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Making Nduja Salami

Written By Culinary Pen on Friday, December 6, 2013 | 6:05:00 AM

I first heard about Nduja salami (pronounced with a hard "n" at the start, for eN-doo-ja) from chef Chris Cosentino's salami company, Boccalone.  It didn't make sense to me; a dry cured salami that you could spread.  It sounded odd, but interesting me to pick up a package from Murray's Cheese one day.  Then it all made sense.

Nduja originates from Calabria, Italy, a region in love with all things spicy.  Calabrese on a recipe is usually a good sign there's going to be a fistful of red peppers in the dish.  Nduja gets its red color from a large quantity of red and sweet ground pepper, up to 30% of the weight of the raw ingredients.  And the spreadable texture?  That's from fat.  Many salami recipes recommend 80% meat to 20% fat.  Nduja flips that and goes for as much fat as meat.  This fat-meat-pepper mixture is then ground repeatedly to create a smooth, creamy paste.  Since fat doesn't dry out in the curing process like meat does, it allows the salami to stay soft and spreadable weeks or months after curing.  Plus, the spicy chiles are the perfect foil to the rich sausage, with the heat cutting through the intensely fatty salami.
Granted, this does change the salami-making process.  Well, it doesn't change it the process, it just makes it a pain in the ass.  Tim from Underground Meats described the raw Nduja paste as "cold, wet cement," which is pretty spot-on.

Since this salami is comprised of so much fat, you need to keep it nearly at freezing to keep the fat from separating out and smearing into grease.  The mixture also needs a few passes through a grinder to get a smooth texture, which is a lot like pushing viscous clay down a funnel.  And everything you touch turns red from the dried chile powder.

But remembering the delicious reward at the end of the Nduja rainbow, I soldiered on.  This salami was made with Berkshire backfat and shoulder meat, with a mix of smoked paprika and hot cayenne filling in for the chiles.  You can get imported Calabrian chiles here, but I didn't think it was necessary.  Underground Meat mentioned they had tried the Calabrese imports, but since those chiles weren't local, they didn't feel tied to using them just for tradition's sake.  So they've been experimenting with different in-house blends, which don't require a boat ride across the Atlantic.
So after finally getting this salami to the right consistency, I packed it into beef middles, and let it ferment with TSPX for 3 days.  Then the nduja was smoked with oak for a day before being hung to cure.  I'm really curious to try this, as its radically different from anything else I've ever cured!


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Chad C said...

Do you have a recipe with actual ratios? I'm growing some Calabrian chiles in my garden and they will all go into batches of homemade nduja. Any help is appreciated.

Culinary Pen said...

Hi Chad,
I actually went off the recipe in Ruhlman's book "Salumi," but you might find a more traditional Calabrian recipe here: