bresaola SOS: words of wisdom from Crested Duck’s Kevin Costa

Oh, humble pie.  I’m determined to make something tasty from you. As always happens when I’m oh-so-smug and pleased with myself, I really blew it.  Remember my bresaola?  What did I say about the Italian art of air-curing beef?

“Of course, leave it to our Italian friends to turn thinly sliced air-cured beef drizzled with olive oil & lemon juice into an art form while our American version of dried beef is known by millions of GIs as the main ingredient in a dish called Shit on a Shingle. What can I say? It doesn’t have to be that way…”

Well, last week I proved how totally American I am.

 I’ve been clucking and fussing over the petrified hunk of beef hanging in my spare fridge for a month. I checked the temperature twice every day and watched carefully to be sure no undesirable green & fuzzy mold was setting in.  Finally the big day arrived.

The story I planned to tell was one of eating this amazing sandwich from the restaurant ‘ino in New York.  A sandwich so fine, it’s described by The New York Times as “the prettiest sandwich in town, [it’s] a seductively simple masterpiece of paper-thin bresaola, pristine lemon-splashed arugula, and grated grana, carefully layered between crustless Pullman-loaf slices. Dainty looks, huge flavor.”

Which is worse I ask you? A complete and inedible flop, tossed straight into the nearest garbage can, or a tantalizing one where you’ve just pushed it one tiny step too far?

I can taste how ridiculously close I was to awesome.

The subtle flavors from Hugh Fearnsley-Whittingstall’s brine recipe are fully manifested and while I may have hung the roast a week longer than ideal for such a small roast, I still managed to capture a red, moist interior.  I was successful in cultivating a small bit of dry, white mold on the exterior (a good thing) and in avoiding growing any undesirable green or black fuzzy molds.

Sounds like a winner, doesn’t it?  And so it would be but for the salt.  My bresaola is so, so salty the spicy beefy goodness is pretty much inedible.

I’ve been relying on the panel of experts on my bookshelf and the internet for advice, and have really learned quite a bit.  But clues are gleaned bits here and pieces there and often I don’t learn about the pitfall ahead until I find myself in need of rescue. My mishap could have been avoided if I’d had some real, live guidance.

Who to ask for help? Easy. I looked to Pittsburgh’s own Kevin Costa, owner and Executive Chef of Crested Duck Charcuterie. Crested Duck Charcuterie is an amazing treasure trove – an artisanal market, butcher shop and deli offering a wide range of hand crafted cheeses, pickles, charcuterie, locally raised meat and poultry and prepared foods from made from high quality, local ingredients.

Crested Duck’s cured meats are made and aged using traditional methods, and, this gets me really excited –  their products are locally sourced. You really need to get over there and check them out.

Since Kevin Costa regularly makes bresaola that looks like this, he would naturally be the first person to beg for advice.  Fortunately, Kevin is also really nice and found time to answer my questions despite his busy schedule.

Me: What do to when the bresaola is just too salty?

KC: Soak the bresaola in cold water for 12hrs (but this has to be done after curing but before aging)

Me: A little comment on good mold and bad? No mold at all?

KC: My end product does not have any mold on it. Good mood is obviously acceptable and even desired, but for aesthetics I remove it before the customer sees the end product.

Me: Do you rinse the brine off before hanging?

KC: YES  (Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall didn’t say anything about rinsing!! No wonder my bresaola is too salty!!)

Me: Do you rinse after hanging?

KC: No

Me: Rub in olive oil?

KC: No

Me: Can a roast be too small? What’s your favorite cut for bresaola?

KC: That depends on how you intend to serve the bresaola. For my purposes, I believe, yes you can have a roast that is too small for making bresaola.

Note: Kevin uses eye of round to make his bresaola.  In Leaves from the Walnut Tree, the book that inspired Hugh Fearnsley-Whittingstall’s recipe, Franco Taruschio offers the following caveat:  “Do not attempt to preserve a smaller piece of meat, it is not satisfactory”. He uses a 9 pound (after trimming) top round piece of beef in his recipe.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall calls for a 7-9 pound top or bottom round.

Me: Any secret insider tips?

KC: Measure everything carefully and record all your data, it makes it significantly easier to improve your product as you perfect your bresaola.

Me: MacGyver curing tips/setups for home projects?

KC: Um… lots of butcher’s string?

Me: Your favorite way to serve bresaola?

KC: Arugula, lemon juice and fried egg

I still love the River Cottage recipe but for future bresaola I clearly noted in my book in ink  to RINSE the roast after brining.  My roast was 2 pounds after trimming – next time I’ll use a bigger one, and/or I’ll reduce the number of days in the brine.  My roast rested in its bath of spiced red wine for 7 days.  I think three would have been plenty. I also hung my roast for four weeks and I think at three my bresaola would have been moister.

Oh, well.  I’m ready to take it on again soon because this lesson has been learned. The next time I blow a bresaola, I’ll find a new way.

But this story isn’t over yet.  You don’t think I give up that easily, do you?

Since I was so snobby about our American Shit on a Shingle, what better way to redeem myself than to make SOS so amazing my Italian friends will be begging for some?

Mixing the meat into a sauce disguised the fact that I gave the beef a good soaking in water first.  This recipe has a rich yet delicate milk, butter & floury flavor with a just a bit of freshly grated black pepper and micro-smidge of nutmeg. A perfect backdrop for the mildly seasoned beef.  If you’d like to try it yourself, here’s the recipe.

Now you may not appreciate the nuances of a creamed anything over toast supper, but for me, this is comfort food from home.  The key is white bread that is lightly toasted and not too hefty or spongy. I carefully toast my bread, place it dry on a plate and pour the topping generously, yet not too generously on top. If you drown it, the bread loses its delicate crispness and turns mushy which is a shame because that little bit of texture makes a big difference in a simple dish like this.

OK, maybe I exaggerate just a tiny bit. My Italian friends aren’t begging, but it’s good.  Really, really good.  And it will be even better tomorrow after the flavors marry overnight.

Whew. The thought of ruining that beautiful roast was keeping me awake at night.

Good save!

4 thoughts on “bresaola SOS: words of wisdom from Crested Duck’s Kevin Costa

  1. I used to love to eat that when I was a kid! I sort of forgot about it. I love the way that you approached this by asking an expert.

    1. Thanks Tammy.

      My mom made creamed tuna on toast when I was a kid, of course with Campbell’s cream of celery soup. I won’t use the processed soup, but still make a from scratch version. This is actually the first time I’ve made it with beef. Comfort food…

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