A Little Cure-ious
"You're standing right in the splatter zone," warns chef Jamie Bissonnette. "I'd move if I were you."
It's 10 a.m. in the subterranean kitchen of his giant New York tapas restaurant Toro, and Bissonnette is smushing hunks of pork shoulder, fatback and ice into an industrial-size grinder for the third time. The meat is shooting out of the machine, spraying the surrounding area with drops of pink pork paste. I step aside.
Bissonnette is making Vietnamese bologna (see the recipe), one of his favorite recipes from his New Charcuterie Cookbook, ($22) released today by Page Street Publishing. More a primer for the charcuterie-curious than the final word on the art and science of cured meat, the book's subtitle is "Exceptional cured meats to make and serve at home."
It includes recipes for things like Jersey-style pork roll and turkey meatloaf ("the original American charcuterie," says Bissonnette), along with red curry pâte and simple cured meats like duck prosciutto and saucisson sec. "All of the recipes are geared toward home cooks who want to experiment with doing this in a safe way," says Bissonnette. "You don't need a curing room or professional equipment for any of it," he says, though a meat grinder will come in handy.
Today we've come to see how the Vietnamese bologna gets made. Bissonnette fell for this particular creation while traveling in Saigon, later toying with re-creating it at home. It's a fairly straightforward, old-school technique for making bologna, turned Vietnamese with the addition of palm sugar, fish sauce and Thai chilies, as well as the fact that it's wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf (available at many Asian grocers or online). The bologna is a common building block in banh mis, but Bissonnette also likes to julienne it for stir-fries or cut it into wedges and toss with squid for a sort of Southeast Asian surf and turf.
"There's a little trial and error with this recipe," he says while rolling the pork mixture into a perfect banana-leaf tube and tying each end with twine. "You might not totally nail it the first time, but there's enough delicious stuff in there that you won't be mad with what you end up with. Play around a little with the seasonings until you find what works."
Most charcuterie tastes better after it's had a night for its flavors to combine and mellow, but we dive into the Vietnamese bologna as soon as it's cooked through. It's spicy and sweet, with a funky hit of fish sauce and a subtle earthy flavor from the banana leaf.
I lob off a thick slice and lay it across a hunk of still-warm ciabatta from the morning's bread delivery—a breakfast that's as gloriously weird as the bologna itself.
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