Not only is pork paving its way back to the mainstream as a menu item and as an ingredient—now chefs are maximizing pork’s profitability by making charcuterie in their own restaurants.
Charcuterie—cold cooked, cured or processed meat and meat products—as it turns out, is one of those pork dishes that restaurant diners love. And in restaurants’ continuous attempt to regulate price points in their menu items, chefs are now making bacon, sausage, ham, terrine, patés, galantines and confit in-house, taking a stab at the advantages that whole hog butchery brings.
Jacob Sessoms from Ashville, N.C.’s Table and Tod’s Tasties noticed that despite his customers’ enthusiasm for charcuterie, they weren’t quite interested to pay $12 for a plate. But since he has taken steps to prepare it in-house, it has become a bestseller.
“It’s one of the best ways to increase restaurant revenue for as long as you know how to do it properly,” said Sessoms. “We started doing it two years ago, when one of my line cooks experimented on making hotdogs. We ended up offering our own sausages, hams and salamis at Tod’s Tasties, our casual café.” Now, his team, a unified group of chefs in functional chef aprons, creates their own version of Italian sausage guanciale, cures their own bacon and makes their own French saucisson (dry cured sausage), ham, salami and more.
Butchering an entire hog and using all of its parts can really be lucrative, according to George Marsh, co-chef de cuisine at Baltimore-based Woodberry Kitchen. “Other than developing our own salami-starter, we prepare coppa (dry-cured pork shoulder or neck) from our butchered hog’s neck, pancetta and bacon using pork belly, pate using the liver, blood sausage, lardo from the fat back, and whipped lard from the interior abdominal fat, among many others,” he added. “It is an exciting and fun thing to carry out, and it allows us to come up with products through the use of locally raised hogs.”
San Mateo, Calif.-based Viogner Restaurant’s Preston Dishman, on the other hand, sets his own spin on charcuterie. He makes guanciale, unsmoked Italian bacon, by not removing the skin and rubbing it with spices that he normally uses for his Cajun tasso ham. “We emulate what’s in the marketplace and try to improve on it, resonating with our guests. And when we did our charcuterie ourselves, it became so popular we now offer it in my other four gourmet stores.”
Dishman, in his cool chef aprons, serves his guanciale finely sliced, and also makes use of the hog’s nubs to prepare cracklings that goes perfectly with corn and beans. He also uses the trimmings from the back fat as “pork butter,” where he cooks it sous-vide style along with chilies, garlic, preserved lemon and rosemary; purees it and dishes it up on pizza or crostini. He also has what he calls his “Kobe pastrami project,” where he had Wagyu beef cured in pastrami slices for ten to fifteen days, smoked, then cooked sous-vide.
“The response was incredible. We are now selling more than 100 lbs a week in our stores at around $15 per pound,” said Dishman.