Final Charcutepalooza Show-Down

Summer Sausage, Pork Belly Confit and Pate, oh my!  This is it — the very last Charcutepalooza challenge — “showing off,” in which we were tasked with putting the skills we’ve learned over the past year to work in a “celebration of all things charcuterie.”  It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since we tied raw duck breasts to the handle of the shop-vac in our garage in order to transform them into prosciutto, and that initial challenge would not be the only time I questioned what the heck we had gotten ourselves into this year.  To be honest, I really didn’t think we would complete all 12 challenges — and there were months that I didn’t want to finish (Seafood Mousseline:  you and I will never be friends) — but sticking with it and sharing our experiences here has given us a sense of accomplishment each month, especially during this year in which we have struggled with a few other, life-related challenges.  As in life, there were a few disappointments along the journey (the duck prosciutto was not my favorite and I believe country pate is a taste I have yet to acquire), but also a couple of notable triumphs:  we crave duck confit like almost nothing else we’ve ever cooked, and homemade bratwurst beats the pants off the store-bought variety.  In addition to teaching us charcuterie techniques, this experience has also given us a greater appreciation for the satisfaction of making things from scratch at home (as well as a variety of new cooking toys and a freezer full of various home-cured meats to last well into the next year.)  More than anything else, participating in Charcutepalooza has forced us out of our comfort zone in the kitchen — both in terms of cooking and eating — and we will always be thankful to Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy for founding Charcutepalooza and encouraging culinary creativity.  We’ve enjoyed this “year of meat” and are a little sad to see it come to an end.

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Home-Cured Salami

Who doesn’t love salami?  Sliced thinly on a sandwich with good bread, or chunked on a delicious cheese plate, it’s one of our favorite charcuterie items.  We even had it on a pizza once when we were visiting Rome.  While many claim to dislike the fatty, salty salume, we’re not afraid to admit that salt with fat is among our most-preferred food combinations, and we especially enjoy this pairing in salami, which we pretty much always have in the fridge.  So when Mrs. Wheelbarrow declared that November’s Charcutepalooza challenge was curing, which involves a recap of two prior challenges — grinding and stuffing — with the addition of a whole new endeavor — fermenting — there was never any doubt in our minds that we would make salami.  Dan was so excited about this new challenge that he convinced me to buy a wine fridge to use as a curing chamber (more on that later.)  I became less excited (and more than a little apprehensive) when I learned that salami is essentially ground raw pork, seasoned with spices and beneficial bacteria, then hung in a cool and humid environment for a few weeks to cure.  No, you did not miss the step where the raw pork is cooked — it isn’t.  As much as I love salami, I never really stopped to think about how it is made, or even really what it is, when eating it.  We’ve learned a lot from the Charcutepalooza challenges this year, and a greater appreciation for the origins of food and the process of getting it to the table is chief among our new-found charcuterie skill set.  As always, we owe a special shout-out to the Charcutepalooza founders, Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy for creating this “year of meat” and getting us to try new things in the kitchen each month.  Thanks to you guys, we may never eat store-bought salami again!

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Duck Confit

Time for another Charcutepalooza challenge.  This month’s challenge was “stretching” — as in branching out in the kitchen, extending the uses of the meat and lengthening the time that the food can be safely cooked and eaten.  The Apprentice challenge was rillettes or confit, while the Charcutiere test was galantine or roulade.  Our usual starting point for Charcutepalooza each month is to read Mrs. Wheelbarrow‘s always entertaining and instructive post detailing the challenge — primarily so we can figure out what a lot of these charcuterie terms that we’ve never heard of mean, then to decide which technique we want to try.  This month, however, Dan knew right away that he wanted to make duck confit, after having read about it and tasted it in restaurants on occasion.  I cannot adequately express my relief that we were not going to attempt the galantine, which The Yummy Mummy eloquently (and terrifyingly) explains:  “requires you to flay the skin off the chicken – Spanish inquisition style – in one single piece, debone the whole chicken, make pate out of the forcemeat, fold the forcemeat over the partially-grilled breasts so they are a snug surprise in the middle of the roll, and force all of it back inside the skin – that you just took off the chicken – and poach it in broth.”  Wait, what?  Is this cooking, or a special episode of American Horror Story?!?  Fortunately, duck confit turned out to be one of the easiest — and by far most delicious — Charcutepalooza challenges to date.  It was so easy that we actually felt a little like we were cheating.  And it was so delectable that we were almost mad at ourselves for never having made it before.  (And so good that I actually used the word “delectable.”)  Many thanks to Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy for creating Charcutepalooza and introducing us to this amazing delicacy that we can (and will!) so easily make at home.

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Pate de Campagne (Country Pate)

When we found out that this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was paté, we were more than a little intimidated.  Paté is not something we’re familiar with at all, not having ever eaten it (except maybe a random taste from a cheese plate, just to be polite and sample everything) and certainly never having cooked it.  But the whole point of undertaking these challenges is for us to cook, and eat, outside our comfort zone.  And, in a weird way, we felt like we might disappoint the Charcutepalooza founders Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy if we skipped it.  Sort of like disappointing your favorite teacher in school.  So we decided to give it a shot, and we’re glad we did!  The paté was good, and most importantly, did not dry out.  That’s the challenging part of this month’s endeavor — packing the meat and other ingredients in the terrine so that there aren’t any air pockets to dry out your end result.  We’re proud to say that we successfully made paté, in addition to all the other charcuterie challenges we have accomplished.  We may not have always liked the end result (I’m looking at you, Seafood Mousseline), but we have really enjoyed the Charcutepalooza process and appreciate all the techniques we have learned.  One thing we discovered is that paté is actually pretty easy to make, and with endless possibilities of ingredient and flavor combinations, we’ll definitely make it again sometime.

To prepare for our first foray into paté-making, we bought some at Central Market so we could see how it’s “supposed” to taste. Plus, Dan is a bit of a scientist at heart and wanted a “control sample” against which we could measure our own rendition. Turns out the control sample is supposed to taste like the worst liver you’ve ever tasted. I could barely swallow the one bite I was able to take. Luckily, not all patés are alike, and when we searched Ruhlman’s charcuterie book and saw a pate recipe with the introduction that “liver is a seasoning device here rather than the dominant flavor,” we knew we found a winner.

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Seafood Mousseline

It’s that time again, when we document our latest foray into the world of charcuterie.  This month’s challenge is “binding,” which involves using egg whites, gelatin or natural gel from bone stock to adhere ingredients together in a mold.  The technique is used to make pâtés and terrines, which essentially are loaves of ground up or pureed meat cooked in a mold.  Once again, this is not something we ever thought we would find ourselves making at home.  But the satisfaction of learning new cooking techniques has been one of the best things about the Charcutepalooza experience.  Thanks as always to the fearless leaders of Charcutepalooza, Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy, and an extra special thank you for offering a less sqeamish option for this month’s endeavor — seafood mousseline for the Apprentice level instead of “headcheese, feet or trotters” for the Charcutiere Challenge.  As satisfying as it has been to take on these endeavors and cook outside our comfort zone, I really don’t think I could have handled a pig’s head or feet being cooked in my kitchen.  And I really didn’t want to have to try tasting it.  But that’s just me — I have great respect and admiration for those participants who took on the Charcutiere Challenge — well done!

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Homemade Bratwurst

This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge is blending, which involves emulsification of ground meat to create a smooth texture.  From my perspective, blending means an even bigger raw meat horror show than last month’s sausage.  For blending, the esteemed Charcutepalooza founders Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy challenged us to make bratwurst or weisswurst for the Apprentice level, and hot dogs or mortadella for the Charcutiere level.  We chose bratwurst.  We thought about making weisswurst, but I was intimidated by descriptions of the traditional way of eating it (slicing open the casing or sucking the meat out of the casing), and wasn’t sure I would like the taste of the weisswurst.  I already know I like bratwurst.  We also like hot dogs (who doesn’t?), but the smaller casings we ordered did not arrive in time to make the hot dogs for this challenge.  We will make them at some point this summer — can’t let those intestines go to waste — and maybe post some photos from the experience.  If you’re lucky.  Or unlucky, depending on how much you enjoy seeing pictures of raw meat.  Speaking of which, prepare yourself for some pretty gnarly shots of uncooked animal flesh ahead.  While not the prettiest process, this resulting bratwurst is by far our favorite tasting Charcutepalooza effort to date.

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Homemade Chicken and Green Chile Sausage

WARNING:  Some of what you’re about to see gives credence to the saying that you shouldn’t watch sausages being made, especially if you like sausage. According to Wikiquote, the earliest iteration of this saying is the quote, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made,” attributed to American poet John Godfrey Saxe in 1869. I’m no poet, but I have seen the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon “How a Bill Becomes a Law” several times, and now that I have seen sausage being made — well, I have to agree with Mr. Saxe.  Although we appreciate and enjoy the Charcutepalooza challenges, this month’s trial — stuffing sausages — was challenging indeed (at least to me, in terms of the gross-ness factor.)  You have been warned.

As usual, we thank Charcutepalooza organizers Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy for pushing us (me) outside our cooking comfort zone (and kitchen cleanliness zone) and encouraging us to experiment with new culinary techniques.  This month, we felt especially inspired and quite literally encouraged, after attending their meat grinding and sausage making demo at the BlogHer Food ’11 conference.  Along with Sean from Punk Domestics, they put on a wonderful demonstration and made some excellent chorizo, breakfast sausage and Italian sausage, all while entertaining the audience and making charcuterie look easy and fun!  We thoroughly enjoyed it and attempted to channel their enthusiasm and expertise when making our own sausages this month.
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Homemade Chorizo

Another month has gone by and that means a new Charcutepalooza post.  This month’s challenge is grinding — more specifically, Breakfast Sausage patties, Merguez or Mexican Chorizo.  We decided to make Chorizo because we have an excellent black bean soup recipe that calls for Chorizo.  As a bonus, we also decided to grind our own meat for a bolognese sauce.  Of the Charcutepalooza challenges so far, this one was relatively easy (the KitchenAid attachment does most of the work), but also one of the furthest from our comfort zones.  Handling raw meat is not something to be taken lightly.  As always, we thank Charcutepalooza organizers Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy for inspiring us to embark on new and interesting endeavors in the kitchen.

I’ll just go ahead say what some of you (and you know who you are) are probably thinking — a post about meat grinding obviously has great potential for jokes and innuendo of the “that’s what she said” variety.  But I’m going to keep it clean, so feel free to insert your own (See? It already started.)

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Canadian Bacon

Who doesn’t love Canada, our neighbor to the North, eh?  After skiing a few times at Banff, we think that there are very few places on earth more beautiful than the Canadian Rockies.  Canadians are, as a rule, truly nice people, and Canada has given us such gifts as the band Rush, Michael J. Fox, Tim Hortons coffee and doughnuts, hockey and Niagara Falls — just to name a few.  So when we found out that this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was going to be hot-smoked Canadian bacon, we were understandably excited.  Thanks as always to Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy, the organizers of Charcutepalooza, for the inspiration (and excuse justification for procuring a new cooking toy.)

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Corned Beef

Homemade corned beef.  Three months ago that may have been an outlandish idea, but after tackling duck breast prosciutto and our own bacon, corned beef really didn’t seem so intimidating.  As we have mentioned, we are participating in Charcutepalooza, which is a year- long monthly effort to try different charcuterie challenges, organized by the amazing Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy.  This month’s challenge was brining, and we decided to tackle corned beef.  I unfortunately do not have lifelong memories to share of “Mom’s corned beef” —  I grew up in a household of German ancestry in Central Pennsylvania, and corned beef was never on the menu.  It wasn’t until I moved to Pittsburgh for law school that I encountered my first Proper Deli, and there, my first Real Corned Beef.  I love it, but I have become a complete and utter snob for corned beef and have had a tough time finding good corned beef since I moved to Dallas.  Could homemade corned beef be the solution?  (**spoiler alert**  YES!)

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