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By Mick Vann, Fri., Dec. 2, 2005

Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing

by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

W.W. Norton, 416 pp., $35

We all know that everything is better homemade, but few today have the gumption to tackle making their own charcuterie (using salt and smoke, time and temperature, to cure and preserve meats and other foods). One of the reasons for this breakdown in the old ways – when foods had to be preserved for the long winter – is that before now, no book handled the craft in an easily managed style for the home cook. Ruhlman and Polcyn reveal the secrets here. You don't need highly specialized equipment or obscure ingredients to make your own pastrami, sausages, confit, bacon, prosciutto, or pâtés or galantines. You simply have to carefully follow the precise and simple steps offered.

The authors cover every aspect of the traditional forms of charcuterie, including brining, dry-curing, pickling (including pickles and sauerkraut), hot- and cold-smoking, sausage-making, confit, and the construction of pâtés, using clear and concise instruction and revealing headnotes for the 140 recipes. The realistic illustrations reinforce the text in an especially illuminating style, making it incredibly easy to follow the methods. The use of master recipes and ratios enables readers to be creative with seasonings and branch out on their own.

Winter, especially in Texas, is the ideal time to produce your own charcuterie. Imagine sinking your teeth into a stacked Reuben laden with your own homemade corned beef and sauerkraut, a pot of gumbo chock-full of homemade tasso ham, or a fettuccine Alfredo flavored with pancetta made in your own kitchen. Grab a copy of Charcuterie, and start preserving! It's much simpler than you've imagined.

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