More than 40 different items stock the case at chef Paul Kahan's Publican Quality Meats, the butcher shop and cafe across the street from the chef's lauded Chicago restaurant The Publican. PQM head butcher Missy Corey counts them off — "there's usually 10 different kinds of pâtés, three to five salamis, three to five hams, pork pies, hard-cured items" — noting that charcuterie production happens seven days a week in the shop. "There's something that's in the works all the time," Corey says. While house hams can take up to two years to cure (whole-muscle items, like tesa and coppa, range anywhere from three to six months), PQM experiments with different flavors in its "faster" preps. Pâtés and terrines have boasted flavors ranging from "Spicy Chicken Wing" to "Manhattan" (based on the cocktail); the current charcuterie board includes terrines inspired by tacos and barbecue.
PQM recently started offering its charcuterie as single-item plates, but those interested in getting the widest range opt for the butcher's choice charcuterie plate, the contents of which vary depending on who's doing the compiling. In Corey's mind, the ideal plate displays a balance of textures: a hard-cured item, a soft terrine, a firm terrine, house-made bread, and a ham to add an unexpected component. "We have the luxury of having so many options," Corey says. Given the room for one more meat prep, she says a chicken liver pâté would probably sneak its way on as #8.
1. Prosciutto: Fairbury, Illinois' Slagel Family Farm, sitting about 100 miles southwest of Chicago, provides the pork for this two-year-aged prosciutto. The dry-cured meat, which retails for $80 per pound, is not to be confused with the prosciutto cotto (a cooked ham) featured on PQM's popular muffuletta sandwich.
2. "Taco-inspired" head cheese: One of PQM's takes on the classic picked meat terrine — which is created by cooking meat on the bone, then picking it off and binding it together with an aspic — adds "taco-inspired" flavors to the meat picked off a pig's trotter. "Paul and Justin [Large, the Kahan group's culinary director] would love to do a pig's-foot taco at the restaurant, which wouldn't really fly," Corey says. "But we can get away with those flavors here at the butcher's shop." The terrine adds lime, cilantro, and shallot to the picked trotter, creating a flavor profile some call "salsa-like."
3. Venison salami: "We don't get venison in very often," Corey says, making this venison salami a unique item in PQM's charcuterie case. It's cured with juniper, espelette pepper, red wine, and garlic.
4. Garnishes: For garnish, Corey dollops a spoon of whole grain mustard by American Spoon, the artisan preserves brand co-created chef Larry Forgione. Corey calls the brand a shop favorite. "It's a product we feature on retail, and we use it a lot: It goes on our porchetta sandwiches and also on all of our charcuterie plates." Corey also adds a sprinkle of spiced peanuts for texture.
5. Barbecue pâté en croute: The French classic pâté en croute (pâté wrapped in a pastry shell) gets an American twist at PQM, with barbecue seasonings joining the pork spread as a tribute to sous chef Chris Miller, a Virginia native and lover of barbecue. Intermixed with the ground pork meat and fat are pickles, garlic, paprika, chili, and onion to instill a "cookout" flavor profile, and the team goes for an over-the-top final touch. The pâté's traditional layer of aspic at the top — poured in after baking to dehydrate and structurally strengthen everything inside the shell — is barbecue sauce.
6. Lamb neck terrine: This French vadouvan-inspired picked terrine appears twice on the plate (it's also next to the head cheese and salami, between numbers two and three), mostly as an aesthetic choice, Corey says. ("We don't want to cover up the 'Q.'") To create the terrine, meat from a lamb neck is bound with figs, hazelnuts, and curry.
7. PQM rye: The bread offered with each plate varies depending on the butcher's whim, and Corey pairs this particular collection of meats with rye made (like all other bread) in-house. "I think [the rye] has a little bit of sweetness, and with the venison and the barbecue and the lamb," she says, "for me, it seems to make sense."