A Picnic with Walter

The saucisse sec and the saucisse sec with hazelnuts see first light

The saucisse sec and the saucisse sec with hazelnuts see first light

The elements which produce a well-cured bit of charcuterie are straightforward:  really great meat, salt, and time. It sounds simple, and honestly it is, but the loving and obsessive details –the herb and spice choices, the long close scrutiny, the careful adjustments to temperature and humidity, the careful squeezes– these are what make the final product truly outstanding. That and sharing the delicious results with your closest friends, your mom, and maybe that fascinating and attractive and apparently single neighbor.

For November’s curing challenge I chose to make two types of charcuterie. The first was saucisse sec; it was my favorite sausage to buy, along with a baguette and some fruit, for impromptu outdoor lunches when I was a student in Paris, and later in Provence.

While researching recipes and lore about saucisse sec, I stumbled across a reference to a Swiss version of saucisse sec which included whole hazelnuts, and this was like catnip to a hazelnut-lover like me. I decided to make the plain traditional version, and a the hazelnut version as well.

My second choice was noix de jambon. I think all of us who were so fortunate to join Kate Hill and Dominique Chapolard at the Cochon & Charcuterie Workshops around the US this summer fell instantly in love with this diminutive cured whole-muscle –it was like a mini-prosciutto: sweet, porky, salty, and with a nice peppery kick. Noix de jambon is the perfect choice especially if you have a less than ideal curing environment, and if you want or need speedy results.

The noix de jambon is made from small pieces of a fresh ham, cut using seam butchery techniques into an elongated cylinder shape with tapered ends.

A half-dozen noix or nuts of ham salted and ready to cure for 2 days

A half-dozen noix or nuts of ham salted and ready to cure for 2 days

After two days in a salty cure, the pieces are brushed off, rolled and pressed into roughly ground pepper, and tied into neat compressed packages.

The noix de jambon tied, peppered, and ready to hang

The noix de jambon tied, peppered, and ready to hang

A short cold-smoking over apple wood and they are then hung for anywhere from ten days to three weeks, depending on the size of each noix and the temperature and humidity of your curing chamber.

I’m still in temporary digs, so once again I had to cobble together a curing environment; in this case I used a corner of my larder nearest a window which I keep a little open, with a humidifier positioned underneath, and a wooden frame with lots of hooks screwed into it. While I was setting that up, the noix hung quite happily on a broomstick. Much as I like to do.

The noix de jambon await their curing "chamber"

The noix de jambon await their curing "chamber"

While it was rather swiftly thrown together, the wooden hook rack-ma-doodle worked great, and it will be used many times in the future.

The wooden rack with hooks from which my curing meats hang

The wooden rack with hooks from which my curing meats hang

The curing environment was a real success, in that I was able to keep a relatively consistent temperature / humidity of 55°F / 67%, and after a week and a half I had the most delicious and silky slices of noix de jambon to enjoy, and enjoy them I did. I went through two of them by carrying them, wrapped in some butcher paper, in my knap-sack, along with my sharpest knife. At the slightest hint of interest I’d whip out my little ham-ling and slice paper-thin bits to share. Everyone loves the little jambons.

Thin slices of silky noix de jambon. I LOVE this stuff :-)

Thin slices of silky noix de jambon. I LOVE this stuff :-)

I love this ham to nibble just as it curls off my knife’s blade:

A very sophisticated nibble, slices of noix de jambon are at home on any charcuterie plate

A very sophisticated nibble, slices of noix de jambon are at home on any charcuterie plate

I’ve found all sorts of ways to use it as an ingredient in the kitchen. For instance, grated on a little plate of steaming fingerling potatoes tossed with butter, salt, and pepper.

Simple, fast, and delicious

Simple, warming, fast, and delicious

And the salty porky goodness is a natural with any egg dish:

A delicious egg dish halfway between scramble and omelet

A delicious egg dish halfway between scramble and omelet, with potato and julienned noix de jambon

This is a beautiful, substantial, and warming fall dish: pasta with roasted winter squash, fried sage leaves, finely chopped noix de jambon, and shaved Pecorino Romano:

Pasta with roast winter squash, fried sage, and Pecorino Romano cheese

Pasta with roast winter squash, fried sage, noix de jambon, and Pecorino Romano cheese

Finally, and possibly my favorite use for a bit of the peppery-salty goodness is a pureed vegetable and apple soup brightened and made swanky with sage brown-butter and julienned noix de jambon:

Pureed vegetable soup with sage brown butter and jullienned noix de jambon

Pureed vegetable soup with sage brown butter and jullienned noix de jambon

Amazing apple-celeriac-carrot-cabbage-onion soup with noix & sage brown butter drizzle

Serves 4 as main course

Ingredients:

2 slices great bacon
6 small or medium potatoes roughly chopped (if peel is tired-looking, remove it)
1 very small or 1/2 a medium green cabbage
1 large onion
4 medium carrots
1 large or two small celery roots (aka celeriac)
1 bright apple-y apple
2 fat cloves garlic
5-6 cups water, or to cover
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
15-20 fresh basil leaves
scant 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram (or 1/4 teaspoon oregano)
several springs fresh thyme, rose-petal thyme if you can get it
1 cup of whole milk

2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 fresh large sage leaves
1/4 cup julienned noix de jambon (substitute prosciutto if you can’t make or find the noix de jambon)

Fry bacon slowly, in either a large heavy soup pot or in a very large heavy frying pan.  When the bacon is cooked, set aside for tomorrow’s BLT or breakfast scramble.

In the tablespoon or so of bacon fat left in your pan or pot, add the veggies and apple, all roughly chopped in roughly half-inch sized pieces, along with the garlic, chopped fine.

Let all these sizzle in the bacon fat for 20 minutes or so, stirring a few times so that everything is lightly browned. Add water to just cover, along with the black pepper, white pepper, a big pinch of salt, and the herbs.

Simmer for 40 minutes until the veggies are tender but not falling-apart or mushy.

Once the soup is cool enough to handle safely, blitz it in batches in a blender or food processor until very smooth.  Back in the pot again, and add milk until you achieve a creamy texture. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning if necessary, and warm gently.

Make a basic sage brown-butter sauce with 2 tablespoons of butter and eight or nine sage leaves, by sizzling the leaves in the butter until the butter is a warm brown. Atop each steaming bowl of soup drizzle a bit of the brown butter, portion out the sage leaves, and then sprinkle a little mound of the julienned jambon. A final pinch of black pepper, et voilà: an elegant cozy bowl to enjoy and share.

***

The next day I made the forcemeat for the saucisse sec. I used the basic recipe in Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, with a few tweaks and suggestions by a wonderful Swiss butcher named Claude-Alain Christen. He produces a whole slew of gorgeous charcuterie in his shop, Boucherie Centrale, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, just a few kilometers from the French border, and I can’t thank him enough for his generous advice.

Saucisse sec forcemeat with hazelnuts

Adding the hazelnuts to the saucisse sec forcemeat

I started by stuffing the hazelnut saucisse sec, and I quickly discovered that I would not be able to use my KitchenAid stuffer; the hazelnuts wouldn’t fit past/through the grinder screw, so I ended up stuffing around three pounds of sausage by hand. So fun.. not! Actually, it wasn’t so bad. I used the stuffing horn from the KitchenAid and my thumb, and it went fairly quickly.

Handstuffing the hazelnut saucisse sec forcemeat into hog and sheep casings

Handstuffing the hazelnut saucisse sec forcemeat into hog and sheep casings

I made two sizes of sausage; a slimmer one with sheep casing and a more standard one with the hog casings which I made from scratch last year. I did this because I wanted to make sure that the saucisse sec would be cured enough to eat and share and post about by December 1st. As it happens, they’re both cured enough to be delicious, but I suspect they’ll improve with a few more weeks of hanging, what I call a win-win sausage situation.

The plain traditional French saucisse sec was a breeze as I could use the KitchenAid, and the next three pounds were stuffed, linked, tied for hanging, weighed, and finished in less than an hour.

Freshly stuffed links of saucisse sec ready to hang

Freshly stuffed links of saucisse sec ready to hang

These beauties were hung, and each week I would take them down and weigh them.

Another view of the hanging sausage

Another view of the hanging sausage

It was exciting to watch their colour darken, and to witness the steady weight-loss. They looked more and more like the sausage I remembered from those Paris lunches!

The saucisse sec after one week of curing

The saucisse sec after one week of curing

I experienced some uncertainty along the way. For instance, these sausages were still pretty soft and squidgy even when their target percentage of weight loss had been reached. Common sense, which in my case is a result of having bought and eaten a fair amount of good cured sausage, dictated that I wait until the sausage felt right, and it was during the last few days that the majority of the saucisse reached this stage. Hurray!

I sliced into one of the larger hazelnut saucisse this morning. They were so beautiful, and so delicious that once again I was amazed that I had coaxed such deliciousness into being.

Slices of the saucisse sec with hazelnuts

Slices of the saucisse sec with hazelnuts

To have a mound of such beautiful sausages sitting before me, and with the first sunny day in weeks shining all saucily outside my kitchen window, my first thought was who could I share my sausages with, and Walter came instantly to mind.

An embarrassment of riches: saucisse sec, plain and with hazelnuts

An embarrassment of riches: saucisse sec, plain and with hazelnuts

Walter is a neighbor, and even more importantly, he is my gardening neighbor. We have adjacent plots, and we’re an odd-looking pair of old friends. Walter is 88, unobtrusively devout, and sometimes he shakes a lot, while I’m large, profane and one-legged. I scoot around on my ass planting garlic and beans, and Walter always has his tomatoes in the ground before anyone else, and we routinely exchange reports on our observations of the bastard woodchucks (my description, not his) whose offspring our garden’s tenderest bounty nourishes.

Before his wife, Loretta, passed away, he grew more flowers than vegetables, and every morning he was down picking a little nosegay of bright summery flowers to bring up to Miss Loretta. He is as steady, slow, and deliberate as I am noisy, energetic, and impulsive, and perhaps because we complement one another, kind of like basil is happy to grow near tomatoes, we get along really well. I just admire him so, and I hope that some of his warm steadiness rubs off on me over time.

Walter and I enjoy lunch on a brisk and brilliantly sunny afternoon

Walter and I enjoy lunch on a brisk and brilliantly sunny afternoon

We ate thin slices of the delicious noix de jambon, slices of the nutty saucisse, rose-thyme-scented cheese, tart pickles, one of my own good baguettes, an indulgence of some of my old favorite Danish cultured butter, and apples.

Walter reaches for more saucisse sec. That stuff is porky magic!

Walter reaches for more saucisse sec. That stuff is porky magic!

We drank some fizzy just off-dry Farnum Hill cider from the nearby Poverty Lane apple orchard, and finished with warm cups of milky Scottish tea sweetened slightly with maple syrup. It was all very, very good.

Walter and me, well-fed, accompanied by a whole lot of sunshine

Walter and me, well-fed, accompanied by a whole lot of sunshine

One last snapshot of the two of us. It was getting decidedly chilly as we packed up, and the sun approached the hilltops to the west. I was so glad to show Walter around this favorite stomping ground of mine; it’s so close to the town where we live that it only takes ten minutes to drive here, but you feel as if you’re at the top of the world, and all you can see are the soft grey-browns and grey-oranges and grey-violets of early winter. We took a meandering slow route homeward, with a particularly pleasing 4-wheel-drive jaunt up a long meadow. We hoped we’d spot a deer, but we both reckon that they’re all hiding as muzzle-loader season is right around the corner.

About mosaica

Ugly & fabulous, warm & obsessive, brilliant & dorkmeisterish: striving to be a warrior in her little context.
This entry was posted in charcuterie, curing, hog casing, pork, recipe, sausage, Smoke and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to A Picnic with Walter

  1. Mike says:

    What a fantastic picnic! Walter is very lucky to be your neighbor.

  2. ukemochi says:

    Brilliant post, chica.. truly beautiful food and a wonderful picnic. Bravo!

  3. {Sigh} Your picnic with Walter looked delightful. As always, a beautiful post!

    • mosaica says:

      Thanks! Aren’t we super-lucky that we got involved with Charcutepalooza? It’s really encouraged my meaty endeavors, and I love all the smart, warm cooks that I’ve met, both virtually and IRL. I do wish that the Food Network signified Star Trek-esque transporter pods instead of a TV station :-)

  4. Great post! I have never experimented with including nuts in saucisson sec. May have to try it next time around.

    • mosaica says:

      Thank you, Rachel :-) I’ve seen another Swiss version with pistachios. It was difficult for me to turn away from the lovely green nuts this time around, but I put them in last month’s duck roulade forcemeat, and I do love hazelnuts. But the pistachios will happen: can you imagine how pretty that sausage will be?!

  5. I can’t say enough about this post. You’ve done an excellent job with your descriptions, photos, and everything. I could see that you and Walter were definitely the center of the universe on that day. I wish I could have been there with you.

    I have Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, and I’ve always wanted to try making charcuterie.

    Besides not having the equipment I’m (unfortunately) a city dweller with old habits resitant to change easily.

    I do have a garden, and my beekeeping, and my mushroom hunting. I HAVE to make the time and effort to do this. I know now what to do…..I’ll start in the beginning….I’ll start small. I’ll burst one little bubble and grow from there. Thanks for your post. Keep Blogging. Keep Writing.

    • mosaica says:

      Thanks for the warm words! The Ruhlman & Polcyn book is a great resource, and I’d also recommend Jane’s Grigson’s Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery book (there’s a link up toward the top of the page) and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat book; both have some excellent traditional recipes.

      I can’t wait to learn to keep bees! One day.

  6. Helen says:

    Great post. I’m really keen to have a go myself. I bought the stuffing attachment for my Kitchenaid but didn’t realise you need the meat grinder to make it work. D’oh! Anyway you have inspired me to give it another go. Love the idea of nutty pieces.

    • mosaica says:

      Thanks, Helen! I’m really delighted that my story has re-sparked your sausage-y aspirations, and I know all about those d’oh moments ;-) I’m also delighted to find your blog, which is so very right-up-my-alley. Here’s hoping I make it to Peckham one day.

  7. What an utterly gorgeous post – both pictures and words. I love that you shared your picnic with Walter – lucky guy! Your saucisson sec is wonderful looking – I do need to try mine again since it was not so successful. I can’t believe how MUCH everyone made for this challenge – I made three tiny saucissons secs and three tiny noix. I wish I had the pile of saucissons you made in my fridge!

    • mosaica says:

      Thanks, Mardi :-) My thought is that when I’m going to do all that work for an end result that’s especially meant to keep well, might as well go big. Not only that, but you’d be surprised how FAST this stuff disappears! I get such a kick out of sharing it, that it doesn’t last nearly as long as I hope. At any rate, I still have enough left that if you head on over, we can eat ourselves silly, ‘kay?

  8. Eclipse says:

    I deeply love and dearly look forward to all your posts, and this one, as always, was delightful. I so desperately want to come to one of your picnics!

    • mosaica says:

      Dearest ‘clipsey, you let me know when you’ll arrive, and I’ll make us a fine picnic, which, depending on the weather, we might eat on the sofa while staying toasty under a feather puff. I remember our last festive meal when you visited Vermont & New Hampshire was a treat ;-)

  9. Ryan says:

    Gorgeous work! Walter is a lucky fellow.

  10. I just thought you should know that I too drink out of old Bonne Maman jam jars.

  11. Peter says:

    What is it about a good salami that begs for a picnic? The portability, I guess, and the completeness of the flavor even without any bread and cheese. Those all look great.

    • mosaica says:

      I agree, and I love eating out-of-doors. With a bit of sausage, a knife and some water, all is well in the world. Add an apple and you’ve got outright luxury :-)

  12. Karen says:

    Nice canning jars ^^

    Sis

    • mosaica says:

      What?! There was bread, an APPLE, pickles, and CHEESE!

      • Karen says:

        ok, nice bread, apple, cheese and great Walter ^^.
        I tried to find all the ingredients in the pics, but i didn’t like commenting on the eggs or the potatoes, just because I didn’t feel very eggy or potatoey.

        Then when the gorgeous, wonderful, superduper canning jars caught my eyes, I knew that they had to be filled with amazing food, so they were perfect for commenting.

        But you are right. The apple looked shiny and yummy too ^^

        Glædelig December

        Sis

  13. strikkepigen says:

    Hej iliana, great pictures and a treat for walter, he deserves it, nice man. My next soup will be your creamed veggie soup and some good Pølser for breakfast, they are perfectly beautiful and look so lœkre! You are an inspiration. birthemor strikkepigen

  14. vtbee says:

    gorgeous, iliana! thank you! pretty please may i taste a wee bit of sausage? would you consider selling one? tak!

  15. What a wonderful post! As others have commented, from the photos to the story to the food, it is a story both personal yet appealing to many. I loved your noix de jambon, especially carrying it in your backpack wrapped in butcher paper. Now that’s my idea of fast food! I also liked your rustic picnic because that is how I like to picnic. Thank you for sharing!

    • mosaica says:

      Thank you Linda! Though the competitive bits of Charcutepalooza are over, the fun is continuing. To wit: I should have been packing my larder for moving for the last three hours, and I got distracted by researching crema di lardo, and approaching my fave pig farmer about a really FAT chunk of fatback. I ask you: larder packing or lardo-making?! I’m looking forward to reading more on your blog, btw :-)

  16. tea cozy says:

    Brilliant post.. truly beautiful food and a wonderful picnic.!

  17. collin d. says:

    This is such an amazing and inspiring post! I was curious about the tips your swiss butcher shared?

  18. Hello! The soup recipe was really great, I only wish I’d kept the skins of the apple on for more brightness… and I added a fresh scrape of nutmeg. Delish! Thank you!

    I was wondering if you also had a recipe for the winter squash pasta?

  19. Kyle says:

    Wonderful writeup! Just diving into the world of dry-cured meats after we recently harvested our first pig. I came across your post looking for Noix de Jambon recipes, because we want to cure some of those cuts.
    I’m still a little baffled by the curing salts vs no curing salts. Of course Ruhlman & Polcyn advocate for the nitrite additions but I’ve seen a few european chefs who leave them out. I would rather keep it traditional and leave out the curing salts, but am afraid of the consequences. Where do you stand? Did you use curing salts in these two recipes?
    Thanks again!

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