Charcuterie, the art of preserving meat was born out of necessity in the time before refrigeration. Today we embrace it because it just tastes so darn good. Any art that gave us bacon deserves further study. To that end I returned to the French Culinary Institute for a three Saturday class.
It was deja vu all over again walking into the locker room at the French Culinary Institute. I was even found my old locker free and waiting for my use. I quickly donned my chef's uniform and was about to leave when I was besieged by requests for lessons on how to tie the neckerchief. Once my satorial lesson was over, I climbed the stairs back to the kitchen where I spent six months of Saturdays learning the basics of French cuisine. This time, I was going to learn the intricacies of charcuterie. The giant pig laying in front of the class left little doubt on the source of today's protein.
Chef Pascal would be our instructor in all things cured and aged. He has quite the sense of humor. Chef had the class laughing even before roll was taken. As we went around the class introducing ourselves, it soon became apparent that about 2/3 of the class was from NJ. But average that in with a student flying in for the weekend classes from Canada, a woman here for a few months from the Philippines, and one student from Australia and you have quite the geographically diverse class!
Class soon began in earnest with Chef Pascal butchering the 210 pound star of our class, the pig he named Fifi. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, Fifi was reduced to tenderloins, racks, bellies, and other primal cuts of pork. Chef took that carcass apart with such skill and ease that Tony Soprano probably had Chef on speed dial. Chef Pascal then demoed how to turn a pork butt into prosciutto. Since the process takes about a year, we will not get to taste the one he made in class. He did have some others at different stages of their aging, including one that was ready to eat. It certainly was great tasting and I may have to take a trip back in a year to found out how ours came out.
We left the porcine world for a while to make some duck confit. This time we got to join in the fun. We had to make the cure mix and bone out two duck legs. After a short cure they will be cooked in copious amounts of duck fat. They will be kept in the fat as it cools and forms a covering over the duck meat. In the old days this was done for food preservation as it will keep the duck meat for about six months. Now, it is mostly done because it tastes so darn good.
Class was really rolling at a fast pace now. We jumped right in making the cure to make pancetta, Italian bacon. It differs from American bacon in that it is not smoked. These will be ready next week, so I will have to dig up some good recipes to make with it.
Lastly, we made what Chef called Italian salami "Slim Jims". These are just really thin salamis. This was the most involved preparation of the day. Both pork and beef had to be cut into cubes then ground. Spices were mixed into the meat along with some sugars. The sugars were not to make the sausage sweet, it was a snack for the bacteria. Yes, we wanted bacteria in our salami. We would add a culture of a lacto bacillus to our salami and promote its growth. This good bacteria would prevent the growth of bad bacteria. It is sometimes left to chance to have this happen, but Chef doesn't like leaving things to chance.
Stuffing the meat into the casing proved a little challenging. The casings would only fit on one of the stuffing machines, so we all had to wait in line for that one. The act of stuffing it self was not as easy as it seemed and some mishaps did occur. One casing burst with a sound so loud our ears were ringing! Never would I have thought that a little artificial casing would blow up sounding like a gunshot.