Monday, May 5, 2014

Smoked Tasso Ham (and Maque Choux)

I love conquering levels of the culinary world that I have never tried before. Techniques that may have scared me before seem more and more plausible each day. Things I used to not understand are becoming clear. It helps to answer the question of why I am so obsessed with food, cooking, and baking. It is because there are endless things to learn, something new to try each day, and you can visibly see your work turning from a raw, perhaps unappealing ingredient into something that looks, smells, and tastes magnificent. A good meal can make a celebration all the better, a bad day into comforting warmth, and remind us of days well past by their smells and tastes. Food is so powerful, and I love being the one to have power over it.

This weekend I smoked something. Yup, that's right, I spent all day smoking in my yard. Pork, that is! Tasso ham, to be exact. Tasso ham is a Southern dish of somewhat spicy, seasoned, dry smoked pork used to flavor dishes much like bacon. It is used in cajun cooking quite a bit, and I knew it would be perfect for the Moque Choux (Mock Shoe) I was making for a party on Saturday. I have no idea where to find it around here, so I decided to pull up my big girl pants and do it myself!

My Dad used to smoke everything. We actually used to smoke chickens in out chimney in Minnesota and called it "chimney chicken". No wonder I LOVE things that are smoked. Fish, chicken, pork, cheese....everything seems to taste better with that mesquite flavor. I was always just a taste tester, not part of the process. I had to do some research on how to do it myself - especially since all I had was a basic oudoor charcoal grill. I've heard it done before though, so I knew it was possible.

And possible it is. And I was very successful! I put the meat on to smoke in the morning, ran some errands, and added more charcoal and wood chips when I got home. I smoked the Tasso ham for about 6 hours total. Here is how I did it.

3 days prior to smoking, I put a dry rub, listed below, on my pork. I had a 2 lb. pork loin and cut it into 1" thick cutlets. I set it in the fridge and let it merry with the spices.

The morning of smoking, I set my wood chips (I just used mesquite wood chips) in some water to soak. They soaked for about 2 hours.

I set a big pile of coals on one side of my grill and let them pre-heat for about an hour. I let them get completely white. Then I laid on a few handfuls of my wet wood chips. I did not include a water pan like most smoking. These cutlets are supposed to dry out. If you wanted to keep smoked meat moist, you'd want to add a pan with water to the side you are cooking the meat on.

There was apparently some stuff on the grate to burn off...

I placed my cutlets on the off-heat side of the grill and closed her up!

This is what my coal-wood chip pile looked like. 

Halfway through cooking

My little helper
 The finished product!! I probably could have taken these off a little earlier but truth be told, I totally forgot about them. They were still so so good - almost like jerky. My husband just ate a whole one when he got home from work and said he just wanted to eat all of it. It is pretty salty, but it is supposed to be for flavoring dishes.

Now, for the dish I made. Moque Choux. A Southern Cajun dish of spicy corn.

I diced up my Tasso Ham really finely.

Added it to a pot with veggies...

And added corn and other herbs. The final picture of my final product is kind of cruddy because when it was done, it was a rush to get out!! So I had to take a picture of cold leftovers. Which are still delicious, by the way!


The Tasso Ham did a fantastic job giving my dish a smokey, salty, spicy flavor. The hard pieces softened in all the juices of the veggies. Really a great side dish. 
Spice Rub for Tasso Ham
adapted from Nola Cuisine
*This is a rub for about 5 lbs of meat. I only smoked 2 lbs, so I have a little container of spice left. 
3 Tbsp. Salt
2 tsp. cayenne (or more, if you want it really spicy)
4 Tbsp. Paprika
2 Tbsp. fresh garlic
1 Tbsp coarse black pepper
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp Brown sugar. 
Blend all ingredients in a bowl. Rub into 1" thick slices of pork and refrigerate for 2-3 days. Smoke without water (except for the water used for soaking woodchips) and let sit out in the open until cool after smoking. 

Moque Choux

2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 cup (or 2 cutlets) Tasso Ham
4 cups corn, frozen or fresh
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes*
3 roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup half and half
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in large sauce pan. Add onion, pepper, celery, and Tasso Ham. Cook until vegetables are softened. Add corn and heat through. Add crushed pepper flakes and tomatoes and let cook 5-10 more minutes. Add in half and half and let the sauce reduce and thicken slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve. 

*The red pepper flakes can be replaced by fresh jalapeno. This is what I would have done had I had a fresh jalapeno. 

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