Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tasso - Cajun Smoked Ham

So lately I have been trying to pick up larger cuts of meat and do various things with them.  I use the excuse of economy but the underlying truth is that I enjoy amateur butchery.  In addition to that, it is definitely convenient to buy a 3 lb chuck roast, have it sitting in the freezer, and be able to fit many whims with it.  Beef stew?  Ground beef?  Shaved beef for cheesesteaks?   I have a wide variety of bases covered.  Keeping it locked in vacuum bags extends the freezer life so I have the luxury of using one large cut over a couple months.  The downside to this (if you could call it a downside) is that occasionally I find myself wanting to get rid of things so that I can pick up something else, or feeling the need to make something with a certain cut before freezer burn, the inevitable asshole, sets in.

Last weekend I found myself wanting to get rid of the last of a pork shoulder.  I had about 1½ lb of shoulder that I wanted to use.  I had a hankering to break out the smoker and do something cured/smoked, because I didn't intend on using the shoulder immediately.  The first thing that came to mind was to make tasso - the ubiquitous ham used all throughout Cajun cooking.  

I think tasso often gets a comparison to bacon.  They are used in similar ways, primarily as a seasoning ingredient for bigger meals like jambalaya.  They are both cured, but tasso is a very quick cure compared to bacon, which can take up to a week.  Tasso cures for a matter of hours on much smaller cuts of meat.  Tasso uses shoulder, whereas bacon uses belly, and tasso uses a strong spice rub, lending a complex flavor profile after smoking.

Traditionally, tasso is smoked using pecan wood.  I had to settle for a mix of alder and hickory (1:2 ratio), I wanted a smoked flavor but not too strong.  Alder is a nice mild wood often used for smoking fish, so I relied mostly on that with a little bit of hickory to give it a little backbone.


Tasso - Cajun Smoked Ham

(recipe adapted from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman)

1.5-2 lb pork shoulder, cut into roughly 1" thick slabs
8 oz kosher salt
4 oz sugar

1½ tbsp ground white pepper
3/4 tbsp cayenne pepper
1½ tbsp dried marjoram
1½ tbsp ground allspice

Start by combining the salt and sugar for your cure.  Dredge your shoulder cuts in the cure, shake off excess, and set them in a container to cure for 4 hours.  You could add pink salt to the cure, I opted not to.  In this cure you would use 1 oz of pink salt.

Combine the rub ingredients.  I had to use the old fashioned mortar and pestle to grind my white pepper so it is extra chunky.  I got tired and my mortar and pestle are small and kind of hard to use.

Rinse the shoulder slabs and pat them dry with a paper towel.  Use your hands to work in the rub on all sides of the shoulder.

Get your smoker preheated to 180º.  Soak the wood chips for at least 30 minutes, add them to the smoker and watch for first whisps of smoke to come out.  Add the tasso and smoke to a temperature of 155º.  Add woodchips as necessary.  Let cool and use as needed or freeze for future use.

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