In South Louisiana, we know specialty meats. From chaudin to turduckens, there’s no meat we can’t stuff, cure, smoke or marinate. One such meat that often gets overlooked in the specialty meat arena is tasso. Tasso, also known as Cajun ham, has a unique flavor that provides untapped potential in dishes outside traditional Cajun and Creole cuisine.
What is Tasso?
A Cajun food with Spanish origins, tasso has a history as rich as its flavor! Though it is often referred to as tasso ham or Cajun ham, ham is a misnomer. The meat for tasso comes from the shoulder of the hog and not the leg of the hog like traditional ham. The word tasso comes from the Spanish word “tasajo” which means “slice of cured dried meat”. There are references to tasso as early as the mid 1700s when buffalo strips called “tassagear” were sold to French settlements in America.
How is it made?
Though the protein of today’s tasso differs significantly from that of its history, the preparation process remains much the same. Tasso begins with a pork shoulder cut into one inch steak slices or left whole to cut later. The meat is then dredged in a curing mixture of salt and Cajun spices before being refrigerated for several hours. During refrigeration, the salt mixture begins to draw moisture out of the meat while the flavorful seasonings work their way in. Following the curing process, the pork is rinsed of excess salt, patted dry and marinated with traditional Cajun seasonings.The marinated pork is then smoked at a low temperature for approximately three hours creating a smoky, jerky-like exterior protecting a tender and juicy interior. Similar to other smoked and cured meats, tasso needs no additional cooking and can be added directly to dishes after smoking.
Here are just a few ways to incorporate tasso into your cooking:
Sliced or diced tasso can spice up your favorite finger foods. Mix it into creamy dips like ranch or spinach and artichoke dip, sprinkle it over deviled eggs or add it to your charcuterie board paired with soft cheeses like brie and chevre.
Diced tasso does wonders for cream-based soups and sauces. The smokiness and spice cuts through the heaviness of the cream and adds a unique depth of flavor. Try it in broccoli and cheese soup, potato soup and chowders.
Add it to your omelettes, scrambles and quiches in place of traditional ham or bacon. It also goes great sprinkled on top of creamy grits!
Thick chunks of tasso will bring your side dishes to center stage. Add some smokey, spicy goodness to greens, beans, okra and brussel sprouts.