Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Charcuterie at Bar Boulud

Someone once said to me a long time ago, “The more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know.” After having dinner at the new Bar Boulud last Saturday, I learned about a whole new world: Charcuterie. Or, more specifically, as that section on the menu stated: Charcuterie Gilles Verot.

Since I had no clue what “this” was, and being a person that consumes only fish and fowl as proteins, as I perused that part of menu I learned quickly that I probably should look somewhere else. Some of the listings were Pâté Grand-Mere which included chicken liver, pork and cognac; Pâté Grand-Pere was made with, pork, foie gras, truffle juice and port; Lapin De La Garrigue consisted of rabbit, carrot, zucchini and herbs; and Tagine D’Agneau was made with leg of lamb, eggplant, and sweet potato. Other items were prepared using beef cheeks and sweet breads. Although I did see a few selections made with duck foie gras—which I do eat, the addition of other animal parts, such as sweetbreads, caused me to look away. I realized that Charcuterie is not for the vegetarians or semi-vegetarians in the crowd.

After Saturday’s experience, I wanted to delve into the Charcuterie arena and learn more about it. Later, I discovered why I was unfamiliar with it at all, and that I might never enjoy the full experience of selecting any items from the Charcuterie Gilles Verot section of Bar Boulud’s menu. It’s all about pork and meat. And maybe sometimes “their parts” a’ la Tony Bourdain.

I learned that Charcuterie is a word derieved from the French word chair cuite, which is cooked meat, or another French word, cuiseur de chair, which is cooker of meat. It is the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as sausage and confit, primarily from pork. The practice goes back to ancient times and can involve the curing, or chemical preservation, of meats. Since charcuterie can greatly extend the lifetime of meat, it is a means of using up various meat scraps that would have otherwise been wasted. All cured meat hams, whether smoked, air-cured, salted, or treated by chemical means, are charcuterie products. Sausage making is also part of charcuterie.

The main techniques of charcuterie include the standard kitchen repertoire of poaching and baking, as well as salting or dry curing, brining, air drying, and smoking with and without heat. The room-temperature treatments involved in air drying and cold smoking introduce a host of food safety issues, and so curing are often used to prevent the spread of dangerous pathogens.

The French word for a person who prepares charcuterie is charcutier, generally translated into English as "pork butcher." This has led to the mistaken belief that charcuterie can only involve pork. The Food Lover's Companion, however, says that "it refers to the products, particularly (but not limited to) pork specialties such as pâtés, rillettes, galantines, crépinettes, etc., which are made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie." And the 1961 edition of Larousse Gastronomique defines it as: "The art of preparing various meats, in particular pork, in order to present them in the most diverse ways." The word can also refer to a delicatessen, a meat shop that specializes in primarily pork products, or that part of a supermarket that specializes in meat products such as hams and sausages. (Source: Wikipedia)

I also learned that Gilles Verot is a renowned maker of Charcuterie maker from Paris and was the primary source behind Boulud’s menu and he has an exclusive chef devoted to Charcuterie.

If I really wanted to learn more, there are several books available, one of which is called, “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing,” written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn and forwarded by Thomas Keller.

I don’t think that I’ll be clicking on the order section for this book. However, I do feel that I know enough about it for now, so that the next time that I’m in a French bistro and see a section on the menu that lists Charcuterie, I will make a selection from the Soupes et Salades.

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