World Chefs: Jamie Bissonnette shares tips on making cured meats

American chef Jamie Bissonnette is seen in New York in this April 23, 2012 handout photo provided by Baltz & Company Inc. REUTERS/ Noah Fecks/Baltz&Co Inc/Handout via Reuters (Reuters)

By Richard Leong NEW YORK (Reuters) - Making sausages, pates and cured meats at home can be tricky, but American chef Jamie Bissonnette in his debut book, "The New Charcuterie Cookbook," shows their flavors are worth the time and effort. Salumi, chorizos and other cured meats are fixtures at Bissonnette's three popular restaurants in Boston and New York. In May, he won a James Beard award as best U.S. Northeast chef for his casual Italian restaurant Coppa in Boston. He also co-owns Spanish tapas-inspired Toro in Boston and another Toro in New York. Bissonnette, 37, a former vegetarian who was born in Connecticut, spoke to Reuters about the book, which will be published later this month, and tips for making cured meats at home. Q: Why did you write this book? A: One of the favorite things is to see what I could do at the restaurant and make them easier to do at home. I have friends who are tattoo artists and musicians and they said, “I want to do what you do and make what you make and know how to do it.” The key is to just take a recipe and have fun with it. Q: What is the essential equipment you need? A: You want to have a good meat grinder, one with a sharp blade, not just one where you shove meat through a hole. ... With the recipes in the book, you could get by with a lot with what you have at home. What people are finding is that you could have a butcher grind the meat for you. Q: What are the keys to prepare offal? A: Each individual offal is specific. What is the worst part about chicken liver is that it’s sometimes too ‘iron-y’ because there’s so much blood in them, but if you soak it in milk or soda water, you could pull a lot of that out. It’s knowing how to take out things that are bad about an ingredient and highlight the aspects that are good. Q: What are your go-to ingredients? A: I’m always looking for acid whether it’s lime juice or lemon juice or champagne vinegar to balance out fat or sugar for more unctuousness. I love fish sauce. I love the salty and fermented flavor. I love fresh herbs. Q: Some people might be surprised you wrote this book and you used to be vegetarian? A: I had been a vegetarian for a long time and a vegan on and off for a long time. I was told I was a good cook but I wasn’t going to be a great chef. I wasn’t understanding all the food because I wasn’t eating all of it. I started eating (meat) and I gained a lot of weight, that’s for sure. It wasn’t that much shock to my body. The biggest shock was that I had to work out more. Q: You used be in a band. Is your cooking reflective of your musical sensibility? A: It’s diverse. I like the influences of food from all around the world. My record collection ranges from ska, reggae, salsa to punk to hard core to jazz. I love soul. I feel my food is the same way. Coppa (yields 3-1/2 pounds/1.6 kg) 5 lb (2 kg) pork neck (ask a butcher to harvest this cut) For the cure 1/2 cup (120 g) kosher salt 2 tbsp (30 g) espelette chili flakes 1/2 tbsp (7 g) black pepper 1-1/2 tbsp (25 g) powdered dextrose 1 tsp (5 g) curing salt no. 2 Cheesecloth Combine salt, espelette, black pepper and dextrose with curing salt no. 2, then divide the mixture in two. Using one half of the mixture, rub the meat all over. Place the meat in a nonreactive (glass or plastic) container and refrigerate for seven days. Check on the meat every day, rubbing with a bit more cure mix. After seven days, rinse the coppa. Rub with the remaining cure, then wrap in cheesecloth. Incubate the meat for 12 hours at room temperature (70-80 degree Fahrenheit (21–26 degree Celsius). Hang it in a curing room at 60–70 degree Fahrenheit (15-21 degree Celsius) for 190 to 200 days or until it’s firm. (A curing room is a space whose humidity and temperature can be controlled so the meat can air dry. In Bissonnette's recipes, coppa and other meats can be cured in the refrigerator instead of a curing room.) Slice thin and serve chilled or slice thick and grill to order. This can be refrigerated, wrapped, for up to six months. (Editing by Patricia Reaney and Jonathan Oatis)