Charcuterie boards make holiday entertaining easy
The holidays are quickly approaching and we all know what that means: friends, family and yes, entertaining. Now, entertaining can be enjoyable and rewarding, but it can also be daunting – all that planning and organizing, and then actually pulling it off.
It’s never going to be stress-free (for most of us, anyway), but it is possible to host a gathering that’s deliciously unique and simple – really!
“You can’t go wrong with charcuterie,” says Andrew Cowan, Executive Chef of Hart’s Table and Bar in Edmonton. “Not only does it pack a whole ton of flavour, but you can put it together in advance.”
Charcuterie is just a fancy term for preserved meats or the craft of preserving meats – think sausages, ham, terrines, pâtés, confits and yes, the ever-popular bacon. And while it’s all the rage these days, charcuterie is actually an age-old tradition born out of necessity: it kept meat from spoiling before refrigeration existed.
“Salt is the key to charcuterie. It draws the water out of the meat so the microbes can’t survive, and less water means more flavour,” explains Cowan, who has been making his own charcuterie for about six years now. “Salt is actually the key to cooking anything – it helps make things taste good.”
To put together a charcuterie board, it’s really anything goes. “Go for a bit of everything. Put your selections on a board, keeping the same meats together so it’s clear as to what’s what, put any accompaniments in between, and then just try to make everything look as nice as you can. Aim for two to three ounces of meat per person as an appetizer, and four to five ounces if it’s the main focus.”
Cowan suggests starting with your favourite mortadella and salami, adding a prosciutto and a creamy terrine and then just taking it from there. And although the meat is the focus, he also likes to add pickles, olives, jam or preserved berries, some good sourdough bread, a really good cheese or two… anything that will complement the meat.
“Charcuterie is actually an age-old tradition born out of necessity.”
“That’s the key to a good charcuterie board: quality. It makes a huge difference. Stay away from prepackaged low-grade luncheon meats and go local whenever possible. I shop at The Italian Centre, and I also use Valbella Meats from Canmore.”
As for drinks, Cowan is partial to whiskey or beer, “but everything from wine to sweet champagne goes. There are so many different flavours and meats and seasonings involved that it’s very open-ended.”
So enjoy your holiday season and entertain with ease!
A Cornucopia of Taste
Add this corn relish as a side to your charcuterie board for complementary pairing.
4 1/2 cups corn
4 cups cucumbers (small dice)
4 cups white onion (small dice)
2 cups red pepper (small dice)
4 cups cherry tomatoes (halved)
1 Tbsp celery seeds
4 cups cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp salt
1. Combine vinegar, spices, and sugar in a large pot. Slowly bring pot to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
2. Add vegetables and continue to simmer until they start to soften.
3. Whisk in flour.
4. Remove from heat and pack into sterilized jars.