Offered as an appetizer on the dinner menu, a complement to wine at the bar, or as the centerpiece of a buffet, the charcuterie board has become an integral part of club cuisine. Chefs are producing some components in-house and sourcing others from carefully vetted suppliers, to assure that members and guests always get the most memorable morsels.
Charcuterie is “hot” at the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles, according to Executive Chef Jason McClain. “We do a lot of charcuterie plates for banquets and receptions,” he says. McClain estimates that he makes up seven or eight plates in an average week, and might do 28 in a day for functions during the December holiday season. Charcuterie boards also sell well in the club’s bar/tap room.
SUMMING IT UP
• Charcuterie is “hot” at clubs, as both a buffet/reception staple and a shared menu item.
• The fat and salty flavors featured on charcuterie boards pair well with wines.
• Meats from charcuterie platters can also star in other menu preparations.
“Members like to have either a cheese-and-charcuterie or just a charcuterie plate when they’re drinking wine, and particularly red wine, because the fat and salty flavors go well together,” McClain notes. “The plates are also great for sharing, and can sit on the table for an hour and still look appetizing.”
But because making cured meats is a long, laborious and highly regulated process that requires dedicated kitchen space and involves frequent health-department inspections and the keeping of a detailed log, McClain outsources for the Serrano, Iberico and prosciutto hams on his plates, in addtion to salamis, mortadella and chorizos.
To make his own prosciutto, McClain explains, it would take a 13-pound leg of pork around six months to cure. “I go through that much prosciutto in one week, so I could never keep up with the demand,” he points out.
Aside from the charcuterie plates, McClain uses the cured meats in other menu preparations. In summer, he offers an heirloom tomato and burrata salad with prosciutto or Serrano ham. An appetizer pairs Serrano ham with Oro Blanco grapefruit bites (see photo above). He also wraps veal with the ham.
Mousses and Mosaics
Other than the cured meats, McClain produces many charcuterie items in-house. He smokes salmon over applewood and makes jerky out of buffalo with a sweet glaze made with sake, soy and 10-year-old maple syrup. He makes all his ribs and other seasonings in-house, and has an extensive salt collection for different purposes. “I even have a specific salt for foie gras,” he says.
McClain also self-produces the pates and pate-like rillettes, terrines, torchons and mousses from pork, duck and salmon that are key components of his charcuterie plates and are also part of the presentation when he prepares an ingredient, such as duck, three ways. For that dish he includes house-made duck prosciutto, terrine and smoked duck breast.
Signature components of McClain’s charcuterie presentations are “eye-catching mosaics,” which display artistic checkerboard patterns of ingredients such as squab, sweetbreads and pear when sliced. Braised pork and gelatin are transformed into head cheese. And truffle mousses are popular party hors d’oeuvres.
“Preserving meats goes all the way back to the discovery of the New World, when they were packed in salt to prevent them from going bad and making people sick during long sea voyages,” McClain says. “Nothing went to waste.”
Until recently, he says, making charcuterie was pretty much a lost art. He learned the process under the tutelage of French chefs, “who took any leftover meat, put in sugar, salt and spices to pull the moisture out, and put it in the walk-in to cure for later use.”
Special—and Sometimes Spooky—Surprises
At Springfield Golf & Country Club in Springfield, Va., Executive Chef Francesco Ughetto likes to offer members and guests charcuterie items they can’t get anywhere else. Fortunately, he has found suppliers, including local sausage makers, who can provide him with products “as good as any from Europe or that I could produce myself, if I had the patience, time and space.”
Ughetto worked with one local supplier to create a Jamaican jerk sausage made with dried habanero peppers that Ughetto harvests from the club’s garden. Other unique specialties he has featured include a finocchiona, a Tuscan salami made with fennel pollen, and, for a Spanish wine dinner, an Iberico Pata Negra from a specific breed of hog.
Charcuterie boards are made at Springfield G&CC more for special occasions, usually as a wine dinner accompaniment or buffet element, than as an everyday menu item. For a Halloween party, for example, Ughetto bedecked a skeleton with mild and spicy sopressata salamis, mortadella and speck (see photo above).
More often, Ughetto will use charcuterie—often with prosciutto in the summer or jambon de Paris year-round—to make upscale paninis. To spice up the sandwiches, he might pair the meats with horseradish cheddar.
Bringing Crème Brulée on Board
At The Country Club at DC Ranch in Scottsdale, Ariz., the subject of charcuterie boards comes up at every house-committee meeting, and members insist that it be available on the menu at the bar, according to Executive Chef Lenard Rubin. But most of the club’s charcuterie sales, Rubin reports, come from the a la carte menus in the dining rooms, as well as when they are part of buffets for golf tournaments and other special events, While he makes kielbasa in-house, Rubin outsources the rest of the sausages, salamis and hams.
Rubin changes out different meats and cheeses frequently on his charcuterie, using artisan-made products. Favorite meats include finocchio (his supplier’s spelling), an uncured Tuscan salami with fennel seed, and uncured Italian sausage made with wild Texas boar. He uses slices of various sizes, starting from a couple of inches in diameter, to add visual interest.
In addition to the usual olives, cornichons, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and crostini, Rubin partners the meats with interesting house-made accoutrements such as Dijon mustard crème brulée.
The crème brûlée, which Rubin says makes a beautiful presentation when served in ramekins, combines the mustard with heavy cream, vanilla extract, sugar and egg yolks. It is then sprinkled with more sugar, which is caramelized as with a traditional brûlée. C&RB
To make the most of fruits and vegetables grown on their properties, club chefs are pickling and drying them, to make their home-grown goodness available all year. Chefs like these preservation methods because they don’t require any special equipment or a lot of time or dedicated space in their kitchens.
Lenard Rubin, Executive Chef at The Country Club at DC Ranch in Scottsdale, Ariz., makes his own pickles from Persian-style cucumbers (see recipe, opposite page) and also pickles the jalapeno peppers grown on the property.
“Making a quick pickle is quick and easy, requiring just vinegar with a touch of sugar along with dill, peppercorns, cardamom, cumin and turmeric brought to a boil, poured into a mason jar with the produce in it, and chilled,” he says. “By not boiling the liquid and cucumbers or peppers together, the produce stays relatively crisp.”
It is very important to cut off the blossom end of the cucumber, Rubin emphasizes, because it contains an enzyme that can make the pickle soft and unsafe to eat.
Springfield Golf & Country Club in Springfield, Va., has a small garden, but Executive Chef Francesco Ughetto makes the most of it by growing a variety of peppers such as habaneros, banana, cayenne and jalapenos that he dries to grind with olive oil and use in specialty chilis and sauces.
“The peppers are very spicy, a lot hotter than commercial dried versions,” Ughetto explains.
It takes about a week to get the peppers to the right dryness and flakiness to preserve, he notes. Storage requires just a zip-seal plastic bag and a dark area.
With a 5,000 sq.-ft. garden and a 10-bed greenhouse as big as a two-car garage, Jason McClain, Executive Chef at the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles, harvests around $160,000 of usable produce each year. The garden and greenhouse yield plenty of produce to pickle, including Swiss chard stems, watermelon rinds, shallots and cipollini onions. McClain also makes infused vinegars, compotes and jams.