The art, the science and the marriage of ancient techniques espressly for the home cook is what you'll find between the covers of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's 2005 work, 'Charcuterie'. The secrets revealed in their enthusiastic and proficient use of humble ingredients to preserve meat and produce rustic specialities is a joy to read.
It is a preservation, also, of a dying art if there ever was one. Not sure if I can express it better than Anthony Bourdain (Chef at and Author of Les Halles and "The Nasty Bits" respectively) did in his review of the book where he refers to this 'noble craft' as 'God's work'.
That statement hits the heart of what this collection says to me. Delicacies that were the product of inventiveness and initially born of frugal home cooks are now either mass produced shadows of their original flavours, rarely found or not permitted for import. This volume takes them back to their rightful place and makes them easily accessible in the home.
Nasty bits indeed.. if you can handle the blood and guts (I kid you not), there is a guideline for Boudin Noir (aka blood or black pudding) and tips for using real hog casings. The author fully admits that pork blood is illegal for sale in the United States but suggests a means to accessing it.
One of my favourite chapters is on salt. The oft neglected sodium chloride pared down to its basic primary function.. to preserve and protect. Walking through the preparation and use of dry cures and brines, the method to the madness is evident in the clear, step-wise process beginning with the function of ingredients, the form they take through various processing stages and the impact of both on the final product. There are well illustrated diagrams and a good explanation of food safety concerns.
My least favourite thing is that there are some rather busy recipes. One in particular for Italian sausage that contains more than a few ingredients (not one of which is wine) and looks nothing like the recipe to which I am accustomed. Lack of simplicity is a personal pet peeve.
The need for the proper equipment is clearly stated (i.e. some investment required). Although a grinder and other specialty instruments are useful for making processed meats at home, the author explains the essentials and their use in great detail with well illustated pictures.
The most useful tool in the book, however, is the knowledge expressed by Mr. Polcyn. Armed with that, there are delicious flavour combinations that would take some time to exhaust.
And as you can see from the cover, pictured here, visually delicious as well. Asking only for some good wine and good bread.
Warning: may cause vegetarians to convert and a slight rise in cholesterol (a good plug for wine consumption).
If meat is your thing.. Recommended.