21 Apr Charcuterie Obsession: The art and science behind our chicken liver mousse
My obsession with this ancient art form began even before TRC was conceived, back in 2009 when I picked up a copy of Brian Polcyn’s book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing. Brian’s book demystified the process of creating delicious smoked bacon, terrines and dry-cured sausages, by hand, that has been part of our ancestral heritage.
I began experimenting with a few different recipes from the book starting with a traditional bratwurst, a duck sausage, and eventually working my way up to one of the easiest dry-cured sausages, saucisson sec. The “cooked” sausages were fun to make and tasted great right from the get-go but the Holy Grail was mastering the dry-cure process of the saucisson sec, which involves using curing salt, otherwise known as sodium nitrite or pink salt. Nitrite is used to combat harmful bacteria that would otherwise attack and mold the raw sausages. In large quantities, nitrite can be harmful, however, trace amounts are used for the making of cured meats. Simply stated, once you’ve seasoned the sausage with spices and the curing salt, you need time to “incubate” good bacteria for flavor and provide a barrier against the bad bacteria. This is where the skill of a true artisan would come into play as Mother Nature plays a huge part in the success of the final product.
The environment we look for during the incubation/fermentation process is 60 degrees F and about 60–70% humidity for 15–30 days or more. My basement at home proved to be the ideal spot to start the journey, and so I began hanging links of saucisson sec from the rafters at various intervals throughout the back corner. Needless to say, our dog, Sara, was in heaven. For months she lay at the entrance door of my makeshift meat cellar just waiting for an opportunity to pounce! Each day I would document the changes in the product from how it looked; was there “good” white mold growing on it or “bad” fuzzy green looking mold growing? From time to time, I’d see the bad fuzzies growing so I would immediately wipe down the sausage with brine and thus make an adjustment in either room temperature or humidity in order to fight back. I’d often weigh each link to ensure enough water loss was occurring, as the ultimate goal was 30% water loss in the end. Too much water content and the bad bacteria win the battle.
Without a proper license from the Health Department, I couldn’t sell my handmade charcuterie at the restaurant. However, I did send samples around to my friends and neighbors with fantastic results! My goal was to hone my expertise enough to satisfy all of the myriad requirements our local Health Department requires for process variances in order to make and sell house-cured product at TRC. We started small and worked with the department to receive a variance for the use of “pink salt” as a flavoring agent only for our chicken liver mousse. Without the use of curing salt, once a mousse oxidizes or comes into contact with air it turns grey and looks very unappetizing. The way to preserve not only the original flavor but the fresh rosy color is to use a very small amount of pink salt in the base recipe. We’ve been doing this at TRC for over 12 months with great results; we’ve written and followed a strict process and have had several audits completed by Washtenaw County to ensure that we are in compliance.
There is certainly much more effort involved in bringing TRC’s chicken mousse to fruition but we think the results speak for themselves as our mousse has been a top seller. By the way, it pairs great with our hand-pulled Old Fashioned cocktail.
By Jeff Paquin