I conceived this book, and asked my friend, chef Brian Polcyn, to join me, in order to explore a great culinary specialty, one devoted to preservation but which remains meaningful in this age of refrigeration and freezing because food made using its techniques--fresh, smoked, and dried sausages, hams, cured salmon, pork rilletes, duck confit--tastes so good. I didn't know enough about it and there weren't many good books on the subject and almost none written for the home cook. I wanted more home cooks to feel comfortable making a pate, I wanted to write about how one perfects the sausage, I wanted to expand the reaches of the confit.
The book covers a range of techniques via scores of recipes, from how to make your own bacon at home to exquisite sauces that accompany charcuterie, from the very old fashioned preparations such as the pate en croute (pate backed in a crust) to more modern applications of the charcutier's craft such as vegetable rillettes, to the pinnacle of the craft, the dry-cured sausage.
My partner in this book, who not only had become a good friend after I'd written about him in Soul of a Chef, he'd also become an instructor of charcuterie near his restaurant, Five Lakes Grill, in Milford, Michigan. We're both really passionate about this stuff, and with my acumen at articulating food passions, and Brian's cooking experience, culinary excellence and extraordinary palate, we've tried to create a book that's as meaningful to the ambitious home cook as to the professional chef who wants to perfect his own charcuterie technique.From the Book's Jacket At his first taste of duck confit a decade ago, food writer Michael Ruhlman felt himself inspired by a new passion. He was permanently hooked by the amazing taste of duck that been salted for hours then poached gently in its own fat and finally submerged in that fat and left to "ripen." He began to explore the technique, and as his enthusiasm grew, he asked a chef friend, a teacher and an expert in the ways of preservation why now, given that we can "preserve" food in a fridge or freezer or in a Cryovack, why was confit, why was charcuterie -- a culinary specialty largely defined by preservation methods -- still relevant? The chef looked it him as if he were an idiot and said, "Taste, of course." Derived from the French words flesh (chair) and cooked (cuit), the term charcuterie designated shops in 15th century France that sold products made from pork. As Ruhlman's fascination with confit flowered, he connected with Brian Polcyn, an artisan chef from the Midwest, owner of Five Lakes Grill near Detroit and a butchery instructor as well. Polcyn had been surrounded by charcuterie his whole life. "My Polish grandma made Kielbasa every Christmas and Easter," he told Ruhlman. An expert butcher, skilled with a smoker, and a walking dictionary of charcuterie recipes classic and modern, Polcyn had become a true master of the art of charcuterie. In Charcuterie, he and Michael have created the only comprehensive book on the subject, thereby filling an enormous gap in our understanding of cooking. They have included all the classic charcuterie recipes --duck confit, sausages, prosciutto, pancetta, pate de campagne, knackwurst, and many more. They have also expanded traditional concepts by offering contemporary recipes such as hot and cold smoked salmon, foie gras and sweetbread sausage, and grilled vegetable terrine. No longer the domain of elite chefs, Charcuterie gives the modern beginner cook recipes such as Maryland crab, scallop, and saffron terrine, Da Bomb breakfast sausage (no casing required), herb-brined smoked turkey breast, and spicy smoked almonds. Charcuterie is thoroughly and instructively illustrated with more than 75 detailed line drawings that guide the reader through techniques, such as making sausage and pate, and display the equipment and cuts of meat or fish used in the recipes. Michael Ruhlman is one of the most highly regarded food writers today, having co-authored The French Laundry Cookbook with Thomas Keller and authored the best-selling Soul of a Chef, which won an International Association of Culinary Professionals award. He has also won a James Beard Foundation award for magazine food writing. He has written for Gourmet, Saveur, Food Arts, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Brian Polcyn is nationally recognized as an authority on the technique of charcuterie. He has been featured in the New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and Wine Spectator. Polcyn teaches butchery and charcuterie at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, and is the chef-owner of Five Lakes Grill in Milford, Michigan, where he can be found cooking in the kitchen almost every night. From the Foreword by Thomas Keller, chef/owner of The French Laundry and Per Se Restaurants "Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn not only describe in detail the various stages of making a sausage but they isolate the key steps and techniques that can elevate a good sausage to a great one. They also give what amounts to a primer in the key points of dry-curing sausages and whole cuts of meat, a segment of charcuterie that's really in its infancy here in America. "This book reminds me what a hopeful time it is for cooking in this country. In fact, this may be the most exciting time ever to be a cook and a chef in America. And Charcuterie is a perfect example of why." Praise for Charcuterie: "Good charcuterie recipes are rarely shared and are often kept as closely guarded as family secrets. As a young cook in Moissac, France, I had to spy and even participate in the killing of my neighbor's pig just to get his pate recipe. In Charcuterie, Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn demystify all of this and share with us the best techniques to cure, smoke and preserve meat in the tradition of the best charcutiers out there."
-Eric Ripert, chef/co-owner of Le Bernardin Restaurant, New York "Michael Ruhlman is probably the greatest living writer on the subject of chefs--and on the business of preparing good food. Brian Polcyn a fine and talented chef and with this book, they are doing God's work: making the noble art of charcuterie accessible and easily understood. Charcuterie is an important and definitive work which deserves to stand proudly and forever in every serious cook's kitchen."
-Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential "At last one of western civilization's most ignored crafts is getting proper, make that brilliant, treatment. Never has the art of charcuterie been handled this thoroughly for the home cook. Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn have drawn together the science, the hand craft and the fabulous tastes of this great celebration of the pig. Bravo for a new classic."
-Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of American Public Media's national radio series, The Splendid Table® "When prepared with skill, charcuterie is amazingly delicious and always satisfying. Until now, the craft of charcuterie -- be it curing, salting or cooking -- has been an art form restricted to a few masters. With their Charcuterie, Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn have opened the door for home cooks everywhere to experience the thrill of making charcuterie."
-Mario Batali, chef/owner of Babbo Restaurant, New York "Charcuterie is a masterwork. It is brilliantly conceived and composed, embracing each aspect of the craft in depth, and with rigor and affection. Happily, cooking with fresh, seasonal, local ingredients is advanced everywhere in cookbooks today, but we have long needed a comprehensive work on the vital traditions of preserving and transforming those same products. Michael and Brian have risen to that challenge. Charcuterie surpasses my most extravagant hopes for what such a book could be. It will inspire droves of cooks. If it doesn't tell you everything you need to know about making charcuterie it certainly establishes a gold standard for how to say it. Bravo!"
-Judy Rodgers, author of The Zuni Café Cookbook "Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's very appealing Charcuterie catches the wave of emerging awareness in America of this age-old craft. Chock full of sound practical advice and a wide range of recipes that cross cultures and traditions, Charcuterie provides an open window on the delicious possibilities available to the home cook and professional chef alike."
-Paul Bertolli, author of Cooking By Hand