Here's the (Cured) Meat
When it comes to charcuterie, what should you be serving in the fall?
Ask anyone who is a fan of charcuterie — cured meats, sausages, terrines, pate and the like — and they’ll tell you they will eat it any day, year round. But do certain flavors or preparations make more sense to think about serving in the fall?
“The nice thing about charcuterie is it’s preserved and put away and you can serve it year round,” said Alex Pitts, executive chef at Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres in Las Vegas. “And it pretty much goes with anything.”
To that end, Pitts said spicy chorizo is a delicious option when it’s colder outside due to its warming qualities. He also recommends wild boar salami, duck prosciutto and venison, which he makes with venison leg, pork fat, aji amarillo, lemon, lime and orange zest. Since Bazaar Meat has a bit of a Spanish slant, Pitt also takes the opportunity to turn people on to more Spanish-style charcuterie.
“Spanish charcuterie gets second billing to Italian,” Pitts said. “Some people have heard of prosciutto, but haven’t heard of or tasted the Spanish versions, like Jamon Serrano and Jamon Iberico de Bellota.” Jamon Iberico de Bellota is particularly wonderful as it comes from pata negra pigs, which eat an all-acorn diet that imparts a nutty flavor to the cured meat when preserved. So for that, you could serve nuts alongside that on a charcuterie plate to really bring out those nutty flavors.
Another thing to consider is introducing warmer fall flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg and juniper berry, according to Michael Trotta, the head butcher at Chicago’s Chop Shop. “You can incorporate those flavors into anything.”
That said, Trotta cautions not to detract from the flavor of the meat. “The more straightforward you are with charcuterie, the better you are,” he added. “With more classical charcuterie, it’s simple flavors like a guanciale with black pepper, juniper and herbs de Provence.”
Ultimately, having a charcuterie program is not only delicious, but it also helps you avoid wasting any product. It lets you increase the longevity of whatever leftover product you have and you can turn it into various cured meats like mortadella or a housemade hot dog, Trotta said.
“The goal of utilizing any purchased item is to use it to its fullest,” he said. “Even though more time is invested, the product isn’t going to waste and it can turn into something better than scrap. Avoid waste and maximize profits.”
Chef Susan Weaver from Mon Ami Gabi agrees. She said that while labor intensive, charcuterie is generally cost effective — and a fun way for guests to graze over a platter of beautiful food, especially when the temperatures dip.
“The best charcuterie items for fall and early winter are the full range,” Weaver said. “It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy the rich in-depth flavors.” Mon Ami Gabi’s board includes chicken liver mousse terrine, country pate and head cheese as well as an imported French sausage called Rosette de Lyon.
Beyond the meat, there’s the board. Sure, you can serve charcuterie alone on a plate and let the meat shine on its own, but adding mustards, fruit pastes or jams, cheese, pickled items, breads and more to a board around the meat makes for a more interesting experience for your diners. So what to use as supporting ingredients?
“Best go-to is mustard,” said Brent Balika, executive chef at Margeaux Brasserie at Chicago’s Waldorf Astoria. “Whole grain, violet, Dijon ... even this walnut mustard we get from Rare Tea Cellars. And include something acidic like an onion jam depending on what the main ingredient is.”
Balancing flavors is key when thinking about building your charcuterie board. For Margeaux Brasserie’s grand opening last summer, Balika served a rabbit pate en croute and capped it with a Gewurztraminer jelly to add brightness and clean up the fatty richness of the pate. It also helps to complement flavors.
“You want cheese — that goes without saying — and some sort of compote or jam for the cheeses,” Trotta added. “Nuts candied or raw will complement notes within the meat.”
And it’s really all about creating balance and offering a fantastic experience to your diners.