Cold cuts for a Xmas meal with a dif­fer­ence

Christ­mas is upon us and many will have started giv­ing fes­tive menus se­ri­ous thought. Whether your fam­ily favours hot meals or less tra­di­tional fare, the meal should be de­void of com­pli­ca­tions or stren­u­ous ef­fort. Cold meats could pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive t

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RE­CENTLY I vis­ited a great butcher in Nel­spruit called Meat De­lights and left with a bag full of de­li­cious good­ies. My haul in­cluded lesser known cold cuts such as jagdwurst, pep­per loaf, fleis­chwurst, bier­wurst, schinken­wurst, presskopf, curry brawn, press sack, blutwurst, land­jäger — the list goes on and on.

Anni Sch­wirzer owns the busi­ness to­gether with her brother. Here one is greeted like a long-lost friend and quickly of­fered a tast­ing sam­ple.

It is also the kind of place where you can rest as­sured that the talk of 100% meat from grass­fed an­i­mals is not just talk.

Anni, who will have com­pleted a three-year Ger­man mas­ter butcher’s course at the end of next year, talks of cold meats and pro­cess­ing with such pas­sion and en­thu­si­asm that a quick pop-in to buy some cuts may turn into an hour long dis­cus­sion on the ori­gins of Ger­man pro­cessed meats. The squea­mish could also rest as­sured that very few cold cuts ac­tu­ally con­tain any of­fal.

Cold cuts — also known as cold meats, sliced meats, lunch or lun­cheon meats, sand­wich meats or deli meats — in­clude cured or pre­served meats and en­com­pass prod­ucts that are clas­si­fied as emul­si­fied sausages.

Cold meats can ei­ther be bought pres­liced and vac­uum packed — as in most gro­cery stores — or sliced from whole por­tions as in del­i­catessens or spe­cial­ity butch­ers. These meats of­ten suf­fer a se­ri­ous rep­u­ta­tional risk when pro­duc­ers don’t take their man- ufac­tur­ing se­ri­ously, to the ex­tent that the Amer­i­can Cen­tre for Dis­ease Con­trol of­fers the ad­vice that peo­ple over 50 should “steam” cold meats be­fore eat­ing them.

The web dic­tio­nary Wikipedia claims that pres­liced cold meats re­quire much higher lev­els of fat and sodium as preser­va­tives be­cause of the larger ex­posed sur­face area.

How­ever, it is the well pre­pared cured and pro­cessed meats that one should seek out ac­tively. There is noth­ing as de­li­cious as a thought­fully cu­rated cold meat plat­ter en­hanced by pick­led veg­eta­bles and fresh bread or a num­ber of cool, el­e­gant salads — worlds apart from many oddly hued polonies of ques­tion­able prove­nance.

Pre­serv­ing takes on many forms: salt­ing, sug­ar­ing, brin­ing and smok­ing to name but a few, and of­ten these may be done in com­bi­na­tion with each other. The process of brin­ing could also be used to turn your hot Christ­mas din­ner into a spec­tac­u­lar suc­cess should you de­cide to re­tain some sem­blance of tra­di­tion, since tur­keys are also sold brined and mar­i­nated these days.

Brin­ing re­lies on the prin­ci­ples of dif­fu­sion and os­mo­sis, when the salt/su­gar con­tent of the sur­round­ing liq­uid (the brine) is con­sid­er­ably higher than the salt con­tent of the turkey. Dif­fu­sion is the nat­u­ral flow of salts and sug­ars from the area of greater con­cen­tra­tion to the cells of the turkey.

Ju­lia Collin ex­plains that once in­side the cells the salts (and to a lesser ex­tent the sug­ars) cause cell pro­teins to un­ravel or de­na­ture. As the in­di­vid­ual pro­teins un­ravel they are more likely to in­ter­act with one an­other and this in­ter­ac­tion re­sults in the for­ma­tion of a sticky ma­trix that cap­tures and holds mois­ture. Once ex­posed to heat the ma­trix gels and forms a bar­rier to keep mois­ture from leach­ing out as the meat cooks, and voila, a bet­ter sea­soned, moister Christ­mas turkey.

Bon ap­petit and a merry fes­tive sea­son to you all.

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