Thursday, January 3, 2008

Charcuterie or Who Doesn't Like a Little French?

Charcuterie has been prized as a culinary art in France for more than five hundred years. In French, the word "charcuterie" simply means "cooked meats," however charcuterie actually encompasses a very wide range of specially prepared meats prized for their uniquely rich flavors and creamy textures. Although charcuterie is characterized by it delicious flavors, dieters need to beware. Those wonderful flavors are obtained by the addition of lots and lots of fats.

Some of the more common charcuterie include pates, sausages, rillettes, smoked ham, bacon, galantines, crepinettes, headcheese (we think the French fromage de tete sounds much nicer), and terrines. Charcuterie is a mystery to many non-gourmet cooks, but studying the recipes and taking the time to actually make a few of them (and they do take time), takes the mystery out of the process.

While charcuterie are the meats, fish etc. listed above, the person who makes the meats, etc. is the charcutiere, or the cuiseur de chair, the "cooker of meat."

A la charcutiere mean "in the style of the butcher's wife" and is used to describe the dishes made in a rustic style, usually at home, and usually using the leftover scraps of other dishes to make sausages and pates. Meats prepared a la charcutiere and often grilled and seved with a brown sauce of roux and clarified butter, then garnished with julienned sweet gherkins.

Charcuterie, while more often than not, quite rustic in appearance and flavor, is really a highly developed art form. Each spice is measured precisely; mousse must be "melt in your mouth creamy" in order to be considered for use; chefs vie for the best fish pates using unique combinations of creams and wines.

Charcuterie is often used as a filling. Beurre blanc is an example of this type of filling.

If you really want to be "up" on the culinary arts, especially the French culinary arts, then you really can't know enough about charcuterie. It's a fascinating subject to study, and once you've tested a few recipes, a very tasty one to sample as well. :)

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