Eating out is great inspiration for home cooks. I’m forever ordering the dish with an unfamiliar ingredient or curious preparation in the hopes that it will serve as both sustenance and culinary education.
I never imagined that my latest food obsession would come from the good old pizza delivery menu, but it was there, buried in the topping selections that I came upon tasso. The parenthetical, “Cajun ham,” gave me enough of a clue to ring in an order for a cheese pizza with tasso and red onion. Since then, I have enjoyed the combination with such regularity that the pizza establishment knows me by name, that is, “Ms. Tasso and Red Onion.”
While it’s often referred to as ham, tasso faintly resembles the common deli meat. In fact it’s not even the same cut of meat; a ham originates in the hind quarter of a pig, tasso is from the shoulder. The meat is then salt cured, flavored generously with spicy Cajun seasonings and smoked. The resulting charcuterie is firm, but supple, like prosciutto, with the smoky heat for which Creole cooking is renowned.
Your local pizza joint may not have tasso on the menu, but that’s no reason to miss out on this Louisiana specialty. Many specialty food stores carry tasso or order online from Murray’s.
Use these ideas for incorporating tasso into a familiar dish or simply swap in tasso when a recipes calls for bacon, pancetta, ham or prosciutto.
- Top prepared pizza dough with tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella and Asiago cheese, hand-torn pieces of thinly sliced tasso and thinly sliced red onion and bake in a 450-degree oven.
- In a heavy pot, sear chicken breasts; transfer to a cutting board and chop. In the same pot, brown diced tasso in olive oil; add chopped onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic and cook to soften. Return chicken to the pot with canned diced tomatoes and a bit of chicken stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Garnish with sliced scallions.
- Saute matchsticks of tasso in butter, add rock shrimp and cook until shrimp are pink and curled. Deglaze with white wine, add some heavy cream, then toss with prepared pasta and grated Parmesan cheese.
- Layer thinly sliced tasso, dill pickles, Swiss cheese and mustard between slices of Cuban bread and grill in skillet or panini press.
- Saute small cubes of tasso in olive oil until crisp, add sliced garlic and blanched Brussels sprouts and cook until the sprouts are heated through and beginning to brown. Finish by tossing with a splash of white wine vinegar and a pat of butter.
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