I Always Take A Meat Sandwich With Me

For this month’s curing challenge, I took some of the knowledge I gained from making chorizo and fennel salami a couple of months ago and applied it to a more ambitious quantity and variety of salumi. Properly equipped, better skilled, and inspired to try a couple of unorthodox flavors, I ended up with about 20 pounds of five different types.

To start with, I got beef middles. Hog middles are great for fresh sausages, but they dry to a skinniness that limits their use; they’re fine for taking on a hike, or supplementing a charcuterie plate, but not so easy to build a big sandwich out of. The beef middles are ideal, making good-sized salami without requiring a huge amount of meat to fill like the Genoa sack I also ordered but haven’t used yet. I also got elastic webbing to help them keep their firmness and shape as they dry and contract.

I also did this work over the course of a few days, fitting in sessions of either grinding or stuffing when I could. It’s far easier to grind one day and stuff the next than it is to try to bang it all out in one marathon. And since I was dealing with two pork butts, it would have been easy to get overwhelmed. The first two were hot soppressata and fennel salami, using recipes modified from Ruhlman/Polcyn’s Charcuterie and Rustic Italian Food by Marc Vetri (which I received as a review copy). I made them pretty much by the books, with a couple departures. The basic technique is simple: cube the meat and fat, then put it in the freezer to chill and partially harden. Toss with all the dry seasonings and grind. Put in the mixer bowl with the wet stuff (wine, brine, syrup) and churn it for a minute or two to develop myosin and get everything thoroughly distributed. Then stuff (or chill overnight and stuff the next day).

I don’t use a powdered bacterial culture for fermentation; I dribble in a bit of kimchi or other lacto-fermented brine and pour in a glug of maple syrup to feed it instead of using refined sugar. I always have brine and syrup on hand, and I prefer them. Vetri’s recipes call for grinding the meat and fat twice, but to my taste that makes for too homogenized a mix. Speaking of the mix, I also learned that cold months are a much better time for grinding and stuffing. It’s much easier to keep everything cold when the kitchen is already cool, and this helps keep the fat from smearing all over the meat and ruining the nice contrast of dark red meat against creamy white fat. No matter what time of the year you do it, freeze the grinder parts, and put the mixer bowl into a bowl of ice water to keep everything as cold as possible.

Another point to consider is that while many recipes call for five pounds of meat and fat, that adds up to a fair amount of salami which is all going to be ready at once unless you stuff different diameter casings. So while I made five pounds each of both of these, it was with an eye toward gifting many of them since they should be fully ready in time for the holidays. The second shoulder I broke up into smaller batches, making two pounds each of my two experiments and then about twice as much chorizo with the rest. This way, if the experiments are good I can make more, and if they suck I didn’t waste too much meat.

I have a friend in Seattle who sent me one of Armandino’s mole salami for my birthday a few years back and it knocked me out. It’s intense: spicy, chocolatey, complex, and utterly addictive. So I thought I’d give something similar a shot. I combined minced dried aji cereza chilis from Peru with cumin, coriander, ancho powder, cocoa powder, cinnamon, marjoram, garlic, the white and pink salts, and lots of black pepper. I also added pumpkin seed oil along with some wine and the brine and syrup while the ground meat was combining in the mixer bowl with the paddle attachment.

The second experiment was a Thai curry-flavored salami, using fresh Thai chilis from the bush I potted and brought inside, lime leaves, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, a bit of five spice, fish sauce, and shredded dried coconut. As with the mole, I guessed with all the amounts, so there’s no guarantee they will turn out well, but I’m hopeful.

My stuffing technique has improved, too. I use a wooden skewer to poke a hole just above the knot, so the air has somewhere to escape through, and I figured out that if you push back gently against the pressure of the meat you can avoid air bubbles almost entirely and get a nice consistent shape. The thicker-skinned beef casings also make for much easier stuffing. It’s a good idea to leave a couple inches of casing outside the knotted string on at least one end; come hanging time the weight of the sausage can cause the skin to slip out of the string if there isn’t enough extra.

I made little tags for each, showing the flavor, the date, and the weight after stuffing so I can determine when they’ve lost about a third of that and thus have dried enough. After stuffing, I put them in a closed container overnight in the warm furnace room where I rise bread dough to give the fermentation a jump start. The next day I webbed and hung them. Wrestling the webbing onto them required a bit of finesse, but I got it done pretty quickly. It really adds that professional “real salumi” look to the result, I must say.

So a few hours of work on two consecutive weekends turned two big local, pastured pork shoulders into a whole lot of fragrant, meaty goodness. It’s an appropriate sign of the times we live in that my wine fridge is increasingly becoming a meat and cheese aging facility. This last picture was taken before I hung the four chorizo, but you get the idea. Between the pungent, garlicky meat and all the camembert, the wine fridge smells pretty insanely good; as I mentioned on Twitter a while back, it smells like Italy, France, and Spain are having hot, meaty sex in there.

One of the smaller soppressatas has lost a third of its weight, and a fennel was getting close, so they seemed like logical choices for trying out right now. To celebrate the glory that is a good salami, I thought that one of my trademark from-scratch sandwiches would be in order. So I baked a miche–my usual sourdough boule made from the local white 00 flour ground with the germ mixed with about 25% rye for flavor–and broke out the cheddar.

I made this back in June, so it’s only five months old instead of the six I was hoping for, but the one I made in May perished in the power outage during the heat wave in July so this is the oldest one I have.

OK, so bread, salami, and cheese are all set. Next up, condiments. I took some black mustard seeds, mustard powder, mustard oil, spruce vinegar, and salt and ground them all together into a coarse paste in the small suribachi. This tool is pure genius for grinding seeds up in short order, and makes me marvel at the near-uselessness of smooth marble mortars. This is some seriously tasty hot mustard, and has awakened in me the urge to make much more, in a variety of flavors. But that will be another post.

For the mayo, I kept it pretty simple, not wanting to distract from all the wealth of flavor accrued over the weeks and months within the meat and cheese: egg yolk, olive and (local, organic) sunflower oils, a bit of the mustard, cider vinegar, and salt. And I cut some arugula from one of the salad beds.

It’s been a while since I was this excited while assembling a sandwich. It was an effort to not try the salami by itself first, but for some reason I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. Normally, I keep the meat and cheese layers modest; I had a deli sandwich a while back with about an inch of salami in it, and it was massive overkill. I think one layer of each is sufficient. But I did go a bit thicker than normal for this one to maximize the experience and celebrate the end of a wait that was much longer than we normally associate with food.

And what an experience. The cheese is not as hard and crumbly as I expected, but that’s due in equal measure to my lack of a proper cheese press and the shorter aging time. It tasted pretty sharp, though, and the creaminess was not a negative per se. The two salamis, still on the tender side, had remarkably rich and vivid flavors, with an especially pronounced tang due to the kimchi brine I think. I can’t wait until the other four flavors are ready.

The thing about that long wait for a payoff that, while immensely satisfying and far superior to store-bought alternatives, it’s a lot of work for a salami sandwich. The solution to this, as with all the other techniques from baking to pickling to cheese making, is to do them regularly, in manageable amounts, so that at any given time you have enough to assemble a meal with your own food. It’s a very different relationship than the one most of us have to what we eat, and it fluctuates depending on the season and what’s mature at any given time. But that’s part of the appeal, and the gratification–sensual and intellectual–of assembling one’s lunch from the array of homemade delicacies is surprisingly powerful.

I’m going to make a point of setting aside a few hours every couple of months to grind and stuff a couple of pounds of meat to hang and cure. There’s no reason ever to run out of this fabulous food, and it’s an ideal medium for indulging my need to always change up the recipes and flavors and try new things. And since making bread, cheese, pickles, and charcuterie are now fully integrated into my regular kitchen routines, it’s safe to say that I’ll never want for great sandwiches, let alone all the other possibilities.

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  1. December 1

    Terrific post. I am particularly admiring the consistency of the salami with only one grind. My next batch will surely use that technique, as well as kimchi brine. I always learn so much from your posts, Peter!

  2. December 1

    I absolutely LOVE the idea of using lactofermented brine in salamis. A bacterial culture wasn’t necessary for my challenge, but I’ve looked into ordering one for future projects and they are kind of pricey. We always have brine available from sauerkraut, pickles, and whatnot. About how much do you use? Or do you just wing it?

  3. Words to live by “It’s far easier to grind one day and stuff the next than it is to try to bang it all out in one marathon”

    that is seriously some sexy verbage….

  4. December 1

    Your second-to-last paragraph is one more of us should live by, and what’s unfortunate is that you have to actually do *enough* of the home-food-making thing for doubt to become belief (both to you and your time-judging critics). Otherwise you just focus on “wow this took a while.” My answer to that is “of course it does, and I couldn’t have come up with a better use of my time,” but sometimes I don’t actually say it out loud (age, alas, has tempered me).

    That said, the elastic in the netting is a thing of genius. When I made a spicy soppressata (Bertolli’s recipe) a couple of years back my non-elasticized netting was really a problem. I kept having to unhang and re-tie it, it wasn’t nearly so pretty…but it was mighty tasty.

  5. Sharon Miro
    December 1

    I would offer up my cat if you could turn him inot slami like that…Lovely!

  6. Murray
    December 1

    How is your curing fridge set up?

  7. Peter
    December 1

    Cathy: They just get too mashed up with two grinds. I like some chew.

    Meredith: I just wing it. There are millions of bacteria in each spoonful, so I figure the maple syrup and good mixing pretty much take care of the rest.

    Jessica: I’m just here to help the ball club.

    El: The steep initial learning curve is the biggest obstacle to widespread adaptation, no doubt.

    Sharon: No guinea pigs?

    Rachel: A very good sandwich. I’ll be having another one tomorrow.

    Murray: It’s just a wine fridge. This time of year, though, I often just hang stuff in the kitchen.

  8. December 1

    Yes, there is more to say. Like: “Best Present EVER!” Wow. Wish my loved ones would get it together. I’m about to embark on some venison experiments. I’m thinking a venison salami is one of them.

  9. December 1

    Ahem. Some of us hand-tied the salami.

  10. December 2

    I inherited a suribachi from my mother, who loved all things Japanese, but I never realized why it was grooved until now. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  11. December 3

    Everything looks beautiful & delicious, Peter. Your food posts involve all my favorite things: research, smarts, taste, wild imagination, and underlying all of it your artist bits. Such a pleasure to read. I particularly like, here, how your light and saturation are so subtle, balanced, and restrained. I aspire to learn how to take such handsome pictures!

  12. Your posts are always so beautiful (and informative) Peter and this one is no exception. What a gorgeous sandwich.

  13. shotgunner
    December 10

    Why do you use twine to bind the end of the casing? Why not simply knot the casing?

  14. Peter
    December 10

    Julia: Just use plenty of pork fat.

    David: I know. An hour of your life you’ll never get back.

    Zoomie: I love mine so much.

    Mosaica: Don’t get me started on most food photography.

    Mardi: It was fabulous. There will be many more in my future.

    Bob: That means a lot coming from you.

    Shotgunner: The string is easier, more secure, and provides for nice loops for hanging.

  15. Richelle
    January 7

    Congratulations on your winning the contest! If you want to prevent the knot from slipping when the sausage cures, just flip the loose end over the knot (towards the sausage) and tie again. I use this method with all my sausages (we harvest one or two Iberican pata negra pigs every winter) and have never had a knot slip off.
    Last winter I made salami and added a bit of bifidus yoghurt as a culture, worked fine but next time I´ll try a bit of sauerkraut brine!

  16. January 9

    Peter.. congratulations on winning the Challenge!

    Like one of the other readers, I’m very interested in learning more about using a lacto fermented brine in salami as opposed to the powder I’ve been using ( at $15 each).

    I’ve had pretty great success with my charcuterie and everyone seems to enjoy it, but I would be very interested in trying out a brine ( I also make kimchi, kraut and other fermented things ).. I think I would just feel weird throwing a few tablespoons of kimchi juice into my salami paste and then fermenting for a few days.

    Congrats again, and thanks for the inspiration!!


    • Peter
      January 9

      Don’t feel weird; it works. I also add some maple syrup (sugar is fine) to give them something to eat. They get nice and sour.

  17. January 12

    Peter.. I’m going to give it a shot .. I just started a new batch of baby bok choi kimchi and when it’s complete I’ll use it in my next salami ( going for an extra spicy pork salami ).

    I’ll put an update in my blog if you’re interested in following (www.portlandcharcuterieproject.blogspot.com ).

    I’m excited to see how it works!!

    Thanks for the inspiration

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