That 7.8 earthquake in the Caribbean you might have heard about felt like a 3 here in Chetumal. Quite a bit of shaking, the dogs here and outside were not at all happy, and the trembling lasted for a good 10-15 seconds. The earthquake trembling that is, the dogs carried on for a while after. All kinds of reports started coming in of the bay water receding preparatory to a tidal wave/tsunami, roads buckling, buildings damaged... None of it was true but the social media sites lit up. It was an unusually low tide but certainly not a sucking out of water from the bay. I read a report that an offshore buoy recorded a tidal wave of 1.2 inches. To me, that's within the margin of error for offshore buoys.
Ol' Red is going to be replaced. By what and exactly when, I don't know but it will be very soon as I've given up trying to keep him alive. This also means a planned major trip is off the calendar for this year to be made up of more frequent albeit shorter trips around the Yucatan. Maybe in a sporty Beamer, eh? Bwahahaha...not likely.
Returning to our regular programming...
The Sausage biz is ramping up quickly and still just by word of mouth. Breakfast and Spicy Italian Sausages are the big sellers but some of the specialty sausages are doing well also but we're going to cut back on making a number of items, relegating them to special orders only. Just makes good business sense. In a new twist, we're going to offer a monthly special. We'll advertise a week ahead to various groups and all our customers to gauge interest, then proceed accordingly. It's still a bit early to advertise February's special but I'm pretty sure already I know what it will be. Stay tuned!
Along with the increase in customers is an increase in questions. Hey, I'm not advertising and I'm not a store so that does create its own unique set of problems. I'll use this forum to share a piece of charcuterie wisdom and, over time, develop a notebook of information I can make available to customers and interested parties.
So what are we offering now? Here's the list:
Breakfast Sausage (only in 500gr packages of meat until I can source those skinny sheep intestines for stuffing)
Spicy and Sweet Italian
But as I wrote above, I'll probably stick with the Breakfast, the two Italians, the Pork Merguez and maybe the Habanero and Jalapeno (people like the spicy stuff) then relegate the rest to special orders.
So, education time!
Let's start with the word "charcuterie". Charcuterie is a French term combining 'char' (meat) and cuit (cooked) and covers the gamut of products made using primarily, but not always, pork. From pickled pig's feet to a Head Cheese, hams, salami, sausages, rillettes, and confit - it's all charcuterie. The 1961 edition of Larousse Gastronomique defines it as: "The art of preparing various meats, in particular pork, in order to present them in the most diverse ways." There you go - it's more than just sausages.
There are two main categories of charcuterie: forcemeats and salt-cured (or brined) meats.
Forcemeat is a specific mixture of meat and fat. "The flavor's in the fat" they say so, without going overboard, fat makes up a certain percentage of forcemeat. It's lean meat combined with the appropriate quantity of fat into an emulsion. Now I'll lean on Wikipedia...
"In US usage, there are four basic styles of forcemeat. Straight forcemeats are produced by progressively grinding equal parts pork and pork fat with a third dominant meat which can be pork or another meat. The proteins are cubed and then seasoned, cured, rested, ground and then placed into desired vessel. Country-style forcemeats are a combination of pork, pork fat, often with the addition of pork liver and garnish ingredients. The finished product has a coarse texture. The third style is gratin which has a portion of the main protein browned; the French term gratin connotes a "grated" product that is browned. The final style is mousseline, which are very light in texture using lean cuts of meat usually from veal, poultry, fish, or shellfish. The resulting texture comes from the addition of eggs and cream to this forcemeat." Thanks, Wiki.
Think of a forcemeat as an emulsion. Just as oil and eggs can be combined to make mayonnaise (a stable emulsion), so too can meat and fat. However, done improperly, just as a mayonnaise can separate and fail, so too can forcemeat resulting in a pan of melted fat and a dry, chewy sausage or terrine. I try to avoid failure.
Salt is a huge part of charcuterie and is the only rock we eat and cannot live without. Salt serves two fundamental purposes: preservation and flavoring/flavor enhancement. Sausages, for example, can have anywhere from 1-3% salt depending how the type. For my sausages, I generally use between 1.4 and 1.8% salt by weight of the meat (including fat). One can always sprinkle a bit of salt after the fact but it's near impossible to remove once it's in the pot. I lean toward the conservative side - somewhat a departure from the origins of many recipes that date back to the Romans. However, reverting to the origins of sausage-making, my sausages tend toward the lean at around 25-30% fat so the flavor of the meat comes through and a heavy dose of salt isn't required.
Enough of the lecture for today. How about a recipe, you ask? Something right tasty and filling on a cold winter day.
2 slices of fresh pork belly (or use lardons if you have it)
4 Toulouse sausages
500g of white beans
Soak white beans in water for 12 hours before cooking (or use canned beans)
In a cast iron casserole, brown pork belly and minced onion until slightly colored. Add sliced carrot, drain the beans, then pour into the casserole. Season with black pepper and thyme to taste. No salt yet!
Add water (and juice from canned beans) to just barely cover all and simmer over low heat until beans are very tender. Brown sausages and add to beans. Simmer for 15 minutes more. Add salt and pepper as necessary. Bon appetit!
P.S. A touch of tomato puree stirred in during the simmer never hurt this dish!