Housemade Charcuterie: A Gustatory Sampling in Rhode Island
Once upon a time, in an age before refrigerators and certainly before immersion circulators, people needed a way to preserve meat. A time-honored process of preservation, dating back to 15th century France, charcuterie was created through the magic of the mineral known as salt.
So why, in today’s modern world where we can temperature-control everything, and where we know salt isn’t magic—it merely induces osmosis, dehydration and fermentation and denatures proteins—do we still find people performing the craft of charcuterie?
Simply because the results are so delicious.
The preparation of charcuterie also happens to be very useful in today’s restaurant kitchens where chefs are striving to use whole animals. While some customers remain squeamish about eating certain cuts of meat, or offal, by grinding them into sausage, pressing them into a terrine or processing them into pâtés, every piece of meat can be used to tasty advantage.
Among the Rhode Island chefs refining their technique in the art of charcuterie, there are three Providence chefs doing wonders with pork, duck, chicken, beef and even fish. Derek Wagner, chef/owner of Nick’s on Broadway; Beau Vestal, executive chef at New Rivers; and Matt Gennuso, chef/owner of Chez Pascal, all create magical plates of cured food on a daily basis.
At Nick’s on Broadway, Wagner makes dozens of charcuterie items in house, all from locally procured ingredients. He brings in whole pigs from Stoney Hill Cattle Farm, sides of beef from Blackbird Farm and chickens from Baffoni’s Poultry Farm to create items such as sausage, corned beef hash and confit chicken leg salad.
Vestal features a daily charcuterie and offal menu at New Rivers, offering over a dozen dishes a day from cured Arctic char to lamb merguez to duck ham, along with plenty of pork. Gennuso not only offers a charcuterie plate on the Chez Pascal menu but makes pastrami, sausages and other charcuterie for his food truck, Hewtin’s Dogs Mobile.
Ironically, for a process that was created to preserve meat, charcuterie fferings from these chefs seem to go rather quickly. Thankfully hey keep making more for those of us who love it.v