Cut and taste
Winter months trigger an itch for complex flavors that is especially well scratched by charcuterie. This catch-all term for cured meats can also apply to stores that specialize in them, and the list of local chefs and places focusing on this discipline has grown long. But there are some new options out there and notable chefs who push the boundaries of these techniques.
Kris Doll has plied his trade at a number of places over the last several years, including Ancora and Cleaver & Company. Now he has hung his shingle as the owner of Shank Charcuterie on St. Claude Avenue, across from the St. Roch Market. Primarily a neighborhood butcher shop that sells cuts and prepared items, Doll also serves up a lunch menu at his counter.
“Whatever I have at the lunch counter is straight out of the case,” Doll says of Shank’s primal-driven modus. “For example, if I’ve just broken down a cow and have, say, a brisket left I will smoke it off and run a brisket sandwich for lunch.”
The same approach goes for hog – keep an eye open for his pulled pork sandwich. Smoked for 16 hours and then shredded after it cools to the touch, Doll tosses the pork with a Carolina-style vinegar dressing. “For service I use Hawaiian bread and white BBQ sauce. The bread is sweet so it offsets the vinegar and the spice,” Doll explains.
Doll buys his product whole and butchers it in-house. Pork comes from Chappapeela Farms and his beef from Eunice Superette. “I’m not using like New Zealand lamb or anything,” Doll says. “It’s all Louisiana stuff.” That also goes for his lamb and goat. Going into the holiday season, bigger ticket items like rib roast tend to sell, though customers more typically come in to pick up a chop or a strip for dinner. Prepared options include his house-made tasso, boudin and headcheese. For the tasso, the back leg of the hog is brined for at least a week before it gets rubbed down with a mud made of beer, paprika, cayenne,and other seasonings. After setting overnight in the fridge, it gets smoked off. The result is a spicy ham perfect for seasoning jambalaya, red beans and the like.
Look to Doll to provide the stuff you won’t find at Wal-Mart. “With the weather changing, I like braises and I definitely like beef shank. I bone out a shank and split it to get the marrow. Then I stuff the split bone, roll it up tight and braise it until it’s fall-apart osso bucco tender. That is one of my favorite things and something you’ll never see at the grocery in those little cellophane packs.”
If Doll trends to the more regional end of the spectrum, Philip Lopez of Root skews the other way. “We have a pretty extensive program across the two locations,” Lopez says of his pair of restaurants. “We have about 32 different charcuterie items between them.”
Lopez is known for his modernist riffs and those are certainly present, though in this case they do take a back seat to the fundamentals and typically find more expression through his accompaniments. Root Squared, the upstairs bar area of his flagship Square Root, offers an abbreviated version to the overall menu and is a good place to sample them. Here you will also find Lopez’s Berber Spice Chicken Liver Pate, an incredibly creamy iteration of the style, more akin to custard than a pâté. “The flavor profile is a little sweet, almost like a crème brulée,” Lopez says. “We add a little fat to get the certain consistency we are looking for and then the Berber spice blend.” This pâté has proven so popular that Lopez gets people that order it as a side. “They use it as like a smear for other things they get off the menu, almost like a dipping sauce,” he says.
His Beet and Coriander Smoked Wild Salmon takes on an almost steak-like quality from the curing process and comes arranged like a rose in bloom. For sausages, try the small, fiery salchichas – an amped up version of its more well-known cousin the chorizo. Accompaniments vary according the season but typically make use of cold pickles. Ingredients are often sourced from Pelican Produce, and Hong Kong Market is a popular hunting ground for his spices. “Spicy bread and butter style chips, pickled eggplant, our version of Gardiner using gourd, pumpkin and squash – we do all of this,” Lopez says.
And while pork, lamb and beef are typical building blocked, Lopez is at work on vegetarian charcuterie.
Is that a thing?
“I don’t think it is a thing but we are going to try and make it a thing,” he laughs. Recently he experimented with applying the curing techniques to Spanish black radish. “It ended up having this essence of truffles, as well as that coloring when we sliced them. For that first batch we sliced them and used it for accents. Now I’d like to tone down the spice to make them a primary selection on the menu rather than an accompaniment.”
Butcher to Home
In Lakeview, on the corner of West End Boulevard and Harrison Avenue, carnivores will delight in the glory of Chris’ Specialty Meats, an offshoot of the popular Baton Rouge Cajun butcher shop. Basically a small grocery devoted to all manner of meaty goodness, here you can find stuffed chicken, marinated ribs ready for the smoker, crawfish boudin and more. Harder-to-source items like rabbit and quail are also available. And, if you’re so inclined, you can order a whole gator, either head on or head off, per your preference.
2352 St. Claude Ave.
1800 Magazine St.
Dinner and Drinks Tuesdays-Saturdays
Chris’ Specialty Meats
6521 West End Blvd.