Tasso: Curing & Smoking an Ingredient

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:

Planting Garlic

Planting garlic has evolved into my favorite mid-autumn chore. When the rest of the garden either has been or soon will be nothing but a memory, here we go with something new going in. It makes me feel like I’m getting more out of my garden. On top of that, more than half of what I’m planting this year is garlic that I saved from this year’s harvest. In fact, it’s on its 4th generation on my plot. That feels good. 

Garlic has few demands for the gardener. It wants loose soil, a little fertilizer, a little mulch for bitter winters, good drainage and water only when it is really, really dry. In my neck of the woods we harvest in July, just about the time our real dry weather starts, so I rarely have to water my garlic patch. While there are hundreds of varieties you can choose from, there’s also nothing wrong with just planting what you find in the supermarket. 

Just separate each bulb into individual cloves and plant each clove 2 inches deep with spacing between the plantings 6-8 inches in both directions. 

Here’s a board I use to set up a 6″ grid. It’s one foot wide and two feet long, with dowels glued into it on 6″ centers. Image

Put the board down on loose soil and smack it a couple times with the palm of your handImage

Pick it up, and your spacing is marked for 8 plantings at once. 



The pointy end of the clove points up, and needs to be planted 2 inches deep…which is deeper than most things you plant. If you plant too shallow your bulbs won’t develop right. Here I’m using a piece of scrap wood to get the hole the right depth. Sad that I own a dibble to do this…if I could find it. 



I’m planting two new varieties of hardneck garlic this year, and my 4th generation Chesnok Red. 


I had some help preparing the bed for planting. Meet Salt and Pepper, recent additions to our little flock of groundskeepers. 



They immediately starting rearranging the straw after I mulched the beds. Apparently, they know a lot more about how straw should be spread than I do. Every time I rake it back in, they kick it back out. 



Harvest Chorizo

Nancy and I are nuts for Mexican food of all kinds. I’m also a nut for preserving meats and making sausages, so Mexican chorizo was a natural progression. Chorizo is a spicy pork sausage used extensively in Mexican dishes. There’s also Spanish chorizo, which is a smoked dried sausage, but that’s another post. I’ve been tweaking recipes for a couple years on this, and feel I really nailed it this time. It has the perfect blend of heat, salt, acidity and aromatics. I’m calling it “Harvest Chorizo” because I’ve thrown in quite a few fresh peppers and chiles. You don’t have to have a pepper garden to make this chorizo, but it sure doesn’t hurt!


Harvest Chorizo

2 air-dried red Anaheim chiles – ground to a powder (or 2T prepared powder)
6-8 air-dried Cayenne chiles – ground to a powder (or 1T prepared powder)
6-8 air-dried Chile de Arbol – ground to a powder (or 1T prepared powder)
1 Tbspn Ancho Chile Powder
1 Tbspn Chipotle Chile Powder
1 Tbspn cumin
2 Tbspn Mexican oregano
3 Tbspn Kosher salt
1 Tbspn coarse ground black pepper

1 Medium to large head of garlic. minced fine
2 fresh Serrano or jalapeno peppers, seeded, de-veined and fine diced
A few fresh cayenne or chile de arbol peppers if available – fine dice
1 fresh sweet pepper seeded and fine diced (green or red or ½ of each)
3 Tbspn Achiote Paste (one inch if you use El Yucateco brand 15 oz.)
Splash of Sherry vinegar

1 Tbspn tequila
1 Tbspn sherry vinegar
2 Tbspn dry sherry (not cooking sherry!)
¾ cup apple cider vinegar

5 pounds pork shoulder cubed, fat retained (get the fattiest one you can find).

Combine all the dried chiles and dry spices. Mix well with the cubed meat. Combine the fresh chiles, sweet  pepper, garlic and achiote. Add a splash of sherry vinegar and mix well. Add to the cubed pork and spices. Use a spatula or put on some gloves if you mix by hand. The achiote stains don’t wash off easily! Put the seasoned meat cubes in the freezer while you assemble your meat grinder. You want the meat chunks very cold, but not frozen. Place a metal bowl in an ice bath under the output of your meat grinder. Grind with the small die of your meat grinder. In a stand mixer or with a wooden spoon, stir the tequila, sherry vinegar, sherry and vinegar into the ground meat until it is thoroughly mixed in and the sausage has a uniform, sticky texture.

I pack this in half pound packages and freeze. That’s just the right amount to make huevos rancheros or chorizo and potato tacos. It’s also just right to add to a batch of chili or to zip up a queso dip.

Here We Go!

Time to stop talking about blogging and start doing it. Join me, Jeff Farris, in my garden, my kitchen and out by my grill. I’ll share growing tips, recipes and a few (hopefully entertaining) stories. I enjoy preserving my garden harvest, so I’ll be sharing recipes and methods for pickling canning smoking and curing.