5 Lessons Chef Viet Pham Taught Me at Charcuterie Class

We found out how the sausage is really made

So, you think making charcuterie means slicing up some salami and prettily placing it on a board? I used to think the same thing. Then, I took a class and saw how the sausage is really made. Starting in October, Downtown L.A.’s Cafe Pinot is launching Art of Charcuterie, a series of one-night, hands-on courses taught by Ray’s and Stark Bar’s executive chef Viet Pham and sous chef Jake Eaton. I recently got a preview of the Mortadella and Sriracha class. Here’s the takeaway.

1. You can make mortadella at home
It’s definitely a process, but making mortadella isn’t very hard. You do need a few things, namely a meat grinder attachment for your stand mixer (they run about $50), but the rest of the job can be handled by a mixer with a standard paddle attachment and food processor. If you have a sausage stuffer, fantastic, but Eaton says you can nix the casing and use plastic wrap instead. You can also ask your butcher to grind up some pork shoulder for you if you want to cheat on the first step. It’s still impressive.

Cutting the pork shoulder is the first step in mortadella making
Cutting 1-inch thick slices of pork shoulder is the first step in mortadella making

Photograph by Valentina Silva

2. Mortadella mix-ins go beyond the green olive
Olives are great, but they’re not the be-all- end-all of mortadella mix-ins. The chefs encourage throwing in some nuts into the ground pork mixture, too—for the recipe used in the class, pistachios were used—along with pork back fat and seasonings like chopped bay leaves, white pepper, and mace powder. Don’t forget the peppercorns!

3. Ice is an essential part of sausage making
Mortadella is what’s called an emulsified sausage, which means it’s processed into a paste. To get that mousse-like consistency, Eaton poured in about a pint of ice into the food processor along with the meat mixture. After some spinning, the ice and meat became one. As the process continues, it keeps the mixture cold and moist because who wants dry mortadella? Unthinkable.

Fresno chiles are the main ingredient in sriracha
Fresno chiles are the main ingredient in sriracha

Photograph by Valentina Silva

4. Sriracha and mortadella are a match made in heaven
It’s true. The best part is that you can make the fiery sauce at home, and you probably already have most of the ingredients—Fresno chiles, garlic, fish sauce, sugar, and cold water–in your kitchen. Pham says you can adjust the heat by leaving some of the seeds out. From there, you cook up the sliced chiles and other components in a sauce pan, then blend and strain. Put a dollop on a slice of mortadella.

Chef Jake Eaton tries to keep it clean while filling the sausage casings
Chef Jake Eaton tries to keep it clean while filling the sausage casings

Photograph by Valentina Silva

5. Inadvertent sexual innuendo is impossible to avoid during a sausage-making class
There’s really no getting away from it. You have to say stuff like “hold it firmly” while doing suggestive things with sausage casings. Once the giggling starts, good luck keeping a straight face.

Art of Charcuterie starts October 17. The first class covers mortadella and sriracha, while others in the three-course series (classes are scheduled through December) will focus on kaese krainerwurst and lamb-chetta with pickled fennel. Admission is $85 per person, which includes instruction in the Cafe Pinot kitchen and a big cheese and charcuterie spread afterwards with lots of wine.

Art of Charcuterie takes place at Cafe Pinot, 700 W 5th St., 213-239-6500. Get more info here.