Salumi delivers on its promises. If you want a comprehensive, understandable, useable and enjoyable guide to how to dry cure & preserve meats Italian style, this is it. It’s suitable for the chef, semi-pro or novice home practitioner. I wish that this book had been published a few years earlier to save me some hard won experience.
Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing is written by the authors of the acclaimed Charcuterie – Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn. Rhulman has written & co-written many bestselling books about cooking. Polcyn is Professor of Butchery & Charcuterie at Schoolcraft College in Michigan and a chef/patron of his own restaurants. They both demonstrate a clear knowledge of the science of meat preservation coupled with a love & evangelism for good food, slowly & lovingly prepared and eaten.
Salumi is a tidy hardback book that’ll fit on your worktop while you work through the instructions. It’s divided into five chapters which take you systematically through the process from carcass to consumption. It’s illustrated throughout with really clear & helpful drawings by Alan Witschonke. It has two beautiful sections of colour plates which really do the salumi proud and show you what to aim for. Each chapter has its own mini-contents at the beginning and these are helpful to see the scope of what’s there, not just to help to navigate the book. There are regular boxed out asides which give added detail and explanations or contain wonderful anecdotes. The anecdotes really bring the book alive and give it atmosphere.
They clarify terminology up front and explain that salumi is the word for salted & cured meats and salami are a subset of these which are dry cured sausages.
In the first chapter the authors first put salumi in their cultural and philosophical context. Now this may sound a little pretentious: but the way they express it is down to earth. While their book Charcuterie was about the French tradition of meat curing and confit; Salumi is about the narrower, more focused and more difficult craft (in their view) of Italian dry curing of meat. They say:
Nature is the greatest artist, we are not the first to say, and this is what salumi is really about: taking what nature gives us and doing as little as possible to it to make it the best it can be.
They emphasise the need for high quality meat and also that in using it you must be properly prepared. Their emotion about the responsibility of the meat preparer is eloquently expressed:
…if you are not prepared, if you have a feeling bone in your body, you will experience the deep humiliation of having wasted a creature’s life because you were lazy.
Quite so and well said. But the book is not all so earnest. The section the above quote comes from is entitled: “The Experience of Breaking Down a Whole Hog (Is This Your First Time, Sweetheart?)”. And their humour peeks cheekily through in many more passages and anecdotes.
The first chapter gives really detailed instructions of how to butcher a whole pig. Having done the job myself, the instructions are clearly from people that have done it for real. The drawings come into their own here and are very helpful. They say it’s hard work and needs from three to nine people to do. No wonder when I’ve done it on my todd, I been out on my feet at the end. There’s lots of good practical advice and tips.
The second chapter sets out the basics of the science behind why and how curing works. They deal with the safety and environmental/public health issues in a way that reassures. Like scuba diving, they say, if you follow the rules – you’ll be safe. They provide advice about what equipment is needed and how to improvise smokers and curing cabinets. The chapter ends with a basic recipe and some rules of thumb. In addition to the science and careful weighing of ingredients, they stress that common sense is a useful asset to have and use throughout the process.
In Chapter Three they describe and give recipes for the ‘Big Eight’ Italian dry cured meats. These are: guanciale, coppa, spalla, lardo, lonza, pancetta, prosciutto and (basic) salami. Each section describes the cuts and its uses, flavour, cure variations and gives relevant tips and things to look out for. The recipes are clear and precise, the measurements given in ounces and grammes with aniticpated timings and yields.
With Chapter Four, Ruhlman & Polcyn go “Deeper into the Craft of Dry Curing and Preserving Meat”. This covers how to make more complex salami, whole muscle salami and cooked salumi. The recipes follow a similar format to those in Chapter Three and I found really inspired me to want to get to grips with the art of the Salumière. The authors’ expertise of the technical aspects of the cure and how to match and blend flavours shines through.
Finally, in Chapter Five the art of how to cook with and serve salumi is revealed. There are six mouth watering sections which cover tagliere di salumi (the salumi board), crostini, pizza, pasta & polenta, soups & salads and classic combinations. There’s enough inspiration in here for many months and years of happy cooking.
I’ve kept, slaughtered and butchered my own pigs and made my own bacon, chorizo and sausages. So I’m an enthusiast for the process and the products. I’m also, as this blog shows, a big fan of Italian style cuisine. This book will soon look tired and battered as it’s bound to be well used, thumbed and drooled over. It’s an essential read for anyone interested in how to make preserved meats, or who wants to find out more about Italian cuisine.
Disclosure: The publishers provided me with a free copy of this book for me to review. They didn’t impose any express or implied conditions on this and I have written as I’ve found.