Mark the date: Brian Polycyn, "America's charcuterie master," will appear at Panzano on Sunday
"I started making charcuterie in 1980 while training under a master chef, and it fascinated me so much that I just never stopped," says Brian Polycyn," chef and author of Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing and the James Beard Award-nominated book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.
See also: Denver's ten best charcuterie plates
And on Sunday, September 8, Polycyn, along with local chefs Paul Reilly (Beast + Bottle), Aaron Whitcomb (Ya Ya's Euro Bistro) and Bob Blair (Fuel Cafe), will gather at Panzano to join exec chef Elise Wiggins for a five-course dinner, paired with wines, that will begin with a charcuterie demonstration from Polycyn.
"It's a tribute of sorts to honor the American master of charcuterie," says Wiggins, who participated in a two-day, chef-only charcuterie class in Denver last April that was led by Polycyn, who describes Denver as a "great city with a cool food scene."
"Paul, Bob Aaron and I all took Brian's class and then came up with the idea to do an honorary dinner for him, and the charcuterie demo is a huge bonus for all of us chefs -- and for Denver foodies," notes Wiggins, adding that everyone from professional kitchen wizards to home cooks are intrigued by the artisinal craft of curing meats in salt, a preservation tradition that dates back centuries.
"There's not a lot of room for error when it comes to charcuterie and salumi," admits Polycyn, "but the public is more knowledgeable about food today than just about any other time in America; they want to know where their food comes from, which is great, and salumi digs deep into the roots of real food and the natural ways of preservation before the refrigerator was even invented," adds Polycyn, whose thirty-minute observational demo will focus on zamponi.
And the dinner will spotlight dishes that the chefs are recreating from Polycyn's cookbooks. "The only thing that he doesn't have in his cookbooks are desserts, so that's where we're improvising, but the savory dishes are all ingredient-for-ingredient with different accompaniments," says Wiggins, who describes Polycyn's recipes as "tried and true." Unlike most chefs who pen cookbooks, "Brian doesn't hold back," stresses Wiggins. "He shares the subtle nuances and his secrets to smoking, salting and curing, and if you follow his recipes, you'll nail it -- and that's a testament to a great cookbook."
The demo begins at 6 p.m., followed by dinner, and seats are $100 each ($135 if you want to be a voyeur at the chef's counter), and the menu, not surprisingly, trumpets all of our favorite things, including headcheese and sausages. To secure a reservation -- they're going fast -- call Panzano at 303-296-3525.
And just in case you need incentive, Polycyn, who will also conduct a charcuterie demo on Saturday at the Denver Food and Wine Classic, was kind enough to share his recipe for pig butter, which will be one of the accompaniments served at the Panzano feast. As Polycyn says, "Praise the lard."
1 cup rendered heritage breed lard strained and brought to room temperature
4 tablespoons minced onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
¼ cup chives, finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 loaf country bread, grilled
1. In a medium-size saucepan, saute onions and garlic in a little of the rendered lard, and allow to cool until it's the consistency of room-temperature whole butter.
2. Place lard in stand mixer and whip until it doubles in volume. You want it to be extremely airy, like butter cream frosting.
3. Fold in cooked onions and garlic, salt, pepper and chives.
4. Spread on grilled country bread.