The art of charcuterie developed as a way of preserving and conserving meat, prior to the age of the refrigerator and freezer. While no longer required, these methods and recipes provide so many satisfying levels of deliciousness that they will never go out of fashion.
Terrine and paté: on a basic level, these are baked meat loaves, served cold. Terrine, named after the crockery casserole in which it is made and often served, is coarsely ground. Paté is finely ground or a smooth, mousse-like paste. Terrine is often made of a mixture of meats, primarily pork or game and often has a small amount of liver in it. Paté can be made of various meats or game birds, often with a larger percentage of liver, or is 100% chicken, duck, or goose liver. Elegant paté en croute is wrapped in a decorated pastry crust. Paté de foie gras is made from “fatty liver” of ducks or geese that have been overfed to enlarge their livers. DC Chef Michel Richard has popularized his recipe for “faux gras” made with chicken liver and sweet butter in a 2:1 ratio, which mimics the unctuous texture and mouthfeel of the genuine article. Terrines and patés can be made at home.
Rillettes: meat that was briefly salt-cured, slow-cooked in broth or fat, then finely shredded, mixed with fat and potted. Pork, duck or rabbit are traditional, rillettes also can be made with chicken. Easy to make at home.
Galantine or ballotine: baby pig, poultry, or whole fish that has been de-boned in one large piece, stuffed with seasoned ground meat (or fish), re-formed and tied, then poached in stock or broth. Both are served whole on a platter, and then sliced for serving. Galantine is served cold. Ballotine is served warm, usually with a sauce. Galantines are often coated with aspic and decorated with vegetables cut into floral shapes. Can be made at home, but takes advanced level of skill.
Dry-cured, fermented sausages: called salami in Italy and saucisson sec in France, chorizo or salchichon in Spain. Usually made with seasoned pork, very rarely beef. These are made with a mixture of highly seasoned coarsely ground meat and fat, with the addition of a curing agent, usually salt and/or “pink salt” which is a mixture of salt and sodium nitrite*, stuffed into sausage casings (made from animal intestine), then hung up to air dry in a cool environment—not cooked. Leave these to the professionals.
Fresh sausage: seasoned meat, finely or coarsely ground, which is stuffed into sausage casing, and then cooked. Almost every culture has some form of sausage in its cuisine–made with pork, lamb, beef, goat or game. Also can be made with poultry. Fresh sausage can be made at home.
Cooked or smoked sausage: sausage or salami that needs no further cooking and can be sliced and eaten cold (like mortadella, salami cotto) or reheated (like frankfurters, smoked kielbasa, linguica). Often cured with pink salt. Can be made at home, but requires specialized smoking equipment.
Ham, prosciutto, speck, bacon, pancetta, guanciale, lardo: parts of a pig (rear leg, belly, jowl and fat) that are salt- cured. Prosciutto is a salt-cured ham that is then air-dried for up to two years. Country ham may in some cases have sugar in the cure, and may be smoked. Country ham is usually cooked prior to being eaten, some hams are sold already cooked, like Black Forest or jambon cuite. Prosciutto is not cooked—it can also be made with wild boar and duck leg. Speck is a prosciutto that is cold smoked, and not cooked. Bacon is pork belly that is salt-cured, and is smoked and then sliced and cooked. Pancetta is Italian unsmoked bacon. Guanciale is salt-cured jowl, used as a seasoning meat in Italian cuisine. Lardo is fine-grained, salt-cured fat that is sliced thin and eaten much like prosciutto. Some adventurous foodies make their own bacon and guanciale at home, but dealing with hams requires space, temperature and humidity control.
Confit: usually made with duck leg, but other meats (as well as vegetables and fruits) can also be confited. Meats are quick-cured with salt and aromatic herbs for a few days, then are submerged in melted fat (duck fat or lard are used for meats, olive or vegetable oil for vegetables) and slow-cooked in the oven. Easy to make at home.
*sodium nitrite serves two purposes: it prevents the growth of bacteria, like clostridium botulinum, and maintains the color of meat, preventing it from turning an unappetizing grey color when exposed to oxygen. Nitrites are naturally occuring chemicals that are present in almost all fresh vegetables. Large amounts of nitrite can be toxic, however.