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Food, Foodies, Foodways

Cookbooks and cultural conversation starters top our summer reading list

Reviewed by Mick Vann, May 23, 2014, Food

Charcutería: The Soul of Spain

by Jeffrey Weiss
Agate Surrey, 464 pp., $39.95

Author Jeffrey Weiss is a professional chef who won the prestigious ICEX scholarship, enabling him to live in Spain while studying the food culture and the regional cuisines, and cook in the kitchens with some of the best chefs of the Iberian peninsula. Weiss learned all about the fabled charcutería traditions that are so central to the heart of Spanish cuisine. Whether it is a spread of tapas, a classic stew or soup, or an authentic main course, you can bet that a luscious regional Spanish sausage, pâté, terrine, or jamón won't be far away. Until this book, no one has ever detailed in the English language the butcher's traditions of Spain or the art of the matanza (the ritual pig slaughter), and Weiss has done it in a detailed fashion that immediately gets your mouth watering.

Weiss starts with the raw ingredient, the revered Spanish pig. He details the cuts of the carcass and their uses in the butcher's larder. He covers brines, salt cures, and marinades and all of their variations, before launching into pickling and preserving (unlike here, canned foods in Spain are considered a luxury), and confit. The largest section covers all of the forms of embutidos (sausages and stuffed meats; amazing chorizo, lomo, morcilla and the like), before he moves into pâtés and terrines, and finally, the accompanying sauces and garnishes. Each of these sections is exhaustive in description of the methods involved, and the headnotes and sidebars are brimming with enough information to comprise a book of their own. Each section has recipes artfully utilizing the charcutería product you just learned how to make, with over 100 well-written recipes in all.

The enlightening (and witty) content is reinforced by the colorful and vivid illustrations of Barcelona's Sergio Mora and the lavish photographs of Nathan Rawlinson; they provide step-by-step instructions and also reveal the soul of Spanish gastronomy and the Iberian landscape. Weiss' book opens a revealing doorway to the masterful art of Spanish charcutería and makes the craft attainable for all, regardless of skill level. Be warned: Don't even think about opening this book on an empty stomach; it will drive you insane with hunger.

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