One bite: nduja and its variants | Bleader

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

One bite: nduja and its variants

Posted By on 04.06.10 at 11:08 AM

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nduja from Da Riv
  • Elizabeth Gomez
  • nduja from Da Riv

I made an absolute rompiscatole of myself this winter after I learned that Carmelo Pugliese, maestro of the great Riviera Italian Foods, was making nduja. Aka "the red nutella," nduja is a hot Calabrian spreadable salami that over the last year or two has been like catnip to food writers. Last summer I loaded up on a couple chubs from Boccalone, the San Francisco charcuterie operation manned by chef Chris Cosentino, and it didn't last long after I got back. Though Boccalone's nduja (say: "en-DOO-ya") became my single point of reference for the stuff, I've since heard from others that it's a rather wan imitation of the real thing.

That's right, I said nduja is spreadable, which means you can do all sorts of things you'd couldn't with a firm, fermented salami. You can smear it on toast, you can mix it into pasta sauce, hell, you can slather an ear of corn with it and make a meaty elote. You could even enjoy it at zero gravity on your next trip into orbit.

While, as you'll see, recipes vary, usually it's emulsified with some kind of superfatty pork (say, belly or shoulder) sometimes liver, sometimes tripe, and always a scalping hot motherlode of Calabrese chile pepper. But it isn't convenient to make. If done properly, it can take up to a year to cure, which is probably only part of the reason that for Chicagoans, it's a bit like the Sasquatch of sausages—its big, bold reputation is only matched by its elusiveness.

And that's also the reason why, week after week I'd call up Riviera, only to be told it would be another week before it was ready. Carmelo's son Mike told me his Dad and an uncle learned to make nduja (and mozzarella) in their home town of Tropea (also home of the onion). They grind up the belly with some tripe, black salt and the chiles, and then knead the mixture like dough, before stuffing it in the budello, or lower intestine. It hangs for about five weeks and, says Mike, the results often vary, which is why I was a bit disappointed that the one pounders I eventually picked up weren't spreadable at all. They were tasty, sure, with a deep meaty mineral funk, and were certainly spicier than Pugliese's hot sopressata, but only slightly softer. Not exactly the nduja of my dreams.

Nevertheless I made short work of it, even throwing some in the food processor to make a sort of nduja ragu. But the experience only whetted my lust so I turned to Champaign charcutier Laurence Mate, one of the more fearless partisans in the charcuterie underground, who has become something of an nduja radical, offering five varieties (to Illinois residents only) through his charcuterie club.

Mate was out of his reportedly brain scorching classic nduja, but he did send me four others, recommending I sample them in order of ascending chile power. So I began with a cylindrical tube of "ndujadella," a riff on the classic mortadella, that Mate calls his "gateway nduja." Pocked with hammy bits, it still carries a not insignificant chile payload in a soft baloney like matrix. Next Mate's nduja pate is a smooth, livery spread, another notch up on the Scoville scale. Third, nduja di buffala, made with pork bellies from Stan Schutte's Triple S Farm, and pasture raised bison meat, is firmer and tangier than the others. Finally, my favorite, the awkwardly named "nduja wurst" is a brick red liverwurst with whose powerful heat comes with a terrific smokiness.

This Little Piggys nduja flight
  • This Little Piggy's nduja flight

Mate is a small producer, not doing it for money, and his supply is extremely limited, so nduja remains a rarity in these parts, though that could change. I haven't tried it myself, but at The Purple Pig they're serving it as an accompaniment to a pork blade steak. Another chef known for his charcuterie (who will remain nameless for now), just smoked and hung a big batch of beautiful looking dark red chubs, seasoned with habanero powder, smoked paprika, and garlic. Details on that in about a year, he thinks.

And Pugliese has another batch of five-pound chubs hanging at this very moment. The larger size will certainly have an effect on the end product, but there's no telling when they'll be done. Trust me, I just called.

Riviera Italian Imported Foods, 3220 North Harlem Avenue, 773-637-4252

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