Nashville Cats written by The Lovin’ Spoonful and performed by The Del McCoury band.
Well, guitar pickers aren’t the only thing there are 1352 of in Nashville right now! Aside from having 1352 things on my to-do list, I am the proud Mama of 1352 little baby ‘maters, peppers, squashes, zuccs and cukes. Can’t wait to get them in the ground; I’m so proud! There are also at least 1352 ways to co-mingle smoke and pork which brings us to…
Charcutepalooza Our challenge this month was hot smoking so I’ve been hot and smokin’ all month long! Gotta love that!
Since I did Canadian bacon last month, I started with the charcutier challenge, tasso. I have to confess that I was disappointed in our challenge. I was born and raised in south Louisiana but had never heard of tasso until the blackening craze of the eighties swept the country. Then BAM!! showed up on the scene and tasso started appearing in grocery stores as a salty, cayenne-laced piece of mediocre, mass-produced meat product. What’s a good coonass girl supposed to do? Thank Kim & Cathy (and Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn), that’s what! Thank you for bringing real tasso into the light and exposing that horrid other stuff for what it is. Thank you for taking the schtick out of it! Thank you for inspiring me to do this! The news might not have made the headlines yet but all you ‘paloozers out there know the truth: it’s great stuff!
So I did a little research, got a big beautiful pork butt from Emerald Glen Farm, and was ready to have a go at it; or at least I thought I was. I’m supposed to slice this shoulder into nice thick slabs to dredge in my cure. No problem except my pork anatomy lesson that taught me that butt is really shoulder seems to have left out a small detail. Thar’s bone in them thar pork butts! OK! I have a good sharp knife; I can handle this. Did I mention that it was 530 in the morning and I was trying to hurry up and slice my butt before work? (Begin juvenile jokes here) Since I’d already started slicing the first slab, I just cut around the bone. After I did that about eight more times, I had eight slabs and a big pretty bone so I cured, rubbed and smoked it, too. I figure that bone will make a mighty fine addition to a pot of beans.
I hate the misconception that if you throw cayenne in something, it is now Cajun or Creole (two totally different thing, BTW) so I appreciate the fact that the rub in Charcuterie didn’t do that. But it didn’t particularly appeal to me, either; partially because I don’t care for white pepper and partially because I thought marjoram was an odd herb to use in this context.
Generalization time – everyone, in La uses some kind of creole season salt, usually Tony Chachere’s. It is so common that, whether it’s Tony’s or not, it’s usually just called Tony’s. Except at our house where it’s Holly’s and that’s what I decided to use as my dry rub on the tasso. I don’t want my food to taste like creole seasoning so I prefer not to have a super-distinct flavor profile in my creole seasoning and started blending my own years ago. Penzey’s is my favorite (only) source for dried herbs and spices and their toasted onion powder really tames the typical harsh taste of dehydrated onion. Grinding the herbs in a coffee grinder or food processor before adding the powdered spices makes it more uniform and makes a big difference. Give it a try and let me know how you like it.
1/3 C salt
1/3 C garlic powder
1/4 C black pepper
1/4 C paprika
3 T toasted onion powder
2 T each oregano, thyme and basil
2 1/2 T cayenne
Note to self: DO NOT accidentally put the cayenne in the processor-cough, cough.
Now that I have a giant platter of smoky, porky, spicy goodness, it’s time to play! First something traditional – jambalaya – and I’m a brown jambalaya girl. For those of you that aren’t up on your jambalaya variations, there is a red version that has lots of tomato (not my favorite) and there is brown jambalaya that is roux-based and has no tomato. Use whatever combination of meat appeals to you; there is no right or wrong.
1 1/2 pounds smoked sausage, andouille &/or tasso,cut in 1/2 inch dice
1 1/2 pounds pork or chicken &/or sm-med peeled shrimp, meat cut in cubes no bigger than an inch
1/3 cup drippings from the meat (add bacon grease if necessary)
1/3 cup flour
2 cups onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 cup green onions, finely sliced
1/3 cup parsley, minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
cayenne and salt to taste- depends on how spicy/salty the sausage is
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups rice, Basmati rice is really great in this
In a large dutch oven or heavy sauté pan with a lid, brown the sausage/tasso then remove from pan. Brown the chicken &/or pork, remove from pan and add it to the sausage. Add enough bacon grease to make 1/3 cup of drippings.
Add flour and make a medium dark roux, stirring constantly. Add onion, bell pepper and celery and cook until soft. Add garlic, basil, thyme, salt, pepper and cayenne and cook 2-3 minutes. Add stock and stir until roux is mixed in and there are no lumps. Add bay leaves and taste for salt and pepper – remember the rice triples in volume! Bring to a boil, add rice and meats and bring back to a boil.
If using shrimp, lay them over the top of the rice, cover and bake at 350 until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. DO NOT STIR while the rice is cooking. When the rice is cooked, add parsley and green onions. Carefully fluff the rice to mix.
One of the most important things on my to-do list was avert an impending bacon crisis. We were down to one measly little pack of bacon so I fixed that problem by curing and smoking a 15 pound slab of luscious pork belly. My (GOSM) Great Outdoors Smoky Mountain smoker wasn’t big enough to hold it intact, and neither were the zip-top bags, so I had to cut it in three pieces but our freezer is now bulging with little vacuum bags full of bacon and all is well.
So now I have tasso, I have bacon and I have some ground pork that I’ve been planning to season up for some breakfast sausage. That all adds up to just one thing in my book. It’s time to smoke a fatty!! Lest you think I’m dabbling in things I oughtn’t, let me illustrate my favorite method of rolling and smoking a fatty and before anybody calls the DEA, let me explain that, among meat smoking aficionados, a fatty is pork wrapped pork stuffed with something that is, preferably,uh…pork.
There are several steps to this process but none are difficult and the reward is great so let’s get started. You can form it up the night before if you want to get a head start on breakfast or party snacks. It makes a great appetizer to munch on while you’re waiting for your main meat to finish smoking. Now, you can cheat and buy bulk pork sausage but it’s so easy to season up some ground pork that it seems silly to use mass-produced stuff when everything else is homemade. Any of the seasonings mentioned in Charcuterie work well so get creative and mix your choice of seasoning into 1-2 pounds of ground pork (I used about a pound and half here). Put it in a 1 gallon zip-top bag and squash it flat so it goes into all of the corners and is evenly distributed. Zip it closed then put it in the fridge to chill while you work on the innards.
You can get pretty creative with the filling, just make sure nothing is very moist and any veggies are pre-cooked or the steam from the filling will make it fall apart. If you are going the breakfast route, scrambled eggs make a darn good filling and I think cheese is a required ingredient so I grated about 6 ounces of extra sharp cheddar. I’m partial to roasted red peppers and I always have some in the freezer so I sliced a couple of those up and diced about 8 ounces of tasso and sautéed it so I would have a little fat left over to saute some onions. I used shallots this time because I had a surplus of them but use what you have on hand. After the fat renders from the tasso and it gets a little browned, remove it from the pan and add about 3/4 cup shallots. Once they soften, add them to the bowl with the tasso and I threw in a little thyme just for fun.
Now it’s time to start assembling. Lay the zip-top bag of pork on the counter, unzip it, cut open two of the three other sides and peel the bag back.
Spread the grated cheese evenly, leaving a 1-2 inch border on all sides. Spread the other filling ingredients over the cheese.
Using the bag to help you, start rolling from the short side, tucking things in as you go. Keep your roll tight and seal the seam when you get to the bottom. Fold in the sides so the filling is completely encased or you’ll spill you guts in the smoker.
Roll it onto a clean piece of plastic wrap and wrap it up and twist the ends of the plastic together so you can really apply some pressure to it so it’s nice and firm. I usually cheat and just lay the gooey, greasy bag back over it but you can apply more even pressure if you use the plastic wrap. Now back into the fridge while we weave some bacon.
If you’ve ever made a lattice pie crust, it’s the same process and, if you haven’t, it’s a piece of cake. This was my first attempt at making lattice so don’t be afraid of the weave. I used 12 pieces of bacon but it depends on the length and width of your bacon as well as the length and width of your fatty. (Insert juvenile joke here!) Place a piece of plastic wrap on the counter and lay enough bacon down side-by-side and close together to equal the length of your fatty. Lift up every other slice, fold it back halfway and lay a slice of bacon across it.
Lay those slices back down, lift up the alternate slices and lay down another piece of bacon.
Repeat the alternating lifting/laying down until all of your bacon is used and it looks like this:
If you can resist frying it up and making the most beautiful BLT ever, it’s time to gift wrap that pork that you stashed in the fridge. Pull it out of the refrigerator, unwrap it and roll it onto the bacon weave.
Now, stand back, admire your meat and let all of the sexual innuendos that you’ve been suppressing fly. Smoke at about 250° until it reaches an internal temperature of 150-160°. You have to stick a thermometer into it longways so time for more juvenile jokes. It should take about 2 hours (the smoking, not the jokes).