This month's Charcutepalooza challenge was hot smoking. We were to either smoke pork loin that would become Canadian Bacon or smoke pork shoulder which would become Tasso Ham. Since James has been smoking meat successfully for years and Michael Ruhlman's spice blends have proven to be perfectly balanced, it seemed that our biggest challenge this month would be coming up with our recipe. Seeing as James and I have promised a little bit of a Canadian flare with each of our challenges, you would think the choice would be clear with Canadian Bacon on the list. Not so.
James: Canadian bacon is only Canadian in the United States. In Canada it's called Peameal Bacon and most often cured and rolled in cornmeal, but not always smoked. The concept for our blog post was proving to be a bit of a conundrum. Tasso is an important ingredient in Jambalaya, a distinctly Louisianan creation but there was little evidence that it has ever made it's way out of the Bayou and into the Canadian culinary canon. In fact, I don't know anyone else who'd ever heard of it. So Tasso Tourtiere, Pâté chinois (Shepard's pie) or Flipper pie were all kind of out.
And were we really going to make another sandwich? Uh, nope.
Almost stumped, I thought we could justify our Can-con while still taking the low road, or swamp track as it were. When I pulled out the Lonely Planet: New Orleans City Guide in light of my upcoming trip I came across a 'legend' about the humble crawfish...
"When the Acadians were forced to leave Nova Scotia, the local lobsters (very loyal shellfish, indeed) decided to follow their adopted humans to Louisiana. During the arduous marathon swim, the crustaceans lost a lot of weight and most of their size. By the time the lobsters reached the bayous and swamps of southern Louisiana to reunite with their beloved proto-Cajuns, they had transformed into the Acadian's smaller, and now-totemic, crawfish." If the lobster is the forefather of the crawfish, and an undoubtedly Downeast ingredient - well we're bringing it all back home, as Bob Dylan once mumbled.
Bingo! Tasso is in Jambalaya and Lobster could be our Canadian crawfish! One down, one to go. Andouille is a spicy cajun sausage and also an important ingredient in Jambalaya. It is not readily available up here, but all of it's ingredients are. The pork shoulder needed to make Tasso is the very same cut needed to make Andouille. A bit more work but it was certainly worth it. Homemade sausage is easy, delicious and maybe just a bit totally awesome.
R: Seeing as this was my first experience with Cajun cooking, and that James is able to Cajun-ify almost anything with his eyes shut. I quickly fell into the roll of Help-y McHelperson, where I found myself elbow deep in freshly ground meat, feeding the sausage stuffer at a leisurely pace. I'll say this much, while making homemade sausage is not a difficult task, it may potentially have the power to convert any meat eater to a vegetarian. But not us! Finding myself without tonnes to contribute to the preparation of this meal, other than immersing my hands in meat and fighting back tears when it was time to cook our well behaved and photogenic Lobster, who we had affectionately named Jaques, I would tackle dessert.
We decided that I should prepare a Canadian classic. Buttertarts. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the Muskokas where we basically spent entire summers waterskiing, barbecuing and begging my parents to take us for Buttertarts from Marty's in Bracebridge. Marty's has literally ruined me for all other Buttertarts in the universe. They are the best. Hands down. Flaky, tender, chewy pastry with runny, sticky and sweet insides. A couple of years ago my mom surprised me with a copy of Marty's cookbook and I'm pretty sure that the angels sang when I discovered the recipes for his pastry and filling. But how were we going to give these tarts the Southern flare that they would need to follow our Jambalaya you ask? Pecans. Maple roasted pecans. Oooooh-we!
So, how was the meal? Spicy and smokey with a hint of sweetness each time you discovered a coveted piece of lobster. The Jambalaya was even hot enough to have those of us that hadn't braved James' homemade hot sauce reaching for the Kleenex and wiping away tears. Often, with spice of that magnitude, the flavour can begin to take a back seat. In this case, not so. Each bite was filled with a wonderful and slightly different combination of tastes. The Tasso and the sausage, while at the core were quite similar, brought very distinct yet perfectly married flavours to the table. The buttertarts, that we served with cinnamon ice-cream from Ed's Real Scoop and a snifter of Bourbon were the perfect way to cool our over-heated pallets. All in all, this meal was well worth the effort and Tasso-rific in our books.
After a really fun day in the kitchen and a great meal with friends, it was off to bed with the anticipation of waking up to the lingering smell of that deliciously smokey aroma, that is always left behind in my hair, that would have me re-living our meal the next morning.