There’s just something so fancy about ordering charcuterie at a restaurant. Maybe it’s the hearty sausages, silky pâté and thinly sliced meats that melt on your tongue. Maybe it’s the savory, hearty bites that pair so well with good wine and bread. Maybe it’s because “charcuterie” is so fun to say.
The art of charcuterie was born out of necessity. Before the days of refrigeration, every part of the animal was consumed, and the meat had to be preserved. Chefs figured out ways to make it easy for the rest of us. They say there are two things you should never see made: law and sausages. We’ll take the sausages any day.
The Sausage King
Chef Eric Klein has been making sausage for just about his whole life. Before he began cranking out Spago’s lamb chorizo and duck pastrami, he learned the craft from his mother, who was a butcher. “After I was done with my homework,” he recalls, “my mom would say, ‘OK, let’s make some beer sausage, some weisswurst … you have to turn the bacons, you have to cure that, put some more wood in the smoker.’ So since I was a young boy I was helping my family.”
Klein has made encased meats his entire career, and when he arrived at Spago in 2007, it was no different. He specializes in fresh sausages for the restaurant, grinding out the ingredients that go into other dishes, such as the Italian sausage and andouille for Wolfgang Puck’s famous pizzas or blood sausage for a choucroute garnie royale special. You’ll see a lot more of those at Spago than dry-cured ones such as prosciutto or salami, but that’s not to say Klein hasn’t tried.
“I try to promote [the cured meats], but a lot of times [guests] don’t understand,” Klein admits. “When it comes to sausages, they only think of sausages grilled, barbecued, hot links. … If you tell them it’s an antipasta platter, then they’re looking for a bunch of peppers and olives.” Spago Las Vegas in the Forum Shops at Caesars, 369-6300, WolfgangPuck.com.
At Comme Ça, the charcuterie program is more than just a way to use every bit of product—it’s an educational tool, and not just for the guests of the French brasserie, but the cooks and staff as well. After introducing me to a classic country-style pâté and a duck, pistachio and artichoke terrine, chef Brian Howard points out the chicken noodle soup terrine. “I get my chefs to be experimental with some things,” he says, as well as seasonal. In spring, for example, “more feathers and things like that, rather than hooves,” appear on the charcuterie menu.
If there’s one genre of forcemeat that forces cooks to get creative, it’s pâté. Generally made with offal, pâté has long been the way for chefs to use of all the nasty bits that may not be as palatable on their own. Comme Ça gets all of its animals whole, which the chefs butcher themselves, so they know exactly what’s left over after it’s broken down. And for the most part, guests dig it. The restaurant even sold out on a calves’ brain terrine the first night it debuted. But, Howard acknowledges, sometimes the delicacies don’t always fly off the shelf. “We just brought in a bunch of testicles from the farm from the roosters, and we did a testicle terrine the other day,” he informs me. And? He deadpans, “It didn’t go over that well.” In the Cosmopolitan, 877-893-2003, CosmopolitanLasVegas.com.
The aging room at B&B Ristorante is under lock and key, so when Jason Neve opens the door, it’s like you’re being allowed into Mario Batali’s secret stash. No bigger than a walk-in closet (technically, it’s a walk-in cooler), there’s meat hanging from speed racks. All kinds of cured meat.
Neve, director of culinary operations for the B&B Restaurant Group in Las Vegas, starts rattling them off nonchalantly like a butcher in Little Italy. “There’s coppa, anduja (which is like a soft-ripened salami that’s kind of spreadable), culatello, pancetta, guanciale we use for bucatini and stuff like that,” he says, pointing to some bigger cuts tied up and hanging out deep in the back.
“There are some prosciuttos—those are like 2 years old right now.”
B&B is possibly the only restaurant that’s legally dry-curing its own charcuterie in-house, transforming whole muscles such as the shoulder to create coppa, loins to make lonza and hams for the prosciutto. “Those are the major muscles we’ll take out and cure as a whole piece. There’s also the belly, which becomes pancetta, and the fatback, which becomes lardo,” he says. As with other restaurants, nothing goes to waste. “Other parts, like trim and stuff like that, end up going into different salamis, whether it’sCalabrese or sopressata.”
Some of the recipes have come down from Batali’s father, Armandino, who runs his own salumeria in Seattle, while others Neve cultivated from his trips to Italy. And guests pretty much go for all of it, no matter what version of cured meat it is. So does Neve, apparently. “Give me a big plate of everything. With good, tasty wine and some bread, you’re good to go.” In the Venetian, 266-9977,BandBRistorante.com.