Review: The New Charcuterie Cookbook | Punk Domestics

Review: The New Charcuterie Cookbook

For a period of more than a decade, I was nearly completely vegetarian; when I did partake of flesh, it was seafood exclusively. I ate no chicken, pork, or beef during that entire time. The chink in the armor came during my first trip to Italy.

Unlike most lapsed vegetarians, the temptation that pulled me to the dark side was not bacon. It was salame. 

We were standing there, on the cotta floor of a wine cantina in Montepulciano. On the counter was a wooden board with a chub of salame, a few thin slices lay flat next to a rustic blade. "You should try it," said my Roman cousin, "they make it on premises." I eyed the glossy cubes of fat embedded in brick red meat and thought to myself that I had not flown 6,000 miles not to eat it. I gingerly picked up a slice and slid it into my mouth, resting it on my tongue like a eucharist wafer. 

My mouth filled with a complex blend of salt, black pepper, and a deeply savory meat. Fat slicked my palate and lips. There was no turning back. 

Salumi and charcuterie have seen a renaissance in the US in the past few years. It's not uncommon for even small restaurants to have house charcuterie programs; some have even sprung up as their own product lines, like Chris Cosentino's Boccalone. Long-established brands like Columbus are still going strong, and producing high-quality, classic salame. 

Back in 2010, Cathy Barrow of Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen and Kim Foster of The Yummy Mummy unveiled Charcutepalooza, a year-long blogging event wherein people made recipes from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's Charcuterie. The response was bigger than anyone expected. And then I brought a group to Italy to work with a local norcino to break down a 200 kg pig and turn it into salumi

Ruhlman and Polcyn ended up creating another book, Salumi, focused on the Italian traditions, and then folded much of that material back into a new edition of Charcuterie in 2013

Three San Francisco Bay Area chefs rolled out meat-themed books in the last year: Taylor Boetticher's In the Charcuterie, Ryan Farr's Sausage Making and Jeffrey Weiss' Charcuterìa, the Soul of Spain. All are great resources, but all dig deep on the classics. 

And yet, lest you think there's nothing new under the sun, there's still room for innovation. Chef Jamie Bissonnette enters with something a bit different. (Disclosure: The publishers sent me a copy of the book gratis for review.)

Bissonnette is a firebrand, a relatively young chef who has risen the ranks swiftly, winner of the James Beard Best Chef Award, and now at the helm of two restaurants in New York (Toro, Coppa) and one outpost of Toro in Boston. He's a bearded, bespectacled, heavily inked former vegan turned nose-to-tail cook who listens to punk. In other words, he's my kinda guy. 

In The New Charcuterie Cookbook , Bissonnette takes on the classics, like a simple French saucisson sec, but then spins them out with unexpected flavors. He paints with a global palette, mashing up cultures in unexpected ways. Consider his porchetta, perfumed with banana leaf. Mundane chicken wings get confited in fat and glazed with honey and za'atar. Red curry pâté merges the south of France with Southeast Asia. That French saucisson sec takes a trip to East Africa in a variation with Ethiopean spices.

The recipes are approachable, direct and feasible for even the novice home charcutier. He also includes a section on pickled and fermented vegetables on the side. After all, fatty meats need a little something acidic to offset the richness. 

As part of a virtual book tour, some of his recipes are being shared out on blogs: 

Recipes - Techniques - Tools