While David Lebovitz considers molecular gastronomy and The Alinea Cookbook in a long and thoughtful post today (he approaches with great skepticism, as he's a traditionalist at heart, and leaves with appreciation having come back round to where he'd begun but by a whole new route), I would like to consider some of the oldest molecular gastronomical magic known to man. Combining ground pork and salt and seasonings, introducing to it some microscopic creatures, and waiting for it to dry a little, to achieve a tangy flavorful sausage that has never gone above room temperature.
In December, a few of us went in on a pig. One of the pleasures of hand-raised hog is the quality of its meat when dry-cured. I've dry-cured grocery store pork and it's terrible. Grocery store pork is, typically, uniformly bad, but the dry-curing process magnifies it.
Of the many things we did with the hog was use shoulder meat and back fat to make soppressata and I also tested a product not yet available when Charcuterie came out: a mold culture from butcher-packer.com. Another first was the environment. Among the most asked charcuterie questions I get is "What can I dry-cure meat in?" I bought a $90 dorm-room sized fridge from Sears specifically to test this method. Both the mold and the fridge worked perfectly. I was able to set the fridge to it's warmest setting and it stayed at around 60 degrees. I kept a pan of salt water in it for additional moisture. I spooned the dissolved mold culture over the sausage and it developed a beautiful coating of mold, like a powdered donut. (The reason you want this, is that that the good mold protects the sausage from growing bad mold.) I recommend both products, though i look forward to more tests.
Here's the recipe for a standard soppressata, adapted from Charcuterie. The DQ Cure #2 (sodium nitrate) is critical in that it prevents the growth of botulism within the sausage. I used a beef middle, also from butcher packer, but you can use hog casings if you wish. I added a lot of coarsley chopped black pepper to the one above and did half the following recipe. It dried in about 4 weeks to a perfect, not overly chewy consistency, with a tangy, garlicky, peppery deliciousness.
1 pound/500 grams farm-raised pork fat, diced
4 pounds/2 kilogram farm-raised boneless pork shoulder, diced
1.5 ounces/40 grams kosher salt (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon/7 grams DQ Curing Salt #2
1/4 to 1/2 package live starter culture Bactoferm
1/4 cup/60 milliliters distilled water
3 tablespoon/30 grams dextrose (or sugar)
1 teaspoon/6 grams minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon/2 grams red pepper flakes
1/4 cup/60 milliliters Pinot Bianco, or comparable dry white wine
hog casing or beef middles for stuffing
mold culture if using (linked above)
Be sure the meat is very, very cold. The fat can even be partially frozen. Grind it through a large die into the bowl of an electric mixer set in ice.
Dissolve the Bactoferm in the water and add it, and the remaining ingredients, to the meat. Using the paddle attachment, mix on the lowest speed until seasonings are thoroughly distributed, being careful to avoid warming the fat, one to two minutes.
Stuff tightly into casings. Weigh your sausage and record this weight. Hang at room temperature for 12 hours to “incubate” the bacteria; the beneficial bacteria will grow and produce more lactic acid in warmer temperatures.
Move to whatever drying environment you're using. If using a mold culture, follow the instructions introducing it to your soppressata now. Ideally, this sauasage should hang at 60 degrees F./15 degrees C. with 60%-70% humidity. The sausage is "done" when it's lost 30 percent of its weight, which usually takes between 3 and 4 weeks. When it's lost that weight, slice thinly to serve. To store it, wrap it in parchment and refrigerate.