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Just taken delivery of the new Ruhlman book

PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2012 4:11 pm
by manfran
The season when my cellar is fit for drying is fast approaching. Coinciding with that, is the release of the new Michael Ruhlman book "Salumi".

Mine arrived in the post yesterday, and although I am yet to try any of the recipes, my initial impression is a positive one.

The format is very similar to his 'Charcuterie' book. The design, near identical, with the one exception that this time there are a few full colour pages filled with richly displayed home-cured meats.

As the title may suggest, the focus on this book is purely Italia and its incredible relationship with pork (mainly) and salt. There are even no recipes from neighbouring fellow Mediterranean countries.

The book starts off with a lot of theory and wholly justified musings on the art of dry-cured meats. Essentially, the book is a fully extended work based on the chapter 'Dry-cured meats' from the Charcuterie book. Recipes (not lots, but enough) are nicely worded and as ever, Ruhlman's charming, informative tone helps you along. It's not all cured meats...a few cooked products like mortadella fit in nicely too. I could do without the further recipes towards the back of the book explaining what you can do with your cured meats when they're ready (pasta with pancetta...etc etc etc), but some may find it useful.

As with other books by Ruhlman, they are unfortunately America-centric. Understandable, but a shame all the same.

If you have already got the hang of hanging your pancettas and guanciales, not to mention your finocchionas and soppressatas, and have found some good recipe sources on the internet, then you certainly do not need this book. But a well written book it is all the same, with useful tips and some good new takes on old bits of meat.


PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:43 pm
by This Little Piggy
As Mark Twain once said, "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated!"

As a huge fan of Italian salumi, I also looked forward to Ruhlman and Polcyn's new book. I found it a little disappointing, but then I'm a pretty tough grader. Below is the review I posted on Amazon:

It’s great finally to have a book in English dedicated to the subject of Italian cured meats, but – since it’s the only book we’re likely to have – it’s disappointing that’s it’s not better.

In several respects, this book does improve on their Charcuterie book. First, they no longer recommend the grinder attachment for the Kitchen Aid mixer, since it can’t handle partially frozen meat, the auger churns it too much, and its dull blades smear rather than shear the fat, all resulting in sausages with poor texture. Thanks, guys, if you’d ‘fessed up about this 7 years ago, you’d have saved aspiring sausage makers a lot of frustration.

Second, their salami recipes now say that the meat should sit for up to a day after salting and grinding, before finally mixing and stuffing . This extra step allows the salt to extract myosin (a protein in meat, like the gluten in wheat), which makes for a good “bind” in the final product.

But in other respects, this book reads like time has stood still or the authors have missed out on new developments. For example, you’ll find no mention of sodium phosphates, even though they’ve long been available from their favorite supply house, Butcher-Packer. As other recent books, such as Modernist Cuisine, explain, sodium phosphates are a useful additive for dissolving myosin and accelerating the development of a cured flavor. Similarly, you’ll find no mention of vacuum-sealing, sous vide, or even the use of a simple temperature controller to create a precisely calibrated water bath.

And if you found some of the recipes in Charcuterie to be unpalatably salty (and I have quite a salt tooth), be warned: the amount of salt called for in Salumi is even higher, as much as 50% higher (consistently 3% of the mix, including curing salt).

Most distressing is their continued reliance on a single strain of bacterial culture to ferment all their salami: Bactoferm F-RM-52 (the strain they recommend on page 65). As Butcher-Packer’s website explains, F-RM-52 is “the culture recommended for the production of traditional North European types of fermented, dry sausages with a sourly [sic] flavor note.” Even Ruhlman and Polcyn confess that the lactic acid produced by this culture results “in a tanginess that is slightly overbearing” (p. 68).

Of course it is! This strain is designed to produce the strong sourness characteristic of German fermented sausages and is simply unsuited to making salami. The Christian Hansen culture formulated for southern European types of salami is T-SP-X, and it has been available from Butcher-Packer for about 5 years now. Other recent books on fermented sausages, such as those by Stanley Marianski, recognize that this is the appropriate culture for Italian salami.

Similarly, the ingredients called for by the recipes are perplexing. Trapani sea salt is recommended, as “an Italian sea salt from Sicily used all over Italy,” but then they freely acknowledge that other ingredients they use a lot in their recipes, such as paprika, are actually uncommon in Italy. For example, their recipe for nduja calls for La Vera pimentón from Spain. If they’re calling it “Nduja di Calabria,” shouldn’t they use actual Calabrian chili peppers, which are now readily available in this country (from The Sausage Debauchery, for example, which is listed among their Resources)?

Aside from such lapses or oddities, the book is simply skimpy on meat and long on filler. Those hoping to make Italian salami will find less than 75 pages of recipes, and even these are padded. The steps in making a salame hardly change from recipe to recipe (a different diameter die for the grind, a different diameter casing for the stuffing), yet the authors write out all the steps in full each time, ensuring each recipe fills up 2 pages. And some recipes are basically repetitions. On page 139, they have a recipe for Salamini Cacciatore, calling for equal portions of pork shoulder and wild boar. On page 155, is a recipe for Salsicca di Cinghiale Crudo, which is identical in all its seasonings, just altering the ratio 3 to 1 in favor of the boar and calling for beef middles instead of hog casings. A two-sentence note to one recipe, suggesting this variation, would have sufficed.

And the final section of the book is dedicated to “cooking with and serving salumi,“ with recipes for crostini, roasted garlic, pesto, pizza, chicken stock… Seriously? It’s hard for me to believe that anyone who’s interested in Italian food enough to break down a pig and cure their own pancetta or guanciale needs a recipe for crostini or spaghetti carbonara. Their “recipe” for serving prosciutto or coppa with fruit says “We have no specific instructions here other than finding excellent ingredients. In terms of quantities, use common sense… Put all the ingredients out on a cutting board, or arrange the ingredients on small plates…” Such “recipes” simply don’t deserve the 63 pages that they take up.

PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2012 9:14 pm
by wheels
TLP, all I'll say is: "It's good to have you back".


PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2012 10:00 pm
by DiggingDogFarm
I'm extremely disappointed in the book for several reasons, it could have been so much better.

It partly rehashes Charcuterie, with a little Salumi thrown in...the rest is just an Italian cookbook, like the world needs another Italian cookbook.

It contains some down right bad information.

"0.25% sodium nitrate relative to the weight of the meat to be ideal for dry curing."


Do they not know that may be taken literally by some folks?

Of course, what they really mean is Cure#2, not sodium nitrate.

That's just one example!!!!!!!!

~Martin :shock:

sodium nitrite level

PostPosted: Fri Nov 16, 2012 5:41 pm
by This Little Piggy
Wow, Martin! What page is that on?

I missed that mistake, and as you say, it's a whopper! Fortunately no one can readily get their hands on sodium nitrite that's not already mixed with salt, but if anyone did take this literally, they would be using 16 TIMES more sodium nitrite than is legally allowable in this country and could well poison someone.

That kind of lapse is inexcusable!

nitrate and nitrite levels

PostPosted: Wed Nov 21, 2012 6:55 pm
by This Little Piggy
Combing through my book, I think I found the passages Martin was referring to. I hope there aren't more!

Writing about guanciale (on p. 88), they say "You can use sodium nitrite here if you wish, for a more bacony, pancetta-like flavor, using 0.25% of the weight of the meat . . . about 1/4 ounce for 5 pounds, or 6 grams for 2 kilograms of meat." This error is repeated on p. 68, in their introduction to dry-curing, where they say, "We believe . . . 0.25% sodium nitrate relative to the weight of the meat to be ideal."

If you follow this advice and add 0.25% sodium nitrate or nitrite relative to the weight of the meat, you will be adding 16 TIMES MORE THAN THE USDA ALLOWS AND APPROACHING LEVELS THAT ARE TOXIC. (As the authors note on p 63, 7.1 grams is the toxicity level for a person weighing 100 kilos.) Anyone familiar with the curing salts readily available in the States will understand that they are referring instead to pre-mixed cures, cure #2 (which contains 5.67% sodium nitrite and 3.63% sodium nitrate) and cure #1 (which contains 6.25% sodium nitrite or 1/16 exactly) respectively. But for a novice who takes them at their word and makes nitrates/nitrites 0.25% of the mix, this could be a fatal mistake.

It's one thing to pad the book out and fail to mention things that could make the salumi better. It's another thing entirely to be inaccurate in your terminology in a way that could lead someone to poison themselves.

PostPosted: Wed Nov 21, 2012 7:27 pm
by ericrice
TLP - I also have a review on Amazon and to date I gave the book the lowest rating out there for the reasons mentioned by you and others in this thread.

The dangerous errors aside I think what disappointed me the most is with curing on the rise and more information available that ever before I expected much more on the "finer" aspects of curing such as some real time spent on techniques and troubleshooting - what can go wrong, why, what to try, etc. They basically had a captive audience waiting for the book and just fell so short. About all I got out of the book worth much was the section on butchering hogs (American and European). With the diagrams I was able to show a local butcher what cut I wanted for Coppa and he was able to get CT Butts for me. Happily I now have Coppa in the 4-5lb range rather than a 1lb cut salvaged from a pork shoulder.

PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2012 5:20 pm
by This Little Piggy
If I'd known about the mistakes they make with nitrate/nitrite levels, I might well have given the book 2 stars as well.

Marianski's latest book, Home Production of Sausages, which has been out for over a year now, does a much better job of covering technical issues - how to build a drying chamber, controlling temperature and humidity for dry-cured sausages, etc.

PostPosted: Fri Nov 23, 2012 5:46 pm
by DiggingDogFarm
I'm pretty sure that you can amend your review on Amazon and change the used to be able to do that anyway.

When I get extra time, I'll likely do a full review.

Another thing that bothered me is the bad-mouthing of manual grinders.
They demonize manual grinders for no good reason at all claiming that they "heat-up" the meat too much...that's absolute hogwash!!! Well, maybe if you're the Bionic Man and you run your manual grinder at some crazy RPMs it's a problem, but as far as the rest of us are concerned it's a total myth that manual grinders heat the meat up too much.
I've checked the temperature of the meat before and after grinding several times while using a manual grinder, sometimes there's not much of a change in temperature at all and no more than 2-3 degrees difference any time that I have checked.
Maybe it's that they feel manual grinders are beneath them, I don't know, I can't think of any other reason to condemn them. A heck of a lot of meat has been put through manual grinders over the years!!!

They're also critical of the way that some packers label their "naturally cured" products, insisting that they are trying to deceive they're customers. That's incorrect...they are simply following labeling laws.

He attempts to make the same point on his blog.....

re: No Nitrates Added Hoax.....

From the blog post above........
"It’s my belief that companies advertising their products as “nitrite-free,” are either uninformed themselves or are pandering to America’s ignorance about what is healthy and what is harmful in our foods. In other words, the term “no nitrites added” is a marketing device, not an actual health benefit."

They're not uninformed, pandering or using the terms as a sneaky marketing device, they're doing what the 'rulers' at the almighty USDA tell them to do as far as labeling goes.

From USDA materials.....

"The USDA currently does not recognize naturally occurring nitrates as effective curing agents in meats, so if using Celery Juice Powder for products being sold to the public, the end-products must be labeled "Uncured"

"Bacon can be manufactured without the use of nitrite, but must be labeled "Uncured Bacon, No Nitrates or Nitrites added" and bear the statement "Not Preserved, Keep Refrigerated Below 40 °F At All Times" — unless the final product has been dried according to USDA regulations, or if the product contains an amount of salt sufficient to achieve an internal brine concentration of 10% or more, the label does not have to carry the handle statement of "Not Preserved, Keep Refrigerated below ___" etc. Recent research studies have shown for products labeled as uncured, certain ingredients added during formulation can naturally produce small amounts of nitrates in bacon and, therefore, have to be labeled with the explanatory statement "no nitrates or nitrites added except for those naturally occurring in ingredients such as celery juice powder, parsley, cherry powder, beet powder, spinach, sea salt etc."

And there you have it!

Okay....down off my soapbox for now....LOL


PostPosted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 11:15 pm
by DiggingDogFarm
This Little Piggy wrote:If I'd known about the mistakes they make with nitrate/nitrite levels, I might well have given the book 2 stars as well.

Marianski's latest book, Home Production of Sausages, which has been out for over a year now, does a much better job of covering technical issues - how to build a drying chamber, controlling temperature and humidity for dry-cured sausages, etc.

I see you updated your Amazon review.


PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:57 am
by wheels
Thanks for posting the last but one post - it makes interesting reading.

Phil :D :D