How to Prepare Charcuterie

Baby got back...fat - Chef School Week 15


Back fat. I don’t want it on me, I don’t want it in my food. Unfortunately, this week we didn’t have much choice. We were learning about charcuterie, or prepared and cooked meats primarily from swine, including sausage, pate and terrines. What makes all these dishes taste the way they do? Back fat- specifically from pigs. 

To be fair, charcuterie also includes smoked and cured fish and meats. There’s lots of salt and seasonings in all of these dishes. This is because the technique of charcuterie is quite old- ancient actually, when it was used for preservation. They had no refrigeration, so they used salt instead.

Pâtés and Terrines are almost the same thing. Both include various types of liver, fat, spices and meat in some form or other. These are put together and prepared by grinding them all together to form an emulsion. This end result is called Forcemeat. Pates and Terrines are meat specialties of charcuterie and include “loaves,” like head cheese and olive loaf. Head cheese is made from flesh from the head of the pig and the gelatin that’s left from the cooking process. 
There are four different kinds of forcemeat:

1-Mousseline Style: This is when delicate meats like salmon or chicken are combined with cream and eggs.

2-Straight: This is when lean meats are ground together with fatback.

3-Country Style: A courser texture usually containing liver.

4-Gratin: A portion of the meat is seared and cooled before being ground.

When making any kind of charcuterie, you have to make sure that everything from utensils to food is clean and well chilled. This ensures that everything mixes together well. Tonight, we concentrated on making sausage meat, with one exception- smoked trout. This turned out to be my favorite thing as I don’t like sausage. You’ll see the recipe for that later.

Sausages are forcemeat stuffed into casings. They also come in patties and loose. The casings can be from lamb, hog (the classic-sized sausage) and beef (big sausages, like mortadella). Casings hold the sausage meat together and prevent air and bacteria from entering.

There are a few different ways to buy or make sausage. Trust me, when you see what a pain in the neck (or back) it is to make, you’ll just buy them.

Fresh-These are not smoked, cured or cooked. You would do that yourself.

Uncooked/Smoked-These are dried and uncooked, like the traditional Andouille. Smoking can be hot or cold. Hot just means it is over 200 degrees and involves smoke that coats the food and flavors it. It also is a bacterial deterrent.

Cooked/Not Smoked-These are usually steamed, like Liverwurst and Mortadella.

Cooked/Smoked-You know these. Hot dogs and Kielbasa are examples.

Dried-You can either get these fully- or semi-dried. Examples are salami and Spanish chorizo.

There are certain rules needed to make your own sausages. The ingredients must be chilled to less than 40 degrees for safety and sanitation. Sausage meats are handled a lot, so chilling helps prevent bacterial infection. Fat at this temperature stays fully formed and won’t get greasy or ruin the texture of the finished product. You can chill the equipment, too.

The cured meats of charcuterie include smoked oysters, fish, ham, prosciutto and jambon. Most of these are brined before they’re smoked.

Cathy and I were put together this week to make a white sausage. It included chicken with the pork butt and back fat, along with cream coriander, nutmeg and cloves. I had the pleasure of cutting the fat from the back. (Sarcastic much?)

I’ve never seen back fat, no less handled it. Honestly, it was all I could do not to run screaming from the classroom! It comes in a long, wide slice and I had to peel the skin away from the solid mass of fat. Ick. I have a photo of me and my friend, Mario, working hard on this very task. Okay, I’m laughing, but I was crying on the inside.

I’m not going to share this recipe with you. I’m choosing to give you the smoked trout recipe instead. You can buy a small smoker at Bed Bath & Beyond or any good kitchen store. This, although salty, tasted light and fresh and just like Sunday mornings in my house.

Smoked Trout


2 whole trout-gutted and scaled
8 C cold water
1 ½ C kosher salt

Hardwood sawdust (or wood chips)

Rinse the trout. Combine the cold water and the salt. Stir to dissolve, immerse the trout in the brine. Allow to soak about 1 hour. Remove from brine. Place on rack and allow to dry. Meanwhile, prepare the smoke. Place trout in smoker. The temperature should be approximately 180 degrees. Smoke for 30 minutes. Cool. The fish will keep stored in the refrigerator four days.

Smoke Trout with Scrambled Eggs and Toast


1 smoked trout
4 large eggs
Salt and pepper
2 T chopped chives
4 slices baguette
1 T butter
2 T crème fraîche

Whisk together the eggs, salt and pepper. Make baguette toast and butter them. Scramble the eggs. Serve warm with toast, chives, trout and crème fraîche.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Lamebear
    701439 22

    Hi --

    Re Rona Lewis's rant about fat in her article on how to prepare charcuterie, here's something to chew on (sorry):


    Everything we've been indoctrinated with on this subject is wrong. The Japanese study below actually showed an inverse relationship between fat intake & various cardiovascular disorders commonly attributed to fat consumption. (i.e., those whose saturated fat consumption was lowest actually had a greater incidence of cardiovascular diseases & strokes.) These are meta-studies, the most reliable of all statistical analyses (see footnote below).

    The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
    The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

    © 2010 American Society for Nutrition

    Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease
    Background: A reduction in dietary saturated fat has generally been thought to improve cardiovascular health.
    Objective: The objective of this meta-analysis was to summarize the evidence related to the association of dietary saturated fat with risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and cardiovascular disease (CVD; CHD inclusive of stroke) in prospective epidemiologic studies.
    Design: Twenty-one studies identified by searching MEDLINE and EMBASE databases and secondary referencing qualified for inclusion in this study. A random-effects model was used to derive composite relative risk estimates for CHD, stroke, and CVD.
    Results: During 5-23 y of follow-up of 347,747 subjects, 11,006 developed CHD or stroke. Intake of saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of CHD, stroke, or CVD. The pooled relative risk estimates that compared extreme quantiles of saturated fat intake were 1.07 (95% CI: 0.96, 1.19; P = 0.22) for CHD, 0.81 (95% CI: 0.62, 1.05; P = 0.11) for stroke, and 1.00 (95% CI: 0.89, 1.11; P = 0.95) for CVD. Consideration of age, sex, and study quality did not change the results.
    Conclusions: A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD. More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat.


    © 2010 American Society for Nutrition

    Dietary intake of saturated fatty acids and mortality from cardiovascular disease in Japanese: the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study for Evaluation of Cancer Risk (JACC) Study
    Background: Prospective epidemiologic studies have generated mixed results regarding the association between saturated fatty acid (SFA) intake and risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD) and stroke. These associations have not been extensively studied in Asians.
    Objective: The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that SFA intake is associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in Japanese whose average SFA intake is low.
    Design: The Japan Collaborative Cohort Study for Evaluation of Cancer Risk (JACC Study) comprised 58,453 Japanese men and women who completed a food-frequency questionnaire. Participants were aged 40-79 y at baseline (1988-1990) and were followed up for 14.1 y. Associations of energy-adjusted SFA intake with mortality from stroke (intraparenchymal and subarachnoid hemorrhages and ischemic stroke) and heart diseases (IHD, cardiac arrest, and heart failure) were examined after adjustment for age, sex, and cardiovascular disease risk and dietary factors.
    Results: We observed inverse associations of SFA intake with mortality from total stroke [n = 976; multivariable hazard ratio (95% CI) for highest compared with lowest quintiles: 0.69 (0.53, 0.89); P for trend = 0.004], intraparenchymal hemorrhage [n = 224; 0.48 (0.27, 0.85); P for trend = 0.03], and ischemic stroke [n = 321; 0.58 (0.37, 0.90); P for trend = 0.01]. No multivariable-adjusted associations were observed between SFA and mortality from subarachnoid hemorrhage [n = 153; 0.91 (0.46, 1.80); P for trend = 0.47] and heart disease [n = 836; 0.89 (0.68, 1.15); P for trend = 0.59].
    Conclusion: SFA intake was inversely associated with mortality from total stroke, including intraparenchymal hemorrhage and ischemic stroke subtypes, in this Japanese cohort.

    And here's a follow up from "Scientific American":

    Carbs against Cardio: More Evidence that Refined Carbohydrates, not Fats, Threaten the Heart
    Whether the new thinking will be reflected in this year's revision of the federal dietary guidelines remains unclear
    By Melinda Wenner Moyer | April 27, 2010 | 118
    DONUT DEFEAT: This year U.S. dietary guidelines may target refined carbohydrates, which increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.
    Eat less saturated fat: that has been the take-home message from the U.S. government for the past 30 years. But while Americans have dutifully reduced the percentage of daily calories from saturated fat since 1970, the obesity rate during that time has more than doubled, diabetes has tripled, and heart disease is still the country’s biggest killer. Now a spate of new research, including a meta-analysis of nearly two dozen studies, suggests a reason why: investigators may have picked the wrong culprit. Processed carbohydrates, which many Americans eat today in place of fat, may increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease more than fat does—a finding that has serious implications for new dietary guidelines expected this year.
    In March the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a meta-analysis—which combines data from several studies—that compared the reported daily food intake of nearly 350,000 people against their risk of developing cardiovascular disease over a period of five to 23 years. The analysis, overseen by Ronald M. Krauss, director of atherosclerosis research at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, found no association between the amount of saturated fat consumed and the risk of heart disease.
    The finding joins other conclusions of the past few years that run counter to the conventional wisdom that saturated fat is bad for the heart because it increases total cholesterol levels. That idea is “based in large measure on extrapolations, which are not supported by the data,” Krauss says.
    One problem with the old logic is that “total cholesterol is not a great predictor of risk,” says Meir Stampfer, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. Although saturated fat boosts blood levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, it also increases “good” HDL cholesterol. In 2008 Stampfer co-authored a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that followed 322 moderately obese individuals for two years as they adopted one of three diets: a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet based on American Heart Association guidelines; a Mediterranean, restricted-calorie diet rich in vegetables and low in red meat; and a low-carbohydrate, nonrestricted-calorie diet. Although the subjects on the low-carb diet ate the most saturated fat, they ended up with the healthiest ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol and lost twice as much weight as their low-fat-eating counterparts.

    I have argued for at least 30 years that the information we have on fat is all wrong. The human metabolism MUST have a goodly fat intake along with sugar & protein. I have eaten all the butter, cream, bacon, meat fat in general that I wanted. My cholesterol is better than perfect -- low overall w/ "good" cholesterol far outweighing "bad" cholesterol. I was thrilled by the Atkins diet which confirmed much of what I believed. Now here's the above.


    And here's a footnote:

    -- A meta study, or meta-analysis, is the most reliable of statistical investigations. It is a systematic method that uses statistical techniques for combining results from different studies. Meta analysis produces a stronger conclusion than can be provided by any individual study. The data base of nearly 350,000 people studied over more than 30 years in the saturated fats meta study is typical. See Cochran Collaboration, Cumulative meta-analysis. And see About 80% of peer-reviewed, so-called "gold standard" medical studies are wrong.

    -- Saturated fats must not be confused w/ trans fats, which are the demons of the fats world. Trans fats are man-made by adding hydrogen to innocent fats (e.g., vegetable fats as in Canola Oil). The hydrogen stabilizes the fat, making it last longer (think Crisco), but also giving it hideous artery-clogging powers. Generally speaking, fast foods are the main source of trans fats in our diets.

    Fast Food Sources:

    * Fried chicken, biscuits, fried fish sandwiches, French fries, fried apple or other pie desserts

    Donuts, muffins
    Many cookies
    Cake, cake icing, & pie
    Microwave popped corn
    Canned biscuits
    International and instant latte coffee beverages

    How to spot trans fats in Groceries:

    Look at the ingredient listing on packaged foods. The current NUTRITION FACTS label does not help identify trans fats.
    Watch out for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated (soybean, canola, cottonseed or other oil).

    Look to see if the hydrogenated oil is in the first 3-4 ingredients. If it is, this generally means there is a lot of it in the product and you will want to avoid it.

    One current "trick" food manufacturers use is to break up the components of the food (such as coating and the filling). They can take up half of the ingredient listing with a full description of the first component and its ingredients, such as the inside filling of the food item, thus "hiding" the second ingredient, often hydrogenated fat, which appears later into the product listing.

    Don't be fooled by fast food restaurants. The phrase "we cook in vegetable oil" can mean liquid or hydrogenated oil. Even the phrase "no cholesterol containing all vegetable oil" can be misleading, for vegetable oil can raise your body's cholesterol if it is a hydrogenated or partly hydrogenated vegetable oil.

    Mar 03, 2012 at 7:47 PM

  • Snooth User: Rona Lewis
    359096 115

    Uh...I never said you couldn't eat it. I just don't like it. Grew up in a kosher house. but hey, thanks for being so passionate about proving your point.

    Mar 03, 2012 at 8:24 PM

  • I have to agree with lamebear to a point---if you abhor what you are writing about that much, maybe you should have passed on the article.........
    I would have loved to hear more about that sausage AND HOW TO MAKE IT!!! Anybody can make smoked trout and I really don't think of it as the fine art of charcuterie---you just went off on that tangent because of your own personal tastes---quite the objective journalist!

    Mar 05, 2012 at 10:37 AM

  • Snooth User: Rona Lewis
    359096 115

    You know what? You're right. I let my health and fitness background color my words and for that I apologize. SO, for you, rockymountainsly, and any others I might have insulted by not including a sausage recipe here, I make amends by including it now:


    1 pound chicken breast meat with skin, cut into strips
    1 pound pork butt, cut into strips
    3/4 pound back fat, cut into strips
    1/2 onion, finely chopped
    2 ounces fresh bread crumbs
    1/2 cup cream
    salt and pepper
    1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    Pinch of ground cloves
    1 egg
    Lamb casings

    Chill the grinder attachment in the freezer. Chill the meats and fat in the freezer for 10 minutes. Using the 3/8" plate, grind the chicken, pork and about half the fat. Wash the grinder, then regrind meats with remaining fat.

    In a bowl of a mixer, combine the ground meats with the remaining ingredients. Beat with paddle attachment until fluffy. Test for seasoning.

    Stuff into casings. Poach about 20 minutes, then saute in butter.

    There you have it! That is exactly what you see Cathy and I making in the photo. I hope you accept this recipe and my apologies for being so myopic.

    Mar 05, 2012 at 11:14 AM

  • It's clear you don't have health background based on the fact that you use out-dated stereotypes about fat being bad. Most people educated in nutrition actually look into the current studies saying fat is very beneficial and carbs are the culprit rather than clinging to old, poorly run studies.

    Mar 05, 2012 at 11:55 AM

  • Snooth User: laceyface
    483137 0

    I think it is a shame that you speak so poorly of such a long standing, traditional process. I'm not saying everyone should run out and buy a smoker and the meat grinder attachment to their KitchenAid. I am saying that a lot of people would probably love to have the opportunity you did to learn such a time honored art and wouldn't complain about it.

    Mar 07, 2012 at 11:40 AM

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