Fennel salami, finocchiona in Italian, is a classic in the canon of the salumiere’s art. The old legend its that some light-fingered Italian lifted some regular ole’ basic salami, and then got discovered. He hid it in a patch of wild fennel as he made his escape, then came back for it later. When he did, it smelled beautifully with that sweet, herby, anise aroma you either love or hate.
Yes, you pretty much have to be OK with fennel (anise) to like this salami. You can detect it when you eat it, although the cured pork is still the star of the show. I only mention this because some people have a strong reaction to anise flavors (very close to black licorice). If you hate this flavor, make the basic salami I linked to in the previous paragraph.
Regular fennel seeds you buy in the store are fine, but if you can get wild fennel seeds, they are stronger in flavor. (Here’s how to harvest wild fennel seeds.) Fennel pollen is another optional ingredient in this salami. It’s very floral and lovely, but really doesn’t keep for a long time. After about six months or so, it will lose it’s aroma. (Here’s how to gather fennel pollen.) You can also buy fennel pollen online.
Finally, you will want some sort of anise-y liqueur to boost the flavor. I use ouzo, but I suppose sambuca would be more traditional. Pretty much every Mediterranean culture has an anise-flavored liqueur — Pernod is the famous one in France — and all work fine.
You also will need a few things before you even start:
- A humidifier, or a place where the humidity can reach 85 percent.
- A place to hang your sausages in this humid environment.
- A place to hang your sausages after the initial ferment, preferably a place with humidity about 70 to 80 percent and about 50 to 60°F.
- Hog casings, which are available at any good supermarket (ask the butcher) or in a butcher’s shop.
- Curing salt and starter culture. Links to where you can buy these are in the ingredient list.
If you’ve never made salami before, read this recipe a few times first and take your time. It’s not a tough salami, but it’s still a salami. If you are not already comfortable with making sausages already, stop here and make a few batches of fresh sausages and then come back to this.
- 5 pounds fatty pork or wild boar shoulder
- 51 grams of kosher salt
- 6 grams of Instacure No. 2
- 10 grams dextrose or 15 grams sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds or fennel pollen
- 1/3 cup ouzo or other anise-flavored liqueur
- 1/4 cup distilled water
- 10 grams FRM-52 or T-SPX starter culture
- Wide hog casings, 38 to 45 mm
- Chop the meat and fat into chunks that will fit in your grinder. Remove any especially nasty silverskin and gristle from the pork. Mix the meat and fat with the salt and the Instacure No. 2 and grind through a coarse die; I use 10 mm. Put in the fridge in a covered container overnight.
- The next day, put about 15 feet of hog casings into some warm water and set aside.
- Mix all the spices and sugar with the meat and fat. Chill for 1 hour in the freezer, then grind through a medium die, about 6 mm. Note, if you’ve already ground the meat through a die this small, grind only half of it. Check the temperature of the meat: If it’s 35°F or colder, grind half of the mixture through a fine die; I use a 4.5 mm die here. If the meat mixture is warmer, freeze it until it hits the right temperature and then grind. Either way, put the meat into the freezer while you clean up and get ready to stuff the links.
- Run warm water through your hog casings while the meat is chilling. This flushes them, and will show you any leaks in the casings. Set them back in the warm water when you’re done.
- Get your starter culture ready. Gently mix the starter culture with the distilled water and let it sit for at least 15 minutes.
- Once the meat is 32°F or colder, put it in a large bin. Add the ouzo and starter culture and mix everything well with your (very clean) hands for a solid 2 minutes. Your hands should ache with cold as you do this. Alternately, put the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the heavy paddle attachment. Mix everything on the lowest setting for 60 to 90 seconds. Either way. you will see the meat change texture: it will bind together and stick to itself.
- Put the meat into your sausage stuffer and stuff it into the hog casings. Form links of about 10 inches, leaving at least a 4-inch "tail" of casing on one end, and about 6 inches on the other. You'll get about six long links. Tie off the short end the first link. Gently compress the meat in the casing. You'll see lots of air bubbles form. Use a needle or sausage pricker (Heat the tip of the needle over a flame until it glows; this sterilizes it.) and prick out all of the air pockets. Do this gradually and gently or you will rupture the casing. This takes some practice. When each link is nice and firm in the casing, tie off the second, longer end and tie off a loop so you can hang the link from an "s" hook or somesuch.
- Hang the links on a drying rack — a wooden clothes drying rack is excellent for this. Now you need to ferment the sausage. You will want to tent the hanging sausages with black plastic from some garbage bags (make sure they are not perfumed!), or some other plastic sheeting. If you have one, put a humidifier under the sausages. You really want them to stay moist. Let the sausages hang at 67°F to 80°F for at least 36 hours, and up to 48 hours. Every 6 to 8 hours, spritz them with a spray mister to keep them moist. This is the fermentation stage, the stage where the starter culture you are using defeats any bad bacteria in the sausage.
- When the sausages are ready, hang them in your drying chamber. I use an old fridge with a temperature regulator and a humidifier in it. Hang the links between 50°F and 60°F at about 70 to 80 percent humidity for at least 3 weeks before eating. You can let them go as long as 2 months. They're ready when they've lost 30 percent of their original weight, or when they feel firm throughout. Store in the fridge, or vacuum sealed in the freezer.
Once you've made your salami, I vacuum seal it and keep it in the fridge, where it will last basically forever. At least a year, probably more.