Charcuterie platters are one of the latest trends in appetizers at both restaurants and home parties. Though the literal meaning of the French word charcuterie is just “cooked meat”, to most English speakers it’s come to mean cured meats, like sausage and ham. (Curing in this sense means using salt, sugar, nitrates, nitrites, or a combination, to preserve meat over a fairly long time. It also usually gives the meat a new, intense taste.) It can also stretch to include pâté. When the word used is “charcuterie” rather than “cold cuts”, the product’s often on the high end. And it certainly can get high — Iberico ham, from black Spanish pigs raised on acorns (really), can run you $120 a pound. This is enough to make most of us give up and reach for the cheap salami.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. You can make your own simple charcuterie at home with ordinary supermarket supplies. (Mostly — curing salt can be hard to find, but it’s not even necessary for most of the recipes mentioned here.) It’s true they take time, but once they’re made, which can be days in advance, all you have to do is serve and enjoy.
This article suggests putting four kinds of charcuterie on a platter. You might want to splurge on one specialty item, like saucisson sec, but ham, sausage, and pâté can be prepared at home.
Instead of $120 ham, get a dinner ham — Black Forest looks nice with the dark edges, but get your favorite, smoked, honey, or even low fat — and slice it as thin as you can. If you have a meat slicer, you’ll be able to get it almost translucent. This is something for the last minute.
If you start a few days earlier, you can whip up spicy homemade summer sausage. This recipe tells you how to make it from plain old hamburger.
Pâté is something else that sounds difficult, but it’s really just ground meat cooked like custard, in a pan that’s set in a larger pan of hot water. This pâté is easy and gets extra charcuterie points for including bacon and ham. This one looks even easier and varies the selection a little with chicken livers.
When you’ve got your home charcuterie, plus a little of the expensive stuff if you want, serve it all with simple things like bread, crackers, cheese, pickles, and olives. Whether homemade or bought, charcuterie has a taste that goes a long way.