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.
Underground Meats described the raw Nduja paste as "cold, wet cement," which is pretty spot-on.
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.
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.