Here's To The Cure

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As most of you know, Smoke's Tim Byres spent part of the summer tooling around America's old south in search of small town chefs accomplished in the art of traditional wood-fired cooking. Until I saw their menu, however, I had no idea Byres also used some of that time to cure the bacon used in his restaurant.

While it's hardly a trend--a minor one at best--several local chefs now smoke meats, make sausages and prepare other rustic reminders, such as pork rinds.

Because of this, charcuterie plates appear on area menus and a new found respect for the world of cured meats is evident amongst Dallas diners, even at upscale venues. It's not unusual to find an array including chorizo, sopressata, bresaola and boudin on fashionable china.

You gotta love it.

I'm not sure where this mini-trend started (or resumed, rather). Jimmy's Food Store has been providing restaurants with homemade sausage for some time now. Fireside Pies began using it on pizzas when they opened...when was that? 2004 or so.

Several chefs have dabbled with house-smoked salmon over the years. When Nikita opened (and before it became almost exclusively a nightclub), the chef cured salmon in an improvised smoker involving a wok and some clamps to hold down its lid. At Pyramid Restaurant in the Fairmont, chef jW Foster prepares an impressively subtle fish, served with a quail egg and onion marmalade.

But I really like those who embark on the meat preservation trail as part of a learning process. David Uygur of soon to close Lola considers curing as the slowest of slow foods. There's a period devoted to salting and seasoning and whatever other preparation is necessary, then a long wait as the meat dries and flavors condense. He makes hard cures, but also delicate head cheese and puffy rinds.

Hope he continues at his new place.

Brian Luscher at The Grape is another such chef. He experiments with charcuterie and house cured bacon on a constant basis. The results can include game meats, such as venison, and more traditional salami styles. And the presentation, on one plate, pulls you through several distinct flavors and textures.

Which is how it should be--a ride up and down, from spicy sopressata to milder Genoa-style, tangy coppa and peppery speck, sheer slices of nutty, air dried meat from Iberian pigs alongside the more pronounced taste of beef.

I just think we need to encourage more of this.

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