O COPPA! MY COPPA!
About 6 months ago I wrote something cute about struggling over waiting a couple weeks for some meat to cure. Six months later it’s ready. And I know what it means to wait. Looking back at those early, fidgeting days, I believe I’ve come to understand the technical term for my condition: being an impatient tit.
The Mangalitsa coppa followed their own, painfully slow schedule. One that caused me to seriously question my meat curing chops—both in aptitude and mental wherewithal. For weeks at a time I was convinced I had flushed good money and better pork down the toilet as the meaty neck muscles lingered at 20% weight loss for excruciating durations. I monitored my humidity. I completely re-engineered my airflow system. (More accurately, you could say I engineered it because for several months my “system” consisted of me leaving the chamber door open with a clip fan blowing into it while I tooled around the garage.) I used different scales and thermometers, comparing constantly to be sure they were measuring correctly. I poked. I squeezed. I sniffed with an arched eye-brow doing my best to detect any sort of whiff of offness. The coppa, in return, continued following their own schedule.
In the end, the weight loss was close to 30% and the meat felt firm enough to cut. Something I did with a mixture of fear and resignation. For better or worse, it was time to end the experiment.
I sharpened my knife. Sliced. And then… exhilaration.
The home cured pork was great, if not perfect. A bit on the salty side, which is disappointing considering I cut curing time by several days from the recommended duration in Ruhlman’s book. Something I specifically did to reduce saltiness in the final product. But, salt aside, all the flavors are there: A slight whiff of aged funk, which I’d actually welcome more of. A deep porky flavor and deeper red hue. And the fat…holy damn sonofabitch. I guess all I can say to do it justice is that the Mangalitsa does not fuck around. Not at all. Snow white fat. Melty, buttery, float on your tongue fat. People always joke about me carrying food around in my beard to little amusement, but this is really fat that I’d happily stash away for a quick snack anytime day or night. Hell, I’d roll it up and pinch it between my cheek and gum.
So the coppa is good. And what is surprising is that I like the Scappi spiced coppa better than the straightforward heat of the hot coppa. The aromatics and lemon zest really give a nice complexity that goes beyond a typical “sweet” and gets, well, medieval on the pork. In both cases the saline flavor is too present. I think for my next curing attempt I’m going with sea salt, I figure it’s got a little mellower flavor and if I shorten curing time too much more I worry about spoilage. But as it stands, I’m calling this a success, especially in light of the quality fat really shining through.
One side effect of a long aging time is you find yourself dreaming up all sorts of uses for your future bounty: coppa sformato with clams, coppa pizza, coppa slices with grapes, coppa stuffed pork chops with fontina, coppa braised greens and then this latest iteration: crispy coppa with oysters. In other words, oysters on the crispy pig half shell.
They were delicious. First is the natural marriage between shellfish and cured pork. It just works. Crisping the coppa brings out a deep porcine richness and rendering some of the fat masks some of the salty flavors. They came together as a sort of two bite system, slurp the oyster with its liquor and then eat its porky encasement. It was good. I ate six of them standing around my kitchen by myself and then immediately wished I had 12 more. I even made a little mignonette that added a nice bit of acid to the richness of the whole thing. This is one I will keep in the repertoire. This is one I’m proud of.
In the upcoming months you’ll probably see a lot coppa variations popping up. I have about 5 pounds of it to consume and I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate various inventive applications of salted pig neck. But as more and more things occur, I can’t help but return to my favorite way to eat any salumi: straight off the paper, right out of the fridge and into my mouth. It’s even better really late at night or immediately after work. If I’m feeling fancy I’ll slice up some cheese and pickled onions to go with it, maybe some crackers and a coldbeer. But just standing there picking at it always brings me back to some of my favorite snacks of my childhood, sitting on the kitchen floor with my brother, refrigerator open, and us shoveling slices of salami into our faces communicating only in muffled grunts of satisfaction.
Crispy Coppa and Oysters
12 slices of coppa, not so thin, maybe a little less than an 1/8 of an inch thick
12 oysters in the shell (I used gulf oysters but use what ever is best in your area)
Red wine vinegar
Heat your oven to 300 degrees. Place the coppa slices in a muffin tin so they begin to cup upward around the edges. Place the muffin tin in the oven for about 5 minutes or until the coppa is holding shape and starting to render a small amount of fat. Cool the coppa in the tin until you’re ready to use. Dice the shallot and mix it with the vinegar and black pepper, set aside. Arrange your coppa “shells” on a plate. Shuck your oysters and place one in each piece of coppa with as much of the liquor from the shell as you can manage. Serve the mignonette on the side. Eat and wonder why pigs don’t come with gills.