Mortadella originates from Bologna, Italy. It’s nicknamed “la grassa,” which means fat. Mortadella has been made for the last five hundred years, yet many Americans haven’t heard of it. When told it’s Italian bologna, they think of the stuff we ate as kids (but stopped eating when we grew into adults and found out how it was made). Real Italian mortadella is fatty baloney… pork and fat emulsified into a paste, seasoned, then stuffed into a casing. It’s served in a sandwich, on a cracker, or as part of a salumi plate. It’s a more challenging product to make than other charcuterie, in my opinion. The following recipe was adapted from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s book Charcuterie. I put a few spins on the process, but the recipe is very close, with a few extra ingredients. Look up the recipe there, or find one of many on the internet. Below, I’ll talk more about the process I followed and tell you what I learned making mortadella.
There are two ways commonly used to make emulsified products; one uses a paddle mixer, and the other uses a food processor. The big difference is that if you use a mixer, you will grind the meat twice through your grinder–the first through a larger die, after which you will add the salt and cure. Then, the second is ground through a smaller die, after which you will add to your mixer along with the spices and paddle-mix it. If you are using a food processor, you will add your salt and cure to the meat, and grind once through the medium die, then move to your food processor to mix the seasonings, and bring it to a paste. In both processes, you need to remember that we are heating up the meat by working it. We need to watch the temperature and move it into the freezer to chill it down if the temps get too high.
I used the mixer and it’s important to keep that in mind as I describe the process below.
Sausages makers already know that it’s important to keep all your equipment and ingredients cold when making any product. The same is true, and even more important when we’re making emulsified meats. Emulsified meats are ground, seasoned, and mixed into a paste that becomes the consistency of a thick batter. After I stuffed the farce info the casings, I gave mine a light cold-smoking.
I found the actual process of making mortadella smooth, and fairly quick (about 30-40 minutes). It was the prep ahead of time that was challenging, and incredibly important. It took me several hours to achieve mise en place. If you have already made fresh sausages, or ground-meat products, then you are already armed with the basic knowledge. Our goal in this process it to execute the process as quickly as possible without over-heating the meat as we handle it. Between each step, I kept my instant-read thermometer handy to understand if I needed to put the meat back in the freezer to cool it down. Emulsified meats require a bind of the proteins without smearing the fat. A broken farce in this case means starting over.
I froze all of my equipment ahead of time… the grinder attachments, all trays, and the mixer bowl and paddle. I also have my stuffer in the deep freeze downstairs. My meat and fat was diced into chunks and almost frozen (crispy cold) in one bowl. In my first attempt in 2014, I used the recipe called for in Ruhlman’s book “Charcuterie.” I changed up the spices to my own liking over time and I have posted the latest below. All of my salt, cure, spices and dry milk were pre-mixed and in the containers ready to dump in when needed. Salt, cure #1 and garlic was in the first bowl, 2 tbs. of dry white wine is in the fridge. The main spice mix (bay, coriander, mace, pepper, and nutmeg) were in the second bowl. The dry milk was in the third bowl, and the crushed ice was measured and in the freezer. I had another bowl of more finely diced fat (quickly blanched and cooling in the fridge) and pistachios (blanched, peeled and cooling in the fridge). Both would be folded in just before stuffing. My casings have been prepped, rinsed, and are soaking in tepid water
Using the mixer-method, I would be grinding twice. I took the meat and fat, and ground through my medium die into a cold tray. I changed from the medium die to the small die. I added the first bowl with the salt, cure and garlic, and the 2 tbs. of wine into the farce. I added the crushed ice, and then mixed quickly by hand in the tray making sure everything is integrated. I fed it right back into the grinder and ground through the small die. It was looking pretty fine now. I used a rubber spat, and put all into the cold mixer bowl, and added the second bowl with my spices in it. I hooked up the paddle and mixed in the spices. I needed to stop a couple of times to push the farce out of the paddle and allow it to mix better. It was an easy process since the paddle had space for fingers to fit through. Last, I added the dry milk, and again mixed it in. I grabbed the instant-read thermometer, and it was reading 38F. Not bad! I cleaned out the bowl, and put it in my pan again. I folded in the diced fat and pistachios, and kneaded it with my hands for a bit until I noticed the sticky pellicle. I formed into a ball, and put in the freezer while I prepared my stuffer and threaded on the beef middles to the stuffing tube. About 5 minutes or so. I dropped the farce into the cold stuffing container and tied the end of the casing. I stuffed short, fat chubs… about 3-4 inches long. Twisting and tying each side. I tied twice between each chub and cut each one off to put into the fridge before moving to the next. All done, and everything seemed to go great.
I checked the water I had heating on the stove to see that it was between 170 and 180F for poaching. It was ready. I pulled out the chubs and added them to the water. After about 15 minutes, I stuck my instant read thermometer into the end of one planning to let it stay in there so I could see when the internal temp was 150. I didn’t notice until it was time to pull them out… but the one with the thermometer in it split along the underside. It didn’t actually held together pretty good (see pic). It also tasted OK, but the texture was not nearly as nice as those that did hold together and it was of course water-logged 🙂 I decided to stick the others as I pulled them out to test their temperature. Caution here! When I pulled out the probe, juice from inside the casing squirted, hard and far. I had to make sure I had it aimed in the pot before pulling out the probe. I’m not sure if I should have done this, but I did. I was concerned with all the liquid inside if it would not allow a good bind. The final produce ended up fine!
After removing from the hot water, I put them into a bath of ice-water to quickly cool them down and I rinsed them a couple of times to keep the water cold. It was a cold day outside, so I took them outside and set them on top of the smoker and got the cold-smoke generator fired up. I smoked over apple wood for about 2.5 hours. It was plenty! I was going for a light smoking, but 2.5 hours really hit it. I still enjoyed it very much, but it shows how delicate this product is. It amazes me how much smoke can get through the casing and into the middle of the product so easily.
After the cold-smoking, I brought them in, wiped them with paper towels and put them in the fridge to let them finish setting. That’s an overview of the process I followed. See the pictures below and note the details I have added to their captions. I consider this a great success and look forward to trying it again maybe changing up some ingredients next time. Leave a comment below… I’m happy to answer any questions you may have, or even just talk about meat.
Here is the most recent recipe as of 2020 as well as the pictures below.
I made the recent mortadella with the following, however, on my next one, I will up the fat content… making the farce more white then what I ended up with this time. See the color of the farce from 2014 at the bottom of this post. It was about perfect.
1771g Pork Shoulder
454g Pork Belly
240g Back fat, cubed in 1/4″ pieces or less, blanched, and chilled
Total protein weight: 2465g
2% Kosher Salt
.2% Cure #1
.3% Ground Wht. Peppercorns
.2% Garlic Powder
.05% Caraway Seed
.1% Star Anise
.6% Whole Blk Peppercorns (set aside, do not grind)
.4% Shelled, peeled and blanched pistachios (112g for my batch)
1/2 Cup cold red wine to add to mixer when mixing
I took the caraway seeds, star anise, white peppercorns and a little of the salt just to keep stuff from sticking to the spice grinder and mixed into a powder.
Grind the shoulder and belly through a course die once. Hold out the diced fat back. Then, mix all spices into the first grind by hand (hold out the black peppercorns and blanched pistachios)
Now run the meat and spices through a fine die. To this farce, you will fold in the peppercorns, pistachios and blanched/chilled fat cubes. Fold in and toss in your mixer. Don’t over-mix. You also want to keep your farce under 38F. If it’s too warm, stop and put it back in the freezer for a while.
Once all mixed, I stuff into 4.5″ beef bungs, trussed, and pricked, then put in fridge while I warmed up the immersion circulator.
I’ll sous vide at 155F until an internal temp of 155F is reached. This could take 6-8 hours. Once done, submerge in ice-water to chill quickly. Once cooled, pat dry and cold smoke if you want. Mortadella traditionally is not cold-smoked, so on this latest one, I smoked one, and not the other.
Here are pictures from my most recent make Mar. 2020.
Below are the pictures from my first make in 2014