Heirloom of the month: James Naquin

   Over the course of the past 3 years I have befriended some of the most unique and wonderful individuals. They might be  chefs, farmers, writers or even students. It's been an honor and privilege to get to know each one of them because they truly inspire me. It would be selfish to keep these   extraordinary friends all to my self so I decided to create a new feature here on JC called "Heirloom of the Month". An heirloom (just like the tomato) is someone or something that is original and one of a kind. Each month I will ask a different friend that inspires me to write a guest post about someone that has inspired them to cook, eat, grow, write or learn.

   This month’s Heirloom is a unique crafter of meats. The knowledge of a well-trained butcher and careful artisan link together to fuel the tradition known as charcuterie. This complex skill is making its debut comeback in various restaurants across the country. I’m lucky enough to know one of the noteworthy masters brining sausages, cured meats, and wurst back to the table. I first met Chef James Naquin while in Chapel Hill, North Carolina when he was a sous-chef at the acclaimed Watts Grocery. A few years later I unexpectedly ran into him at Guglhupf cafe/bakery while sipping coffee with a previous Heirloom, Dorette Snover. He informed me that he was responsible for the wonderful duck proscuitto, bratwurst and other meats (don’t forget the pickled vegetables) on the wurstplate (charcuterie platter). Learning about James’s journey proved that the kitchen can lead you in any direction no matter what your “knackwurst” may be.

Thanks James, and Keep on Cooking!!!

The ideal, ideal.......

 My name is James Naquin, and my current occupation began as a simple request from a chef I worked with at a previous restaurant.  He wanted to know if I would make country sausage and bratwurst for the restaurant he was running.  After he guaranteed I wouldn’t have to work on the line cooking for dinner service, I decided to give it a shot.  I quickly realized, however, that to utilize all of the meat trim that was being butchered for the lunch and dinner menus, I would quickly need to expand my repertoire beyond his initial request.  Most of what I have learned has been done through trial and error. 
Making charcuterie allows me the ability to use things that were previously being thrown away--not because they were bad, but because they were unusable in other places on the menu. 

Below: Pork butt cut into pieces (seam butchery) for seven different applications: clockwise l to r--grind, coppa, petit ham, lardo, fatback, faux pancetta, pork pastrami.

Full utilization is not only a good thing for the restaurant, but it also honors the animal.  Without trying to get too spiritual or philosophical about this, I must admit that in the beginning I was grappling with some major ethical issues about meat eating and raising animals specifically for food.  Using heads and hooves to make head cheese did not phase me; it began when I was cleaning 10 pounds of pork hearts.  I was holding a pig heart, which is about equal size to a human heart, and really began pondering the implications of what I was doing and the responsibilities that came with it.  I had to ask myself if I was willing to pull the trigger on a bolt gun or press the button that releases a charge strong enough to stun the animal into unconsciousness?  I grew up hunting and fishing, and killing animals was never a problem, but something about this was different.  In calculating the amount of charcuterie I made last year I figure I am partly responsible for the death of 20-30 hogs.
Below:  l to r-- Kantwurst, Saucisson Sec, N’djua (red), Alsatian Saucisson Sec, Lamb and Pork Coppa, Teewurst, and Spanish Chorizo hanging in my basement. 

    The reason I am telling this story is because I feel it is my job as a cook to see that as little as possible is wasted.  I create edible dishes out of the bits and pieces that would normally not be used.  I know this is not a new concept of any sorts and created basis upon which charcuterie was founded; utilization and preservation.

Below: Mortadella made entirely from scrap pork loin trim with additional fat added.

      Some time during the last ten years as professional cook and chef there came a point when I finally stopped striving for perfection and focused more on ideals; the ideal flavor, texture, taste, or presentation.  The problem with perfection is that it is only attainable in one’s mind and is usually not represented by things that are made or crafted by hand.  There will always be room for improvement no matter how small it might be. 

Below: Before..Lamb coppa that was cased and hand tied.

Below: After... l. Sliced lamb coppa after 1.5 months drying time. Look at the marbling! 

       The other side of this argument is that others may not share our individual idea of perfection; in this case, it is the people we are cooking for.  We may create food that is fantastic, but its success is only relevant in relation to personal or cultural preferences.  
Below: Mold beginning to bloom after 36 hours of fermentation on finocchiona and landjager.

    What does this have to do with the food I make and the point of this spiel?
I continually foster a curiosity and interest in the science behind food and the ingredients I use. It started in 2000 with a marked down copy of Christopher Kimball’s book The Desert Bible.  I already knew who he was from reading old copies of Cook’s Illustrated at Paul James’ house, my friend and first culinary mentor. 
    It was the first cookbook I had ever read that explained the science behind the recipes with notes of all the possible results along with the final master recipes.  In his search for the “perfect” chocolate chip cookie he recounts going through 40 versions of chocolate chip cookie recipes before finalizing his choice for a cookie that meets all the criteria necessary to be called the “perfect” chocolate chip cookie. 
    When I made it I followed the recipe to a “t” the resulting cookie was just as described in the recipe notes.  Actually, everything I ever made from that book was amazing and I had all of the notes at my fingertips to change the outcomes in any way I wanted.
Below:  Fiocco ham in a natural casing that was hand tied.  It started at 2630 grams and took a little over 6 months to lose 37% of it weight before becoming ready to use.

    I approach charcuterie much in the same way as Mr. Kimball.  I begin with a base recipe from a book and adjust from there.  Over the course of the last year I made about 40 batches of bratwurst before I finally created a recipe that fulfilled all of my ideals for a great sausage.
     Once I establish the flavor profile, I turn the recipe into a formula with each ingredient represented as a percentage of the whole, which is based on the amount of meat at 100%.  It is much like using baker’s formula and it allows me to easily change the ingredient amounts according to batch size.  Then adjustments are made to the grind.  This may include which dies are used, how much meat goes through a certain size, how the fat is handled, and what amounts of the forcemeat may be emulsified.
    This is the process I follow to come up with all the recipes I use.  I think deep down every cook makes food that they like to eat.  We personalize everything we cook whether we are conscious of it or not.  Of course there are many other nuances involved in making charcuterie but explaining them would be better done in a class or being there taking notes.  I have about 4000 pounds worth of successes and failures to draw from and I still learn something new with every batch.

Below: Discarded kantwurst salami ends.  The large cubes of fat are from lardo that was cured for 4 months before being used in the salami.

     This is a recipe for Thüringer Rostbratwurst that was adapted from Culinaria Germany.  I really love the flavor profile on this sausage and it tastes very different than the other bratwurst I make.  I like bold flavors in the sausages I make because they are almost never served alone and I like them to stand up to the sharp flavors of mustard, sauerkraut, or pickles that they are usually accompanied by.
    I grind the meat through a 4.8mm die.  The texture is pretty fine but you still get a meaty bite.  The eggs help it bind and the addition of milk powder aids in moisture retention as well as adding a small amount of lactose for sweetness.
    If you do not own a digital scale I would suggest investing in one.  Nothing is more accurate than weighing ingredients and it is much easier to control the results as well as make adjustments to recipes. I write all the recipes in metric simply because doing the math is so much easier.

    Cook these on a really hot grill.  They only take about 4-5 minutes if they are done in sheep casings.  If you do not choose to case the sausage OMIT the Milk Powder.  If you do not there is a good chance the sausages will blacken instead of browning.  If you have the option grind all of the spices fresh just before using them.
    I also recommend buying a small inexpensive sausage stuffer if you are going to do this with any kind of frequency.  Using the stuffer horn on the Kitchen-Aid works well for the first few inches of meat that goes through, then it heats up and begins smearing all of the fat within the sausage.  It is less than ideal but if it all you have then go for it.

Thüringer Rostbratwurst

2.5K        100%        Pork Butt (Boston Butt or Blade shoulder)

42g        .0117%    fine sea salt
9g        .0036%    ground white pepper
4g        .0016%    nutmeg
5g        .002%        ground coriander
5g        .002%        caraway
2g        .0008%    marjoram
8g        .0032%    peeled garlic blanched for 15 seconds, minced
145ml        .058%        egg, lightly beaten  roughly 3 eggs

12/13meters or 40/45feet    sheep casings

 Place your grinding equipment in the freezer or ice water.

Soak and flush the casings if you are using them.

Cut the meat into long strips thin enough to fit through your grinder head and place it in the freezer until it starts to harden but not completely frozen.  Working cold is key.

If you are using a Kitchen-Aid grind the meat through the second smallest die directly into a mixing bowl large enough to accommodate all of the ingredients.

 After grinding add the spice mix, garlic, milk powder (if you are casing the sausage) and eggs to the mix and kneed it by hand for 2-3 minutes or until it gets really sticky.  Mixing creates myosin proteins and helps insure the meat is properly bound and will stay together when cooking.

Place the mixture in the refrigerator until you are ready to case.  If you decide not to case then you can make patties or fry it like loose ground meat and enjoy.  Otherwise stuff the casings and twist the link off at 6-8”.  If you like a snappy bite, like hot dogs then hang them up on something like a coat hanger between links and place them in front of a fan until the casings are dry to the touch.

I hope you get a chance to try this recipe.  For more information on charcuterie I would suggest looking at sausagemaking.org, sausagedebauchery.blogspot.com, or curedmeats.blogspot.com.

Thanks for reading and good luck with all of your cooking endeavors.


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