We love charcuterie, but whom better to tell you the tricks of the trade than a professional? Check out our interview with Eric Lee, Executive Chef at Gusto Group in Winnipeg, Canada.
Q. What is the secret to curing, drying or smoking meat? A. The secret to curing, drying or smoking is the flavoring. The processes have been around for a long time, so deciding on which flavors, or smoke, to use for whichever application is important.
Q. What kind of foods best complement cured or smoked meat? A. I like to use various pickles. I find the pickle brine goes well with both smoked and cured meats, and the vinegar helps cut some of the flavors to cleanse the palette. Mustards are great, and I like a sharp cheeses. There are also fruit compotes and jellies that pair well.
Q. What are the tricks of the trade for choosing meat from a butcher? A. If you're actually going to a butcher, the tricks for choosing good meats are asking a couple of questions, which the butcher should be able to answer. How fresh or aged is the meat? Sometimes if it's too fresh, the texture can be off, and the real "meat" flavor is not reached yet. If the meat is aged for a couple of weeks, natural enzymes in the meat help break down muscle tissue and make a more tender, flavorful piece. Also, look for a nice looking fat in the meat—the "marbeling" in some cuts is just awesome for flavor. If you're adventuresome, ask the butcher what they're favorite cuts are.
Q. What is the best way to add texture to a dish? A. The best way to add texture to a dish is to utilize a complementary component that you know is an opposite texture. Nowadays that's why we see plates with a protein (soft), vegetables (al dente), a crispy chip item and a pickled item. The variety keeps the mind working with each bite!
Q. Why is color important in a dish? A. A popular phrase is "eating with your eyes,” which includes incorporating more sensory experience into your dining experience.
Q. Have you ever made your own charcuterie platter? Describe it.
A. I serve a charcuterie platter at my restaurant. I try to bring a half pig in every couple of weeks, and we cure our own stuff to use up all the parts. It's fun and different, and diners now really enjoy the platters to start off dining experiences.
Most of the time we use pork, but we have used beef, elk, goat, rabbit and bison. Nothing is out of reach, except for maybe chicken. Lately, fish charcuterie has gotten really popular. Most of our cured items start off with a dry rub of salt and other flavorings, and we coat the outside and let sit for a couple of days. Then we hang things to air cure for weeks, to months, to years. On my charcuterie I serve house-marinated olives, house made mustard and pickles, toasted crostini and some cheese.
Q. What is your favorite dish to make? A. I love to make almost anything comfort food-ish. I have a pizzeria, so I love making pizzas in the wood-fired oven, but I also love braising and serving meats, like osso buco or taking that braised meat, pulling it off the bone and turning it into a ragu that we'll pair with a really nice peasant style pasta.
Q. What advice would you give amateur or aspiring chefs? A. My advice for a young cook is to learn, absorb and never be satisfied. It's great to stay at a job for a long time, if it's the right job, but travel, see and cook different things.
Pizzeria Gusto opened in 2008 and prides itself on using the best possible ingredients to prepare the best food possible. The restaurant has a family dinner atmosphere—loud, fun, accepting and often educational.