Book Review: Salumi by Micheal Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing

Though they hadn’t the faintest clue whether or not their efforts would go appreciated, seven years ago Micheal Rulhman and Brian Polcyn crossed their fingers and released Charcuterie out into the wild.  It was the first time anyone had published a book that went into such depth detailing the artisanal techniques and processes of producing superior bacon, sausages, and cured salmon at home.  But thanks to emerging trends—such as the slow food movement—and an information hungry food community, Charcuterie was an undisputed success.

Rulhman and Polcyn look to continue that success with Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing and, from my vantage point, they’ve done it.  The content is solid and well researched, the delivery is clean and clear, and the drawings they’ve included through various parts of the book are both instructive and helpful for those of us looking to get our hands dirty.

Whole hog butchery

There are—unshockingly—many similarities between Charcuterie and Salumi, and that’s a good thing.  Both books supply the reader with important, clearly written information that is needed to understand and accomplish all of the possibilities contained within each tome.

Salumi starts off by introducing the reader to the eight different sections of the pig that are covered in the book, the names for each cut, followed by tutorials for butchering them yourself from a whole hog if you want to go that route.  Interspersed is interesting pork-related vignettes about the difference between an Italian hog and an American, the financial ramifications of buying a whole beast verses just parts, and how confusing the art of Salumi can be, even to those who live it every day.

The book follows that with the basics of dry curing and the requirements for turning out world class goodies by yourself.  Specifics on salts, bacteria, molds and even environment help the reader understand the “magic” that goes into curing without talking down to them.  Quite honestly, I can see this book being issued to culinary students as a textbook for those interested in the subject.  The fact that the information is enjoyable to take in is just icing on the cake.

Salumi color photos

covers those eight piggy parts that I mentioned earlier: Guanciale (Jowl), Coppa (Neck/Shoulder/Loin), Spalla (Shoulder), Lardo (Back Fat), Lonza (Loin), Pancetta (Belly), Prosciutto (Ham/Back Leg) and Salami.  Each cut has its own section with tips and insights on what to look for when purchasing pig parts for curing, and simplified recipes to get the reader on the right path.  If you’re already knowledgeable about the basics of Salumi,  Rulhman and Polcyn have you covered with multiple variations on the aforementioned “Big Eight”.

Of special note is the fact the recipes are written with approximate weights per ingredient which allows for a higher level of precision and in turn, better results.  This way of writing recipes should be embraced and encouraged, and I should point out that Charcuterie and numerous Rhulman books are like this as well. “1 cup” could mean lots of things to different people, but asking for a pound of something is straightforward and hard to get wrong.

Once you’ve produced your first Pancetta Testa, Salumi still has your back with page after page of recipes to utilize your freshly cured goodness to its maximum potential.  The White Pizza recipe on page 229 in particular caught my eye.  I love lardo on a pizza and look forward to trying this recipe myself.

It’s easy to walk into a supermarket and buy a few slices of Prosciutto.  It’ll likely be half decent Prosciutto, too.  But there is nothing like investing your time and effort into making your own, personalized cured goods.  You can ensure a higher level of quality ingredients and care simply because you tried your hand at creating something amazing. This is what Salumi aims helps you accomplish. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some back fat calling my name.  Lardo doesn’t make itself.

Full Disclosure: I was contacted by W. W. Norton & Company and they were kind enough to send me a copy to review.

A quick review of “A girl and her pig” by April Bloomfield and JJ Goode

I’ve neglected to do book reviews here in the past due to some crazy ethos I had on focusing—for the most part—only on offal related news and/or content.  But times change, and change is usually for the better.

On that note here are a few books that I can recommend for anyone to buy:

Anything from Mr. Henderson.
All of Jennifer Mclagan’s books (I proudly own every one)
Hank Shaw’s book is wonderful, grab a copy
Mr. Rhulman’s Ratio and Charcuterie books deserve mention as well

Before I explain why you should buy Miss Bloomfield’s book (Yeah, I tipped my hand. Are you surprised?) I’d like to share with you a short excerpt that explains in far better terms than I every could why people become “pro-offal”.

not so nasty at all

 My granddad never did travel light.  Whenever we went on holiday, whether it was a car ride to Devon or a plane trip to Portugal, he’d bring some kidneys with him in a cooler.  My nan also packed a heavy bag, but hers was killed with bottles of gin.  On these trips, Granddad would fry up the kidneys for breakfast, maybe with some eggs and tomatoes.  I loved them.  They tasted warm and inviting and had a smell, as if umami was floating around in the air, which made you want to dig in right away.  Granddad would eat them slowly, the way he ate everything, chewing really well.  Nan covered hers with black pepper, because she covered everything in black pepper.

Not only do most people not haul kidneys around in their suitcases, they also don’t much care for them at all.  Same goes for other offal, like liver and sweetbreads, and for other tasty but neglected cuts like tongue and ears and feet—all the parts that people avoid for being a little too this or too that.

I understand why the nasty bits are not that popular.  Not so long ago, people ate these bits all the time, so as not to waste food.  When an animal was killed, you’d make sausages from the blood, and next you’d use all the stuff that would go bad quickly—the kidneys, the liver, the stomach.  But now that you can buy any cut you want at the supermarket, you no longer really need to eat offal, so people have lost the taste for it.

Another big reason goes along with the first.  When people finally do give one of these bits a chance but mess them up in the cooking, the result can be horrible.  My mom had a go at cooking pig’s trotters once.  She had them boiling for hours and hours on the stove, and when she put them down in front of me and my sisters, along with a few slices of carrot, they still looked like hooves.  I remember trying to take a bite, holding a trotter with one hand and holding my nose with the other.

But, as with any part, when offal is cooked the right way, it’s a beautiful thing.  So I cook the so-called nasty bits (or as I prefer to think of them, the not-so-nasty bits) and serve them at my restaurants because I like them.  And I cook what I like.  Then there’s the part of me that hopes that just maybe, by serving a perfectly sticky trotter, I’ll start converting nonbelievers, as evangelists like Fergus Henderson and Mario Batali have done.  I suppose these recipes count as me giving that a go.

A Girl and Her Pig” includes recipes for liver, sweetbreads, kidneys, and traditional English faggots.  Each dish looks to be fantastic, and the liver recipe in particular caught my eye.

I’ve only talked about a very small section of the cookbook, but you should consider picking up a copy so that you’ll have access to all of Miss Bloomfield’s highly revered repertoire. It’s a no-brainer.