Mariam Maksutova looks as if she’d be more at home modeling Prada at New York Fashion Week, than butchering a pig in the meat locker at Sparrow Meats in Kerrytown. But make no mistake, this Latvian-born woman knows how to wield a meat saw, and spends her days refining these skills in the art of charcuterie; the craftmanship of the old-world butcher.
Much as fashion designers influence street apparel, magazine spreads, and storefront mannequin attire, meat purveyors — such as Mariam and Bob Sparrow — have been playing a prominent role in the food scene for years. Small craft butchers influence eating trends and the meat selections you’ll find on the finest international menus. A signature platter of charcuterie — inspired cured meats, presented with tasteful accoutrements — is often a restaurant’s calling card.
I asked Mariam to define charcuterie from her point of view.
Assorted fresh and smoked meats.
“Charcuterie was useful hundreds of years ago and it is useful today. Delicious cured treats aside, it comes down to extending the shelf life of a perishable product — raw meat — which is what we have been striving to do since the first person took down the first animal that couldn’t be eaten in one sitting.”
Mariam tells me that today people focus more on the way brining, dry curing, and smoking changes the taste of meat, rather than on the idea of preservation, because throwing something in your freezer to keep it edible is a lot simpler.
Wrap spices in cheesecloth to season to slow cook with meats.
A favorite branch of charcuterie for Mariam is making sausage. “It’s really cool because grinding is a method of tenderizing meat. This lets you cook braising cuts like shoulders in a fraction of the time;all you have to do is grind it, spice it, and stuff it in a casing.
At Sparrow’s, Mariam has creative license to make whatever sausage that inspires.“I often get special requests for anything from the combination of spices to the type of meat and casings I use. We will make you anything from a simple Bratwurst to an all lamb Merguez, stuffed into a natural sheep casing, spiced to your personal preference. I also get to make fun ones, like steak and bacon sausage and orange zest sausage, to name a couple.” Their garlic sausage was used in the following recipe.
I looked to the cuisine of Alsace, France — a region bordering Germany and Switzerland, famous for its ample usage of pork, goose fat and kraut — to inspire a recipe that would highlight Sparrow’s fine meats. The following would satisfy a Super Bowl crowd, and for fans of brats slathered in kraut, this dish will kick you through the uprights.
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