Snacking for dinner, and New Things
February 27, 2016
Sometimes, a snack for dinner is a Good Thing.
Particularly when you’ve discovered new things that are absolutely marvelous additions to a snacky dinner.
I had planned on crab legs and steamed sugar snap peas for dinner, but, the road to hell being paved with good intentions — that didn’t happen. So that will be another day. Instead, there was a cheese plate with caviar-topped crackers and Three New Things.
New Thing 1: I may have mentioned before my fondness for charcuterie — cured meats. I made my first trip to Porcellino’s in Memphis this week, and sampled some Memphis-made charcuterie. Now, if you follow the restaurant scene in Memphis at all, you know that Porcellino’s is one-third of the Andy Ticer-Michael Hudman culinary chain, along with Hog and Hominy and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, all within rock-throwing distance of each other in East Memphis. Porcellino’s bills itself as a “craft butcher,” as well as offering a deli-type menu of soups, sandwiches and the like.
I had to be out and about in Memphis, so I made a stop by the Mighty Olive to pick up some basil infused olive oil and decided to head another half-dozen blocks east to Porcellino’s. The butcher shop offers a lovely selection of lamb and pork chops and roasts and some succulent looking beef, but it was charcuterie I had in mind. Along with salume and pepperoni and such, there was a section filled with cured. thin-sliced meats — bresaola (beef top round), loma embucado and a few other similar pork preparations of featuring different curing spices, and duck proscuitto. I couldn’t pass up the loma embucado and the duck proscuitto.
Loma embucado is pork loin that’s dry-cured in a mix of curing spices and curing salt, then hung in a drying chamber for a month. It’s essentially the same process used in curing country ham, or proscuitto, if you’re Italian. And unless you have a dedicated curing chamber or live in a climate where you have a basement that stays in the upper 40s, you’re generally better off to leave it to the professionals to do for you. This stuff was not as salty as country ham; very, very lean, with a pop of flavor from the fennel and coriander in the cure. And it was excellent with an Oregon blue cheese.
Duck proscuitto is domestic duck breast — probably muscovy ducks, judging from the fat cap thickness — that’s cured in much the same way. It’s a more moist meat from the fat that’s left on it. It was primo with an aged Havarti and an aged Gouda and Dijon mustard. I had to peel the fat off, though; it had a bit of a strong taste to it. That strong taste, fortunately, didn’t carry through to the breast meat.
These meats aren’t cheap; about six ounces for $12. But six ounces will make about a dozen cheese plates like this one, or provide an ample single selection on a meat-and-cheese board.
New Thing No. 2 is really an old thing — radishes — in a new way. I’ve always loved radishes — loved them in a salad, or just to munch out of hand as part of a relish tray. But I’d seen people rave about spreading them with a bit of butter and finishing them off with sea salt. So I tried that.
People. This is a revelation, or at least it was to me. Something about the combo of the peppery radish against the silky richness of the butter, accented with the flakes of sea salt, makes a whole that’s a LOT greater than the sum of the parts. I halved some decent-sized radishes and used only a tiny bit of butter, maybe an eighth of a teaspoon, on each half. Great accent to a meat-and-cheese board.
New Thing No. 3 is an easy thing. The hardest part about the prep is getting the doggoned plastic seal off the lid of the jar. You’re probably familiar with Boar’s Head meat sand cheeses, the upscale varieties in your deli case at your local supermarket. (They’re pricy for a reason; they’re worth it.) You may not know they make a variety of condiments, and a variety of pickles, as well. Their dill pickles are quite good; but their sweet pickle chunks with horseradish? These things are Sweet Baby Jesus good.
The sweet is more of a bread-and-butter sweet, as opposed to a gherkin sweet. But it’s that second taste that sneaks in behind the sweet and jumps up and bops you — that Ka-POW! of horseradish — that’s it’s signature. If you don’t like horseradish, definitely give this one a pass, because that’s the key element in them. Me, I love me some horseradish, and these pickles raised my eyebrows and brought a “Wow!” to my lips.
And yes, while the photo above looks like it’s enough for me and y’mama ‘n ’em, I in fact ate the whole thing. So there.