami. It’s logical if you think about it; both the brine and the crust can be easily tweaked towards the Maghreb, and lamb takes smoke and strong spices really well. The Reubenesque aspects of the final sandwich all got similar modifications, and the result was a hell of a sandwich.

The brine was salt, black and pink pepper, cumin, coriander, fennel, rosemary, garlic, and slices of preserved lemon from the jar in the cupboard that’s low enough to mean I have to make more. I boned out a leg of lamb, saving the bone for stock, and put most of the meat into the brine. (The rest might have accidentally ended up as burgers). The meat sat in the brine for four days.

To begin, I made olive rolls: a batch of the sourdough olive bread divided, shaped into oblongs, and topped with rosemary. I made the dough the night before, like I usually do, and let it sit in the laundry room to ferment and rise. The wild starter likes a long ferment. I removed the meat from the brine and rinsed off all the bits and pieces, then rubbed it with a crust that took the standard pepper and coriander and added cumin, fennel, caraway, pepperoncini, mustard, and some 5-spice. Essentially the rub was harissa, the North African hot sauce, but without the oil added to make it into a paste and with dried red peppers making up a smaller proportion of the blend. The meat went in the smoker with a maple wood fire for about an hour and a half until it reached 140˚ inside.

While it was smoking, I made the condiments. I ground more preserved lemon with good mustard to make a smooth paste, and I puréed fresh local mozzarella with homemade goat feta so that the result tasted like feta but melted like mozzarella. And I took out the dwindling jar of the red cabbage-carrot pickle that has been a mainstay of so many hot, meaty sandwiches during these dark months. Once all was assembled, I grilled them in the iron skillet with a little butter under a heavy lid on both sides until flattened, fragrant, and melty. I also made a bunch of fresh-dug carrots into a quick side: sautéed in butter with cumin and 5-spice, then steamed in maple sap until it reduced to coat them. Sap is great for this sort of thing, since it imparts a subtle sweetness that avoids the cloying horror of glazed carrots.

Clearly this was a homely sandwich. Flat slices of bread would have helped with the whole pressed aesthetic (see the Reuben post for hot, melty cheese-on meat action). But holy shit was it good eating. The Moroccan spices, funky feta, bright lemon mustard, and tangy pickles made for a rich and decadent experience. And there’s just something about a hot mess like this when it’s in sandwich form; holding the food with two hands just makes eating more primal. And when it’s so irresistibly pungent with spice and meat and fat, it’s impossible to beat for pure pleasure.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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