Pros: Thorough and Clear
Cons: May require new tools/equipment
The Culinary Institute of America does it yet again with their latest volume, The Art of Charcuterie! With author John Kowalski at the helm, the Culinary has produced a thorough and accessible book on the charcuterie kitchen. Those who invested in previous Culinary works have come to expect professional cooking courses in each book. The Art of Charcuterie does not disappoint.
The Art of Charcuterie begins at square-one, kitchen safety. You are given an overview of food hazards, cross contamination, and general safety. Better, you are also taught techniques to minimize food born illness. For example, instead of just describing how to thoroughly clean kitchen equipment, you are shown examples of how to chill your tools to keep food temperatures down. With tips like this, you are taught safety principles that you may apply to all the recipes in the book, eliminating the need for repeated warnings. Food and kitchen safety is often overlooked in other cookbooks, so it is always encouraging to find a book, like this, that covers the topic in some detail.
After establishing food safety practices, the Culinary next discusses specialty ingredients, food additives, and equipment. When embarking on a new genre of cooking, you will always encounter unique ingredients and tools. Yet, many cookbooks simply direct you to add these ingredients to your recipe or use a particular tool without explanation of “how” or “why.” The Culinary, on the other hand, clearly explains each new ingredient and item before you even begin cooking, helping you understand its proper use and importance. Such explanations take the mystery out of the cooking process, and prepare you for each of the recipes that follow.
Once this foundational information is established, you will be introduced to hundreds of easy to follow recipes and an assortment of unique charcuterie techniques. You will learn recipes for fresh sausages, dried sausages, forcemeats, terrines, pates and more. You will also be taught various techniques like smoking, drying, curing, brining, and others. The mere fact that the recipes are clear and easy to follow does not mean you should expect simple recipes; the recipes can be very complex and time consuming. But if you are up for the challenge, the recipes are clearly described, step-by-step, helping you be successful. With such an assortment of recipes and techniques, you will definitely find something to meet your skill level, and your tastes.
As for drawbacks, this book is a little pricey. However, The Art of Charcuterie is an at-home education, so you are not simply buying a book, but are investing in yourself. Further, considering the remarkable number of full color photos, diagrams, and explanations, the price is more than fair. Also, while the discussion on additives and ingredients was thorough, coverage on additive alternatives could have been included. That’s not to say the Culinary should have provided an entire section dedicated to alternative recipes, though that would probably have been well received. Rather, a discussion addressing the growing concern about food additives would have been appropriate for this book. Fortunately, there are many resources available online or in the library to help those concerned with food additives to research the topic on their own.
The Art of Charcuterie, as a title and a subject, is very unique in the cooking world. The ingredients, tools, and techniques are not often seen in the average home kitchen. But with the recipes in this book, you may increase your repertoire and be able to execute them on a fairly regular basis. So, if you are ready to try your hand at making breakfast sausage that’s meatier and tastier than anything found in the stores, or if you are wanting to try your hand at making a pate terrine, or smoking and preserving foods, this book is a must have!
Recipe: Breakfast Sausage
8 lbs. Boneless pork butt (cut into 1” cubes)
1 ¼ oz. Kosher salt
½ oz. White pepper
¼ oz. Poultry seasoning
12 oz. Ice-cold water
16 ft. Casings (optional)
- In a mixing bowl, combine the pork, salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.
- Grind the meat once through the 3/16” plate into a mixing bowl over an ice bath.
- Transfer the meat to a mixer with a paddle attachment. Add the water and mix on speed#1 for 1 minute, then mix on speed #2 until meat is sticky, 15 to 30 seconds.
- Make a taste tester (small cooked patty) and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- To make bulk sausage, place 1 lb. of sausage meat on plastic wrap, roll it up, twist the ends of the plastic wrap tightly, and tuck the ends under. The diameter of the finished sausage roll should be 2 ½”.
- For link sausages, place the mixture into a sausage stuffer, making sure there are no air pockets. Stuff into the prepared casings. Measure, pinch, and twist into 5” lengths. Cut the sausages apart at the twists.
- The sausages may be stored under refrigeration for up to a week and can be frozen for up to 1 month.