Disclosure: I received a .pdf copy of Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain to review. Any links to purchase the book are affiliate links. This will not affect your purchase price.
To my mind, single subject cookbooks can serve two purposes. The first is to provide a menu of variations on a theme, rather like Bubba’s litany of shrimp: Shrimp Gumbo, Shrimp Creole, Barbecued Shrimp… These kind of cookbooks are great when you need an idea for using an ingredient in a different way or are tired of cooking green beans with button mushrooms and almonds every time you make them. The other purpose of a single subject cookbook is to present a master class on a subject. After reading this type of book from cover to cover, the reader will have learned almost everything there is to know about the subject. The vocabulary, the methods and techniques, the science, the formulas.
Guess which kind of book Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain is?
Jeffrey Weiss is obviously in love with Spain* in general and with Spanish charcuterie in particular. Since it is almost impossible to find imported Spanish charcuterie in the US, Weiss wants to make sure that we can make it ourselves. Thanks, Jeffrey Weiss.
Not only does he give us a lesson on the history of Spain, but he goes into great detail about the pigs of Spain, the famed Ibérico pigs and other lesser-known (in the US anyway) types: how they live, what they eat, an in-depth look at Spanish butchery practices and how they differ from US butchery practices, what type of preparations work best for the different kinds of pigs. He thoroughly teaches us all about the science of making charcuterie, including the correct knots to tie off our sausages, and the magic ingredients: salt, meat, love and time.
Weiss also invites us to take an unflinching look at the slaughter and preparation of the pigs. Not for the squeamish, it’s a stark, bloody and unsettling reminder that we Americans are very isolated from the source of our food. Before we eat a hamburger, a pork chop, or our Thanksgiving turkey, a living animal has to bleed and die. It is important that we know and honor that sacrifice.
Just as a baker uses baker’s percentages for calculating bread formulas, there is also a charcutier’s percentage that specifies the percentage of cure (salt, brine, etc) and spices as well as lean meat and fat. As I was reading, I thought, “Hey, that’s like baker’s percentages,” and then he mentioned it himself. I felt very smart, if only for a moment. In this way, charcuterie is more akin to the science of baking than it is to the gun-slinging looseness that can happen “on the hot side.” Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to it, because it is so exacting.
Even so, I have no plans to become a butcher or an artisan sausage maker. I told myself this as I trimmed bits of meat off of vertebrae the other day. I told myself this again as I tried to grind meat without having put the actual blade on the grinder. I did not see this missing piece of the grinder until I was packing it up the next day to take back to our neighbors. I ended up mincing up the meat in the food processor. I know this does not lend the same texture, but at that point, I had had it with the grinder. Still, I think it turned out rather nicely.
Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain is a fascinating book. It is not a beginner’s book by any stretch, but it is definitely an interesting, engaging and educational read, and the chorizo that I chose to make was absolutely delicious, grinder woe notwithstanding. Of course, since the cuts in Spain and the US are different, I could not find the exact types of meat called for–jowl, collar and belly–but I made do with pork belly and the trim from neck bones that I found at one of the local Asian groceries here. The recipe printed here is taken from the book, word for word and is printed with permission (see “Author” section below).
- per 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of the following blend of meats, cut into large cubes: 40% aguja (pork collar), 40% panceta (pork belly), and 20% papada (pork jowl)................. 100%9
- ¾ ounce (20g) whole cloves garlic, peeled and destemmed ..............................2%
- 1 ounce (25 g) kosher salt .............. 2.5%
- ¼ cup (50 mL) dry white wine, such as a Verdejo, chilled
- ¼ cup (50 mL) water, chilled
- 1/3 ounce (10 g) pimentón dulce ............ 1%
- 1/3 ounce (10 g) pimentón picante ......... 1%
- 1/8 ounce (2 g) dried oregano .............. .2%
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) extra virgin olive oil, for frying, divided
- 2 feet (60 cm) 1¼–1½-inch (32–36-mm) hog casings, soaked, or more as needed
- Caul fat , as needed
Place the aguja, panceta, and papada meats and grinder parts in the freezer for 30 minutes to par-freeze before attempting to grind.
Using a mortar and pestle, crush together the garlic and salt to form an ajosal. If desired, you can finish the ajosal in a food processor fitted with the “S” blade.
In a mixing bowl, combine the meats and ajosal. Toss together and set aside as you set up the grinder.
Fill a large bowl with ice, and place a smaller bowl inside the ice-filled bowl. Grind the meat mixture once through a medium-coarse (Ç inch [9.5 mm]) die into the smaller bowl. Be careful: The meat mixture is wet, so it may squirt and pop out of the grinder.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the wine, water, pimentones, and oregano, making a slurry. Keep the bowl containing the slurry chilled until ready to use.
Place the ground meats in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or you can just mix in a mixing bowl with a sturdy spoon).
Begin mixing on low speed. As the mixer runs, pour the wine slurry into the bowl in a steady stream.
Continue mixing on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until the wine slurry has been fully incorporated into the mixture, a white residue forms on the sides of the bowl, iooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooand the mixture firms up.
Place the bowl containing the ground meat mixture in the refrigerator to keep it cold until you are ready to stuff the sausage into casings.
To make a prueba (small "tester sausage"), in a small skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the oil. Place a small piece of the meat mixture in the skillet and fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
If stuffing: Stuff the mixture into the casings and tie into 12-inch (30-cm) loops or 6-inch (15-cm) links.
Using a sterile pin or sausage pricker, prick each sausage several times. Place in the refrigerator to ferment overnight. (See Notes.)
If not stuffing: Form the mixture into 8-ounce (226-g) patties. Wrap in plastic wrap or caul fat, if using.
Place in the refrigerator to ferment overnight. (See Notes.)
If stuffing: If you have stuffed the sausages into links or loops, warm the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium–high heat and fry for 8 to 10 minutes, until they register an internal temperature of 150°F (65°C). You can also oven roast or grill the sausages at 350°F (180°C) for 20 to 25 minutes, until they reach the same internal temperature.
If not stuffing: Warm the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium–high heat and fry the sausage patties for 8 to 10 minutes, until they register an internal temperature of 150°F (65°C).
Remove the sausages from the heat and serve.
You can ferment the sausages either before or after stuffing. It’s really a matter of preference, since the meat firms up during the fermentation process and makes stuffing a little easier. On the other hand, it might be more efficient for you to make and stuff the sausages all in 1 day.
I used to believe that, in order to make something amazing, you needed a very long ingredient list. Now I know that sometimes having a long ingredient list can muddy the waters and allow poor technique to hide behind a crazy wall of flavor.
This chorizo has a minimal number of ingredients–meat, salt, flavorings, liquid–but boy does it pack one flavorful punch. Rather than cooking the sausage patties as outlined in the recipe, we turned ours into hash. I cooked up the chorizo along with diced potato, black beans and kale and served it with eggs fried in some of the chorizo oil that cooked off while browning the sausage. I’ll show you how I did it.
Now let me tell you:
- 1 pound fresh chorizo , roughly half the recipe from Jeffrey Weiss (homemade or store-bought)
- 3 small Russet potatoes (or use a mix of Russets and sweet potatoes), scrubbed and diced
- 1 can black beans , rinsed and drained
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1/4 cup dry white wine (the kind you used to make the chorizo, ideally)
- 2 teaspoons each sweet and hot paprika (both of mine were of the smoked variety)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper , to taste
- a few handfuls of washed kale or other greens , cut or torn into pieces
- 1-2 eggs per diner , fried to your liking in leftover chorizo oil
In a large, heavy skillet (I used a 12" cast iron number) cook the chorizo patties over medium heat, breaking it up well with a spatula or wooden spoon, until cooked and lightly browned. If you are using fresh chorizo from the store, remove it from its casings and carry on.
Spoon off all but a tablespoon or so of the bright red chorizo oil and reserve it.
Add the diced potatoes, beans, broth, wine and seasonings and bring to a boil.
Add in the kale and drop the heat way down.
Cover, and let the hash cook for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through and the kale has cooked down, stirring occasionally to make sure all the potatoes spend some time submerged.
Take off the cover and bring the heat back up to medium to let most of the juices cook off.
While this is happening, heat another heavy skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of the reserved chorizo oil and let it get hot.
Fry as many eggs as you want to the doneness you want. You will probably only need minimal salt and pepper.
You can either put the eggs right on top of the hash or serve them along side.
Easy to make and full of flavor, The Beloved and I enjoyed this meal immensely, and I think you will too.
*Read Jeffrey’s blog chronicling his time in Spain here on Cooking in Spain.