March 2, 2011
I first discovered tasso while at college in New Orleans. A regional specialty, this cured and smoked cut of pork adds a N’awlins mojo to your gumbos, jambalayas or any dish needing a little extra zip. Larry Gaian of The BBQ Grail walks us through the process.
I’ve not had great results with my charcuterie efforts lately. The bacon and panchetta cures last years were good but did not yield the results I was hoping for. I decided to give it a try again this week with something that would yield a better potential for success. And the end result was fantastic and I can’t wait to cook up a batch of jambalaya or red beans and rice. The tasso is going to be a great seasoning in several dishes.
Tasso ham is a specialty of Cajun cuisine. It is a spicy, peppery version of smoked pork made from the shoulder butt. In this case, “ham” is a misnomer, since tasso is not made from the hind leg of a pig. This cut is typically fatty and, because the muscle is constantly used by the animal, has a great deal of flavor. The butt, which will weigh 7 to 8 pounds, is sliced across the grain into pieces about 3 in / 7.5 cm thick. These are dredged in a salt cure, which usually includes nitrates and sugar. The meat is left to cure briefly, only three or four hours, then rinsed, rubbed with a spice mixture containing Cayenne pepper and garlic, and hot-smoked until cooked through.
Tasso is not eaten on its own, but is used as part of a flavor base for stews or braised vegetables. It is used in dishes ranging from pasta to crab cakes, soup to gravy. Appropriate to its roots, tasso is most often found in recipes of southern or Cajun/Creole origin, such as jambalaya. –Wikipedia
I am a huge fan of Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. At my house this book isn’t a cookbook, it’s more like a coffee table book. Reading this book is my inspiration for wanting to learn more about this cooking craft. There are thousands of Tasso recipes on the web and they all have a few things in common, but none of them are exactly the same. This recipe was inspired by Ruhlman’s book but adapted just a little to fit my family’s tastes.
I started with a nine pound bone in pork shoulder. All I needed was five pounds so I removed the end that didn’t contain the bone and then cut it into slices. Most of the fat was left off, I only removed the “hard” fat.
The pork slices were dredged in the curing mixture. It’s very important to make sure all sides of the meat is covered in the curing mixture. Once the pork was covered in the curing mixture I placed the pork into a plastic zip top storage bag and put them in the refrigerator.
This is the first place I had to deviate from Ruhlman’s instructions. In “Charcuterie” Ruhlman says to only cure the meat for 4 hours. After reading 15 to 20 recipes I just wasn’t sure this was enough to give it the “ham” flavor this was going to need. I decided to cure the pork for three days. I rotated the bag of pork every 12 hours or so.
After the 3 days I removed the pork from the bag and rinsed it to remove as much of the salt as possible. After the rinse the pork was placed on a rack and as much water was removed with paper towels as possible. I’ve always made it a point to let meat come up to room temperature before putting it on the smoker, so the meat was allowed to air dry until it was completely dry. When the meat was dry the slices were dredged in the seasoning mixture.
The seasoning mixture is mostly ground peppers so when dredging you want to do it slowly because it does create a little pepper dust cloud that will cause a cough fit if breathed too deeply. (Trust me I know this for a fact).
Again, just like the curing mixture, you want to make sure that every bit of surface area is covered with the seasoning mixture. This will insure, when smoked, that you get all the flavors through out the meat. Since Tasso is not normally eaten alone, and is used primarily as a seasoning in other foods, you don’t want any unseasoned meat in your jambalaya or beans.
The pork slices were smoked with hickory wood in my Masterbuilt Electric Smoker at 180 degrees until the internal temperature of the pork was 165 degrees. Most of the pork had a nice “bark” on it.
After cooling I chopped the Tasso into large cubes and vacuumed sealed them. The Tasso will keep for a week in the refrigerator and several months in the freezer. I doubt it will last a month here, but we’ll see.
The flavor of the Tasso was incredible. It will complement all sorts of dishes and I can’t wait to cook up some Red Beans & Rice.
As you read through the recipe below you’ll notice that Ruhlman used weights for many items. This technique allows for difference weights of different products and provides for a better ability to recreate recipes. If you’d like to learn more about cooking with ratios may I suggest the book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman.
Inspired by Michael Ruhlman in “Charcuterie”
Ingredients for Cure Mixture:
- 5 pounds pork shoulder, sliced into 5 seven slabs
- 1 pound kosher salt (I used Morton’s®)
- 8 ounces granulated sugar (I used Sugar In The Raw)
- 2 ounces pink salt (I used Morton’s® Tender Quik)
Ingredients for Seasoning Mixture:
3 tablespoons ground white pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cayenne pepper (I use chipotle because I prefer the flavor and heat level)
- 3 tablespoons dried marjoram
- 3 tablespoons ground all spice
Directions are above with the pictures.