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Oct 5, 2009 01:30 PM

Michael Ruhlman: Expert in Residence!

Michael Ruhlman will be in residence on Chowhound for the week starting today, Monday, October 5, responding to questions about everything from DIY charcuterie and sausage making to his latest book, "Ratio." ( Brian Polcyn, who co-wrote "Charcuterie" with Michael, might be stopping in as well.

Michael is a cookbook author and food writer from Cleveland. You may have seen him on "No Reservations Las Vegas" riding shotgun with Anthony Bourdain, or seen his name on "The French Laundry Cookbook," which he coauthored with Thomas Keller and the FL team. His work also includes the "… of a Chef" series of books, which explore the world of professional cooking; "Charcuterie," on making cured meats and sausage at home; and "The Elements of Cooking," his riff on the famous writing handbook "The Elements of Style."

You can check out some of Michael's work here:

Michael's blog:


"The Elements of Cooking":


Michael will be checking in at least once a day October 5-9 to respond. He's a great resource for any questions you may have on making sausage and charcuterie at home or mastering basic cooking ratios. Some ideas for what he might discuss are:

-What's the easiest meat to start curing at home?
-Where do I get sausage-making supplies?
-What's the best way to case sausages?
-What's the most versatile cooking ratio to remember?

Keep Michael busy -- start asking questions!

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  1. Hi Roxanne, thanks for having me. I'll try to get my lazy-ass partner in charcuterie, brian polcyn, to weigh in as well.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Michael Ruhlman

      Welcome - I'm looking forward to the discussion.

      1. re: Michael Ruhlman

        I saw someone, I think it was Keller (as in Hubert) make a homemade sausage without a casing. I believe he took the meat mixture and rolled it like sausage then encased it in plastic wrap to keep it's shape. Of course the plastic was removed before cooking. What do you think about a method like that? I wish I had a link but can't find one right now.

        1. re: danhole

          you can wrap in plastic and poach then saute

          1. re: Michael Ruhlman

            ...and as is stated in 'Charcuterie' it's a good way to test a small portion of your sausage mix before casing it.

        2. re: Michael Ruhlman

          Hi Michael, In my quest for sausage making and finding some fatback I've mostly encountered "Salted Back Fat." Is this a suitable alternative for fatback? Is unsalted the way to go?


        3. I've tried to make sausage with plastic wrap and got nothing but heartache. Can you add more specific cooking instructions for people who only have plastic wrap as a viable way to make sausage?

          4 Replies
          1. re: cnorris

            I have a link but you have to go to the ask the chef, or something like that. It is from episode #221. I can't link to that directly, though.


            1. re: cnorris

              why heartache? why do you even need plastic wrap? just roll, or make patties

              1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                Chef LeBlanc at CIA has a hot dog recipe that uses plastic wrap and a night in the fridge in lieu of casing. I've never had it, and only made it in class (Saturday for day trippers), but The Yummy Mummy has done it with her two.

              2. re: cnorris

                I've seen Jacques Pepin do it - he wrapped the meat mixture in plastic wrap, twisting the ends to tighten the roll, then tying the twists. Then he wrapped that in aluminum foil before poaching. It looked like a simple procedure.

              3. Michael-

                You guilted me into buying fresh pork belly to make bacon. Question...just how optional is sodium nitrite? I don't want botulism, but I also don't need any extra nitrosamines in my life.

                Jay Fanelli
                Pittsburgh, PA

                3 Replies
                1. re: thebristolkid

                  if you're cooking it anyway, i don't think there's a big botulism concern. botulism primarily in dry cured sausages and home canning. but also, i think the nitrosamines issue is overblown. unless you're eating tons of really burned bacon. we get 95% of our nitrates/nitrites from vegetables. if they formed nitrosamines in us, it wouldn't make sense. studies are now finding cardivascular benefits from nitrites for heart attack patients.

                  1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                    I am very curious about the studies you mentioned about the positive health effects of nitrites/nitrates. I avoid using nitrites/nitrates because of a perceived health risk, and would love to either find a reliable substitute or see the studies you mentioned to put my mind at ease.

                    For example, Applegate Farms sells a nitrate free pepperoni.

                    Ingredients: (Pork, beef, sea salt, dextrose, spices, sugar, paprika, garlic powder, lactic acid, and starter culture)

                    Could lactic acid and starter culture be a substitute for nitrites/curing salt?


                    1. re: chefbrian1

                      They are using celery juice, which contains nitrites. They are able to bury that under 'spices' in the ingredient list...

                      IMO, it's more than a little misleading.

                      Here is one sheet about Nitrites citing some of the studies


                2. I've been wanting to cure sausage, but everything I've read stresses hanging it in a cool, dry place to cure. My struggle is that I live in Houston, which for most of the year is neither cool nor dry. Am I out of luck for curing sausage, or is there some way to get around this?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: wynk

                    you can buy a mini fridge and put it at's warmest setting with a pan of salt water in the fridge. got to watch the drippy ice cube tray though.

                    1. re: Michael Ruhlman

                      HI Michael: "Charcuterie" has added a very exciting aspect to my cooking. THANK YOU and Brian!

                      Just wondering, when using a mini fridge to cure, why salt (as opposed to fresh) water in the fridge? To keep from spoiling?

                      Thanks. Jeff.

                  2. Michael,
                    Have you ever used rose water or orange blossom water in dry curing a sausage before? Do you know if the flavors will break down or will they hold up to the curing process?


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ChefMattRock

                      no, they're kind of volatile so might not translate. i would use orange zest instead of water