So, coming up with a plan to show off a bit of what I’ve learned this year, I figured I’d go back to the basics. We started this blog a little more than a year ago (just 2 months before Charcutepalooza took off), and a month into writing the blog I decided to make cassoulet for a family New Year’s Eve party. I was pretty proud of that dish and the prep that it took to pull it all together. It gave me an excuse to try my hand at duck confit, which I had been itching to try, and I don’t really need anyone to twist my arm too hard to get me to make garlic sausages or to cure a slab of bacon! To quote Bourdain on cassoulet: “This is a great, not very difficult dish to make, and it doesn’t take much time — if you spread the work over three days.” That’s been a pretty typical sentiment expressed over the course of the year as folks have taken the time to grind, stuff, pack, emulsify, smoke, bake, cure, and dry whole cuts of meat, all sorts of salumi, pancetta, guanciale, sausages of every kind, and various other salted pig, duck, goose, rabbit, chicken, and cow parts. These charcutepalooza cooks are resourceful, creative, funny, and patient!
As much fun as that cassoulet was to make (and to eat), I didn’t feel like repeating (not for this month’s challenge at least, but I will definitely make that dish again. It’s a crowd pleaser). To come full circle, I decided to return to Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, to the Big Classics section, to make choucroute garnie. I have also been reading Jane Grigson’s Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, and that kind of cemented it. Choucroute it was! Plus, how can you not cap off a year of charcuterie projects with a recipe whose headnote begins,
“Oh, steaming heap of pork! Thy glistening hues of white and gray and pink! The aromatic waft of sauerkraut, redolent of Germans pouring across the border (yet again) into France with their bacon and their sausages! This is not a dish. This is a party!”
Poetic, Tony. Bourdain also mentions that the hardest part about this dish might be sourcing the ingredients, that you could be hard-pressed to find smoked pork loin, high quality sauerkraut, or good salted pork belly in your neck of the woods. HA! Not only can I find those things, I can MAKE them! This dish would also cover the basics of fermentation, curing, drying, brining, smoking, and braising. What better to celebrate a year of meat?
Here was the final tally for Sunday night’s dinner: saucisson sec, garlic dill pickles, sauerkraut, Hank Shaw’s brown country mustard, boudin blanc, smoked pork loin, and a good hunk of of juniper-and-bay-cured and smoked pork belly.
I’m already planning variations for the next time I make this. Smoked ham hocks will go into the pot for sure, then maybe Chicago-style beef hot dogs, or Brian Polcyn’s holiday kielbasa, perhaps a few legs of duck confit or boudin noir, or a stuffed trotter? As with the cassoulet, you realize after you make it that it’s not as fussy as you thought it might be. That once you have the ingredients (having found them online or in some local shop, or if you’ve dried, cured, or smoked them yourself), it’s bound to taste good.
Looking back at a year of our Charcutepalooza Challenge posts, here are some favorites:
- Brown Butter Bourbon Maple Bacon Ice Cream (A variation on Alex and Aki’s brown butter ice cream from Ideas in Food; the addition of candied bacon seemed like a natural progression.)
- Building the Perfect Reuben (From scratch, with corned tongue. It was a whole lot of work for one awesome sandwich.)
- Cold Smoked Fried Chicken (Not actually a Charcutepalooza post, but extra-credit; related because of the cold-smoking technique and homemade rig, which you should totally try.)
- What’s Gonna Work? Teamwork! (Chicken and pork sausages with tomato and basil, with some help in the kitchen from a certain 2 1/2 year old.)
- The Great Return of the Hot Dog (Is there any better way to celebrate the 4th of July than with good friends and homemade hot dogs?)
I enjoyed following along with the many other Charcutepalooza participants this year, to see the creativity and hard work that went into so many different projects. It was great to read about successes and failures in the kitchen, draw inspiration for future dishes, and to learn tips from cooks trying out some of the same things for the first time. What a resource! Many people have already mentioned the online community that developed (through blog comments, Facebook group pages, and Twitter #charcutepalooza chats and banter) as an unexpected and positive outcome of cooking through the challenges, and I certainly echo that sentiment. My Google Reader is overflowing with recently discovered blogs full of great ideas, pictures, and writing. We were happy to cook along at home and to experiment ourselves (pates, ballotines, meat pie, new kinds of sausages, Canadian bacon, and corned tongue, just to mention a few). Thanks for checking out so many of our posts. Cheers!