I may have this wrong, but as far as I can tell, “charcuterie” is French for “a big plate full of stuff.”
Charcuteries are one of the biggest trends in the food world right now; you will find them on an ever-increasing number of restaurant menus, and small companies are popping up to bring them to you. Everyone likes them, and why not? They are big plates full of stuff.
Like so many other culinary notions, the idea of what a charcuterie is has evolved and expanded over the years, especially recently. But the original definition is still relevant: it is meat, often pork, prepared in a number of specific ways —smoked, cured, patés, terrines, sausages, confit and a couple of deboned methods.
A charcuterie board, which is what most people (and restaurants) mean when they say “charcuterie,” is a platter offering several of these meats and preparations.
But that isn’t nearly as fun as the current definition of the term. These days, the platter also includes a variety of well-chosen accompaniments. Cheeses, breads or crackers and a selection of complementary condiments such as preserves, pickled vegetables and more, are now considered necessary additions to any self-respecting charcuterie board.
And with the charcuterie concept now so open and free, there is no reason to stop at meats. These days, the only limit to a charcuterie board is your imagination.
Do you like different kinds of pancakes? Make a pancake charcuterie; your brunch guests will love you for it. Or you could just go full out and make it a brunch board, with waffles, bacon, berries, scrambled eggs (keep them in the skillet for that charcuterie look) and smoked salmon with capers and tomatoes and red onions.
I’m getting kind of hungry just thinking about it.
You could make a board of sweet, juicy fruits and cheeses. Crackers and nuts would add an appealing crunch and an always welcome bit of salt, and a caramel dip would be smooth and cool.
How about a chocolate charcuterie? Why not? Don’t forget the whipped cream.
Bloody Mary charcuterie boards are big now among people who like bloody Marys. Along with vodka and tomato juice, you’ll need celery, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cheese cubes, sweet pickles and a special treat such as chilled shrimp.
Did I mention the chocolate charcuterie? It’s worthy of mentioning twice.
I recently made three charcuteries: the traditional meat-and-cheese charcuterie, a pancake charcuterie and, because I don’t like bloody Marys but do like martinis, a martini charcuterie.
Meat and cheese board
For the meat and cheese platter, I wanted to emphasize contrast — flavors, textures and even colors. The prettier the plate, the more your guests will appreciate it.
For the meat part of the platter, I rolled up a selection of Italian cold cuts: Calabrese salame, capocollo, sopressata and pepperoni, plus some sliced chicken breast for people who don’t like pork. I also wrapped prosciutto around chilled spears of asparagus, which is the best possible application for prosciutto.
I added cubes and wedges of fontina cheese and cubes of sharp cheddar; nothing too fancy to overwhelm the meat, which I think should be the star of the platter. Mini-breadsticks and crackers provided a backbone for the meats and cheese, with grainy mustard to add bite and cherry jam to soothe the tongue with its sweetness.
Roasted red peppers are a natural with any selection of sliced meat, and so are piquant gherkins, so onto my plate they went. Olives are good in pretty much any circumstance, and dried apricots are now traditional with meat and cheese charcuteries.
Nuts are essential. I used pistachios in their shell (because it is so much fun taking them out of their shells), almonds and sweet, glazed pecans. I had never bought glazed pecans before. Those things are amazing. I’m sure they would be easy to make yourself, but I took the easy route because I had two more charcuterie boards to prepare.
The heart of any pancake charcuterie, of course, is the pancakes. I made a whole batch of them, which is enough to feed six people, or at least four.
I had thought to put blueberries in some of them, but decided instead to scatter the berries all around the platter so guests could enjoy that fresh pop of flavor whenever they wanted it. I added strawberries for much the same reason, and sliced bananas, which are tragically overlooked as an accompaniment for pancakes.
Obviously, I included a pitcher of maple syrup, and I kept things sweet with chocolate chips, homemade chocolate syrup (I used a ganache) and whipped cream.
I finished off the platter with crispy bacon, because it’s bacon.
My martini charcuterie started off with an assortment of gins and dry vermouths; my guests could mix and match to determine their favorite combination of straightforward crisp and dry gin, botanical gin or citrus-forward gin with floral vermouth or earthy and slightly bitter vermouth.
For the snack part of the charcuterie, I made three dishes that go with martinis like vermouth goes with gin.
Shrimp cocktail is an absolute classic; if you ask me, every bottle of gin ought to come with a little package of shrimp and the ingredients for cocktail sauce. And just as good as shrimp cocktail are deviled eggs, which pair perfectly with martinis and pretty much everything else.
The third dish I made is less known: cheddar olives. They are simple to make, yet spectacular and spectacularly addictive. They also go almost incomprehensibly well with martinis — the salt in the cheese, a faint snarl of pepper and the brininess of the olives are just what gin and vermouth need.
Naturally, I laid out olives (for martinis) and pickled pearl onions (for Gibsons, which are similar to martinis but made with a pickled pearl onion instead of an olive). For an irresistible bit of crunchy sweetness, I brought out chocolate-covered almonds.
Pretzels are appropriate with any cocktail, and so is a bar mix of peanuts, sesame sticks and other goodies. And I finished off the platter with more of those sweet glazed pecans.
I just love those things.