17 June, 2009

Capicola Update - Last of the Season

That, my friends, is a paper-thin slice of extra-long-aged hot capicola, held to the light so it can glow like a sunlit stained-glass window in the Cathedral Of Porky Goodness.

This particular capicola is the end result of two experiments suggested by two friends.

When my friend Roger and I were spicing the pork loins and stuffing them into casings, he suggested an alternative to the traditional cayenne pepper spice I normally use. We mixed equal parts of cayenne and powdered chipotle together, then added some imported smoked Spanish paprika for a boost to both the smokiness and the pepper flavor (not to be confused with the pepper heat.) That turned out to be a very successful combination - the next batch of hot cappy we make will also use that seasoning mix.

Back in April, when Roger and I opened and packaged our cappy, there was one which wasn't quite ready - not quite firm enough when squeezed - and we decided to age it another couple of weeks. The closet off my kitchen was chosen for the job, since the attic was already becoming too warm now that Spring had arrived. Around the same time my friend Michael wondered how the texture and flavor would be if the capicola were allowed to age long enough to dry thoroughly, almost like jerky. That seemed like a worthy experiment, so when the kitchen closet began to warm up as well, the still-cased cappy was moved to the spare fridge, where it could continue to evaporate out at an even pace in a relatively humidity-controled environment.

Two months passed, and because Michael was visiting last night it seemed as good a time as ever to unwrap this last capicola. The casing had become quite brittle, so we wrapped the cappy in a damp terrycloth towel to soften it enough to cut and peel. When we peeled the casing off, there was a delicious aroma of smokey pepper and meat. It was very firm - more so than the capicola we harvested in April, but not rock-hard. Although the ends of the cappy were quite dark - a deep black cherry color - towards the centers they were more "normal" looking, deep red and meaty. I sectioned the capicola into four pieces, and we sliced some shavings off of the smallest end piece to try out.

Delicious. The chipotle and paprika had lent a very good smokey flavor which was noticeable without being overwhelmingly powerful. The heat level was just right - a bit hotter than commercial "hot" capicola, but not painful. A chilehead would enjoy it, but it wouldn't be necessary to be a chilehead to enjoy it. The extra aging time had also given the meat a more translucent appearance when sliced - leading to the beautiful texture and visual effect in the top photo. Both experiments were extremely successful.

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