Tuesday, April 24, 2012
You know how you can get obsessed about something? A song running through your head that won’t stop? Well, Domenico got a sausage stuck in his head two years ago, and it just wouldn’t go away.
When we were up at the last Salone del Gusto, while I was busy at a beer tasting, Domenico was wandering around the Mercato. He started chatting up one of the vendors from Ferrara and when I came out of my tasting he told me he was going to buy a salama da sugo. Oddly, I’d never heard of this before, but I guess Domenico has been dreaming of it for years. Who knew?
Anyway, when he told me more about it, and that it involved hanging it from a wooden pole while it cooked for 8 hours in a simmering pot of water, I began thinking maybe this was the kind of thing we’d more easily enjoy at someone else's house. As I headed into a coffee making seminar, my last words were “If you buy it, you are the one in charge of cooking it.”
Heading back on the train to Rome the next day, of course we had a salama. And of course, Domenico never got around to spending the day at home cooking it. Surprised? I wasn’t. Eventually, 10 months later, long past when I should have, I threw it away.
And ever since then it’s been my fault that Domenico still hasn’t fulfilled his salama da sugo cravings.
Until last weekend when - finally - my friend Patrizia took pity on him. Patrizia is from Ferrara, and has grown up eating salama da sugo. Her family owns a lot of land, and are rice growers. Which comes in handy when you are shopping for a salama. Because it's not the kind of thing you can just walk into a store and buy. You have to befriend your local farmer, and hope he agrees to hand one over.
Which is what Patrizia did.
By this time you’re wondering what this thing is, right? It’s a regional type of pork salami made around Ferrara. The meats are usually a mixture of neck and guanciale as well as prosciutto and shoulder and a bit of liver and tongue. This is all cut up and seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg and sometimes even cinnamon. When this is well mixed, a good quantity of strong red wine is added (not sweet and never pasteurized). It’s the wine, in fact, that gives the salama it’s characteristic strong taste as it ages, in its pear shaped sack, for about a year.
Even though I balked at the cooking time, that’s the only thing that’s hard about preparing it. The salama is soaked for a night in tepid water. Then you tie it to the a wooden spoon or pole and hang it over a pot of simmering water so that it doesn’t touch the sides. And let it cook, very very slowly, for 8 hours. This allows the fat to leak out, while at the same time intensifying the already strong flavor of the highly seasoned meat.
Back to Patrizia’s house, where she was kind of nervous about serving it to us salama neophytes. “It’s very rich,” she kept saying. As she carefully pulled the salama out of it’s water bath, she kept fretting about whether it was going to be good. She carefully untied the strings that bound it together, and peeled off the skin.
She sliced off the top of the egg-shaped salama and we were good to go. The meat was incredibly dark - from the wine I’m guessing. She first placed a fluffy mound of mashed potatoes on our plates, then carefully scooped out a few spoonfuls of the salama, gently plopping it atop the puree.
The fatty meat was almost hash-like in consistency: chunks of velvety, spiced pork that went perfectly with the starchy potatoes. Very strong tasting, as I expected, but in a good way. The spices were not overwhelming, yet the entire thing was extremely rich as Patrizia had predicted, with the flavor of the buttery liver just coming through, balancing out the acidic notes of aged wine.
Yet, even as we were tucking into the delicacy, obviously contented and happy, Patrizia was still fretting. “It’s a bit on the salty side” she said, “That’s why we usually cook two. Just in case one isn’t quite successful.”
Cook two? I was just impressed that she has managed to cook one for Domenico. He was finally happy, and - since it was beyond delicious - so was I.