What to write, what to write? It’s the final Charcutepalooza challenge. Ever. I can hardly believe it! Who would have thought a year ago that Neil and I would be hosting an all-meat luncheon for 7 people featuring meat we cured, smoked, ground, packed and blended ourselves? Certainly not me.
It says a lot about this year of meat that this did not faze either Neil or me. I mean, our friends are used to over the top gatherings but few gatherings require as much pre-planning as a Charcutepalooza meal. But as soon as Cathy announced the challenge – showing off what we’ve learned this year – we got planning. We didn’t want it to be too over the top but we did want to revisit a few techniques we really enjoyed and some we found less successful, determined to get them right.
I knew immediately that I wanted to recreate the chicken liver terrine I had made in July when I was in Paris for the August challenge. Neil did not get to taste this (he was busy running around Toronto procuring various animal parts to make the headcheese that was so successful that I did not get to taste) and I knew that he would enjoy it. A spreadable terrine is also a great party food, even though it’s …well, brown and kind of ugly. I added some parsley to it for some colour but the flavour was spot on. I even made it using my immersion blender à la Parisian technique from the summer and was not disappointed. Now I (nearly) am over my squeamishness of cooking livers (ewwwwww!), this might be a regular on our party roster.
And since we were talking terrines, why not re-try the pâté de campagne that we were so disappointed with in September? This had been one dish we were SO looking forward to making and we were so upset with the outcome that I nearly put it out of my head forever. But when I saw Cathy’s recipe for “Pâté de campagne with Gascony on my mind“, I knew immediately that it must be tried. Armagnac and prunes and pork? What could go wrong? As it turns out, nothing. This was nothing short of exceptional – the right texture and a great flavour. Still kinda brown but what can you do?
Another no-brainer for this last supper was duck prosciutto – the very first challenge of the year. Astounded at how something home-cured could taste so real (and so good), we knew that we had to reproduce this for our meat-loving friends. And we were not wrong. Whilst still a little bit on the moist side (this was a really fatty duck), this was flavourful and tender and not at all chewey. In fact, I only had a small sliver of this as I was cutting it for the picture before it was whisked out of my hands by a neighbour who sat in ecstasy all afternoon proclaiming that it was “the best ever” and waxing lyrical about the joy of duck fat. He also went home with a little goody bag and a promise that we’d share the recipe with him (though not sure he will admire us so much when he figures out how easy it is!).
Even before we knew what the challenge was, we were already going to make pancetta and bacon again. This is an easy task, not at all challenging so it kind of felt like cheating. SO we figured we had better do something wonderful with the finished product…
This was REALLY tasty pancetta… As I was frying up those little bits in the dish for the finale, I really just wanted to fry up a whole lot of it and make eggs and sit down to enjoy. Alas, when the Last Supper is upon you, there is no time for such nonsense.
The bacon has a little story behind it. The bacon you see below is not the bacon we originally intended to use for this challenge. We started curing it ages ago, using a new maple cure we’d bought. Somehow, both of us managed to mightily mess up what exactly we needed to add to this cure (everything and we added nothing) and it was a total disaster. An expensive, organic pork belly of a disaster. But, you know, you might laugh and call your Charcutepalooza final meal the Last Supper but you really don’t mean it to be. We tossed the gorgeous (though at that point rather unattractive) belly and started anew. That’s the great thing about bacon – you can have your own in around a week. I loved how meaty this belly was…
Neil definitely wanted to revisit the smoked salmon, despite the fact that we still don’t have a cold smoker or any way of managing this. Last time we did it, the salmon was so delicious that it didn’t matter whether it was cold or hot smoked and Neil really wanted to try it again – you know, for some light relief amongst the meat…. I’ll admit that even as a non-salmon lover, this was gorgeous… And our non fish-eating friend Alison loved it. And she’s pretty much in the “No Fish Ever” camp…
Served on a fluffy mashed potato pancake with crème fraîche.
Ok so what about a “main course” of sorts (because clearly this wasn’t already enough food….)? I had my heart set on making a meatloaf using freshly ground beef (because the Kitchen Aid meat grinding attachment is my friend, you know!) and wrapping it in bacon. I used a favourite recipe from Gourmet, modifying it slightly. All I can say is, this was AWESOME. Yes it was.
From-scratch (bacon-wrapped) meatloaf
A from-scratch meatloaf (wrapped in bacon or not) that's sure to please!
- 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 20 soda crackers, finely crushed
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 pounds ground beef
- 1 cup pulverized canned tomatoes, drained before you blitz them
- 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
- 8-10 rashes of bacon, thinly sliced
- 1 cup pulverized canned tomatoes
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a large bowl, using your hands, mix ground beef with onion, soda cracker crumbs, egg, 1 cup of the pulverized tomatoes, mustard, salt, pepper and italian seasoning and lightly blend with hands until just combined.
- In a roasting pan form mixture into two roughly 9- by 5-inch loaves and wrap the bacon strips over the top of one of the loaves and and bake in middle of oven 10 minutes.
- While meatloaf is baking, in a small saucepan whisk together the second cup of pulverized tomatoes, vinegar, brown sugar and mustard and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- After meatloaves have baked 10 minutes, spoon enough sauce over the unwrapped meatloaf to coat it.
- Continue to bake, recovering with the sauce after 30 minutes for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes more, or until a thermometer inserted in center registers 160°F.
- Tent the meatloaves in foil and allow to stand in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Return sauce remaining in saucepan to a boil and simmer 1 minute.
- Serve the unwrapped meatloaf with sauce on the side. Serve the bacon-wrapped meatloaf as is.
And for the finale? Well we couldn’t exactly go past bacon chocolate now, could we? Except we made it with spicy pancetta. We’ve made this before but had vowed to do it again since last time we never tempered the chocolate and it was kind of ugly. I was pretty pleased with how this came out….
And we did one batch with the pancetta mixed in – for those who don’t like to see their meat in their chocolate. At the end of the day, on the plate, it made no difference. Lips were licked, bellies were filled and our friends left replete. And, I think, pretty impressed. But you know what? None of this meat-making malarkey has really been difficult. Sure there have been moments when I’ve been up to my elbows in emulsified meat cursing Charcutepalooza. But there have also been moments like Sunday where people asked us “You made all this – yourselves?” and Neil and I were proud to respond “Yes. We did.”
Thank you for following along this journey in meat-making with Neil and me this year. It’s been a lot of meat to read about (and a lot of ugly meat pictures to stomach!) and I appreciate your support. Not sure what next year will bring in terms of pushing ourselves but I do know that it will be hard to top this experience. To Cathy and Kim, thank you. To all the friends I have made along the way, thank you too. I certainly couldn’t have done this without all the support from the CharcuteCommunity. And I certainly could not have done this without Neil, my in-house butcher, and Cleo my taste-tester. Bye bye Charcutepalooza, it’s been fun. We’ll miss you. But as they say en français, ce n’est qu’un au revoir…