Tasso (leave off the “ham” and you’ll sound like you belong in Nawlins) adds zip and nuance to a wide range of Cajun and Creole dishes, but is rarely eaten by itself. For someone just getting started in curing meats, it’s an easy cure, an easy smoke, and a great item to have in your freezer when you’re ready to cook Cajun.
Anyone who wants to learn to make things like bacon, ham and smoked sausage can take a giant first step by picking up a copy of “Charcuterie” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. While the book contains a ton of recipes, it focuses on procedure…allowing you to make the dish your own. This is exactly what I did with this tasso. The procedure is straight out of “Charcuterie”, but I tweaked the blend of spices used based on some other recipes I found, my experience the last couple years, and our personal taste.
Tasso (at least the modern version) is generally made from pork shoulder, commonly referred to as Boston Butt. Shoulder is also cut into pork steaks, but pork steaks are generally cut about a half inch thick, which is too thin for a good tasso. You can buy a Boston Butt and cut one inch thick steaks yourself, or if you trade with a good butcher, have him cut you some 1 inch thick pork steaks. This time I cut my own out of a Boston Butt, maximizing the size I could get omitting the bone. I cut 3 nice big steaks, which was about half of an eight pound shoulder. The rest was cubed up for a batch of chorizo.
Ruhlman’s “basic cure” combines salt, sugar and curing salt in a ratio that can be used in a wide range of cured meats. For tasso, you just dredge the steaks in a plate full of basic cure and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours. I’m not going to repeat the recipe for Ruhlman’s basic cure here, because you really need a copy of his book if you’re going to get into charcuterie, and if this is the only thing you’ll ever make, it is available about a thousand places on the web.
What is unique about my tasso is the blend of spices. I did say unique, not “better than” or “spicier than” or “easier than” anyone else’s. I have made this 3 or 4 times. When I use it to spice up a batch of beans or a pot of gumbo I know I want a serious punch of chile pepper backed up with savory flavors that are familiar, but hard to identify. I sorted through a bunch of online recipes, adding what caught my attention and nixing what we don’t like. Here’s what I ended up with, which made just enough to season about 4 pounds.
- 2 Tbs Cayenne pepper (mine was home grown and air dried)
- 1 Tbs Onion powder
- 2 tsp Garlic powder
- 1 tsp Allspice berries
- 1/4 tsp Celery seed
- 1/4 tsp Mace
Put it all in a coffee grinder and buzz it up into a powder (omit this step if everything starts as a powder). Take the steaks out of the refrigerator and rinse thoroughly. If you’re worried about it being too salty, soak them for a couple hours. Dry the steaks with paper towels, then dredge in the spice blend. Put the steaks on a cooling rack and refrigerate from several hours to overnight. When you can’t stand waiting any more, smoke the steaks at around 200 degrees until the internal temperature is around 150 degrees (should be 2 to 3 hours). I used a couple big chunks of white oak, a couple slivers of cherry and small chunk of hickory.
Should look like this: