Forcemeats and their Binders, Fats, and Seasonings
In charcuterie, forcemeats are central to the what charcuterie is all about. As part of our charcuterie portion, we will go through the various types of forcemeats.
A forcemeat is a preparation made from uncooked ground meats, poultry, fish or shellfish, seasoned, then emulsified with fat. Forcemeats are the primary ingredient used to make pates, terrines, galantines and sausages.
The word forcemeat is derived from the French word farce, which means stuffing. Depending on the preparation method, a forcemeat can be very smooth and velvety, well textures and course, or anything in between. Regardless of its intended use, it has a glossy appearance when raw and will slice cleanly when cooked. A properly emulsified forcemeat provides a rich taste and comforting texture.
Forcemeats are emulsified products. Emulsification is the process of binding two ingredients that ordinarily would not combine. The proteins present in the meat, poultry, fish and shellfish combine easily with the fat and liquid. In forcemeats, these proteins act as a stabilizer that allows the fat and liquids that ordinarily do not combine to bind. When improperly emulsified forcemeats are cooked, they lose their fat, shrink and become dry and grainy.
- The ratio of fat to other ingredients must be precise
- Temperatures must be maintained below 4’C (40’F)
- The ingredients must be mixed properly
Because forcemeats are prepared with raw meats, it is very important to be careful in how you prepare your forcemeats. This means adhering to all safe food handling processes. Charcuterie is considered an intermediate skill level.
Forcemeats are usually meat, poultry, fish or shellfish combined with binders, seasonings, and sometimes garnishes. Selections from these categories are used to make the wide array of forcemeats. It is very important that you source only the highest ingredients for your forcemeats.
The dominant meat is the meat that gives the forcemeat its name and essential flavor. The dominant meat does not have to be beef, veal, lamb, pork or game. It can be poultry, fish or shellfish. When you are preparing these varieties of meats, be very sure to remove all the silverskin, gristle, and small bones so the meat will be easier to grind and thus produce a smoother finished product.
Many forcemeats contain some pork. Pork adds moisture and smoothness to the forcemeat. Without it, poultry-based forcemeats tend to be rubbery, while venison and other game-based forcemeats will tend to be drier than other meats.
Fat is referred to as a separate ingredient, not the fat in the dominant meat or pork, both of which should be lean in order to ensure the correct ratio of fat to meat. Pork backfat or heavy cream is used to add moisture and richness to most forcemeats. Fat carries flavor and this is the vehicle needed to promote the infusion of flavors.
There are two different types of binders that you need to know about: panadas and eggs.
A panada is something other than fat that is added to a forcemeat to enhance smoothness, to aid emulsification or both. It should not make up more than 20% of the total weight. Usually, a panada is nothing more than a crustless white bread soaked in milk or a heavy bechamel.
Eggs or egg whites are used asl well as a binding agent in some types of forcemeats. If used with forcemeats that have a high ratio of liver or liquids, they also add texture.
Forcemeats are seasoned with salt, curing salt, marinades and various herbs and spices. Salt not only adds flavor but also aids in emulsification of the meat and fat. A lack of salt will taste flat and may not bind quite right. A good ratio to use is 10 grams per kilogram (1 tsp per pound) of meat.
Curing salt is a mixture of salt and sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite controls spoilage by prohibiting bacterial growth. Not only this, but curing salts also preserve the rosy pink color of some forcemeats that may otherwise oxidize to an unappetizing gray. Although currently seen as a much safer alternative to potassium nitrate (Saltpetre), some studies do suggest that sodium nitrite is a carcinogen. For a typical consumer, the amount of sodium nitrite consumed from cured meats should not pose a substantial health threat.
A pate spice mixture is several spices and herbs that are premixed and used as needed.
Forcemeat garnishes are meats, fat, vegetables or other foods that are added in limited amounts to provide a contrast in flavor and texture as well as to improve the appearance. The garnishes are usually diced, chopped, or more coarsely ground than the dominant meat. Common garnishes include pistachio nuts, diced backfat, truffles or truffle peelings, and diced ham or tongue.