If you are a regular reader of this blog, it may surprise you to learn that I was a very picky eater as a kid. Bag lunches rotated through peanut butter sandwiches, jelly sandwiches (but never PB & J), an occasional ham sandwich, and bologna sandwiches, the mainstay of the lunch menu.
Mom never figured out that I hated the stuff, even if it was decent beef bologna from the German deli around the corner from our house. It was rubbery, tasted like hot dogs, and had a plasticky “skin” around the outside edge. (I’d learn much later that it was the collagen casing used to form the bologna.) Even though I was from an Italian family, I never took a liking to the meat product named after the great city in Emilia-Romagna.
When I saw that the July Charcutepalooza challenge was making emulsified sausage, I knew I’d have to face down my bologna problem. I had already made hot dogs, but they were disqualified for being submitted a month early. It was time to make a mortadella.
There were a lot of ingredients to assemble this time: pork shoulder, pork fat, blanched diced pork fat, blanched peeled pistachios (prepared by She Who Must Be Obeyed), white pepper, mace, coriander, bay leaf, nutmeg, pink salt, kosher salt, garlic, and white wine.
I ground the meat with the wine, garlic and both salts, and then the fat, keeping each separate and cold – meat in the fridge, fat in the freezer.
I combined the meat, fat, and spices in my food processor.
Five minutes of blending resulted in a pink mixture that looked like soft strawberry ice cream.
After adding nonfat powdered milk to the emulsion and blending for a few more minutes, I folded in the pistachios and diced fat.
While I was processing the meat, the casing had been soaking in water for the previous 24 hours. Unlike the hog casings I use for sausage, which resemble a bucket of guts, the mortadella casing arrived in this ominous industrial container:
When I unpacked it for its soak, I noticed that this particular bit of the cow was sealed at one end. Although I make no claims at being an expert on bovine anatomy, the biologist in me was puzzled: What part of the animal’s intestinal tract has a ten-foot dead end, and what function could it serve? A quick Wikipedia check explained that a beef bung is a cow cecum, a pouch near the connection of the large and small intestines. In humans it’s not very long, and ends in the appendix. In cows, it’s full of bacteria which assist in the enzymatic breakdown of cellulose.
With my anatomical curiosity satisfied, it was time to stuff the bung (not a euphemism for anything else). Given the casing’s large diameter – between four and five inches – I didn’t need a stuffer, I could fill it by hand. Which is what I did, taking care not to overstretch.
When I had added all of the filling, I removed as much air from the casing as I could.
Instead of poaching the tied-off sausage in a pot on the stove, I vacuum sealed it and cooked it sous vide at 76 °C for about two hours, rotating the bag every half hour.
After a chill in an ice bath, the mortadella was ready. It was firm and very easy to slice.
I slit a few inches of the casing, peeled it back, and cut some thin slices on the deli slicer.
I was concerned that the fat and pistachios seemed to be distributed unevenly, but a slice made closer to the middle showed that it wasn’t a problem. Still, I can see that there’s a skill to mortadella stuffing that creates a final product with evenly distributed garnishes throughout.
How did it taste? It was very well spiced, similar to, but distinct from, the hot dogs I had made. The perfectly smooth texture was offset by the pistachio crunch and the chunks of fat that melted in the mouth. Also, bonus, no nasty skin to peel off!
This will be a regular addition to my charcuterie plate, which will never be full of baloney.