That $625 list price of the forthcoming Modernist Cuisine cookbook may be getting all the attention, but there are few cookbooks that can get away with even a $65 list price. Unless you're talking about cured meat. In particular, The Art of Charcuterie by John Kowalski, a culinary instructor at the Culinary Institute of America.
That the book is not too narrow of a single-subject study is why this is one of those rare reference books that gets undivided attention both in the kitchen and on the nightstand. A book you will want to cook from some days, simply learn from others (not that we don't love Bacon). The precise culinary school step-by-step recipe layout makes that dry-cured pancetta and “straight-method forcemeat” (a basic recipe for a terrine or pâté) seem much easier to make than they are — although they still take several hours and plenty of counter space to make. Yet for a culinary school cookbook, this book is a rare home-cook friendly version with detailed directions (culinary school recipes are notoriously drill-sergeant brief) and quantities in ounces and cups rather than simply grams. A charcuterie book for fanatics, yes, but an approachable one.
The first few chapters are more classroom lecture than cookbook, a necessary lesson plan when you're dealing with potentially handing out a side of botulism with that homemade beef jerky. Kowalski begins with an equipment tour (a meat grinder attachment to your stand mixer is highly recommended), followed by a chapter describing the typical seasonings for various charcuterie. That recipes for the basic bratwurst, capacolla and pâté spice mix are included at the front of the book rather than in an appendix or glossary format is a subtle but really very savvy choice, as it makes you pause and consider the power of those spices as much as your choice of meat.
Lectures on the basic raw meats used and a chapter on sanitation follow before you get to the heart of the book: Individual chapters organized by style of preserving. Which simply means bacon shares the stage with salmon gravlax in the “Curing and Brining” chapter and the “Smoking” chapter gives equal weight to dry-cured fish, beef jerky and smoked shrimp.
As this is a charcuterie book, there are of course sausages, too. Nearly 70 pages of dutiful breakfast, lunch and dinner guidelines followed by recipes for turkey frankfurters, cheddar-jalapeño beef/pork sausages, kielbasa, blood sausages, bratwurst and even bologna. Should pâtés and terrines, or perhaps even a téte pressée (rolled pressed pig's head) be more your elegant weekend-warrior style, there is a chapter on those as well.
The final “Condiments” chapter begins with the typical chef-instructor deadpan description (“We will look at condiments used in charcuterie to complement and bring out the flavors of the product.”) and then surprises with its array of rather fantastic recipes, from adobo sauce and cinnamon-rum applesauce to fresh horseradish and apple-banana chutney.
That only a handful of the condiment recipes include serving suggestion notes (serve a vinaigrette dressing with head cheese, the dill and mustard sauce with cold fish and shellfish) appears to be an oversight until you flip back to the front of the chapter and remember you already received a long, thorough (boring?) lecture on the types of cold sauces (coulis/pureés, emulsions, “coating” sauces, dairy-based sauces, “contemporary” sauces) that you are expected to have remembered from earlier in your kitchen classroom discoveries.
It's all very culinary school-esque, a thoroughly researched, fact-driven charcuterie overview with photos only used when necessary to illustrate a technique. In other words, a book that truly captures the centuries-old Art of Charcuterie for the home cook. Turns out culinary instructors enjoy a homemade sausage or two on the weekends, too.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.