What the heck is rullepølse? you're wondering. Why, it's a Danish specialty and probably the best deli meat ever. You think I'm exaggerating— I'm not. To say it's just cured pork belly is an understatement. It's pork belly seasoned and cured with aromatic herbs and spices like thyme, allspice and cloves. The salt and seasonings make it savory while the fat in the belly adds porky decadence. I'm amazed rullepølse has largely remained confined to Northern Europe...until now. Mark my words, it will take America by storm. Think I'm exaggerating?
I'm not exaggerating when I say there's nothing hard about making rullepølse (except saying it; the Danish R is a killer to pronounce!). It just sits in a brine for a 2 to 3 days, boiled until tender, then pressed into a rectangular shape. The pressing bit can probably be skipped if you don't have a way to do it. It's amazing that something so easy to do can produce such fantastic results.
If there's more than one way to skin a cat, there's also more than one way to make rullepølse. Over at The Butcher's Apprentice, Mosaica used only kosher salt in the brine.* I decided to go the pink salt and sugar route. I wanted to give the finished product the characteristic light pink color and flavor that pink salt imparts. If you do the math, you'll see the concentration is only 0.55% weight by volume. This is much less than is typically used to make Canadian bacon or pastrami, but if you don't have or don't want to use it, simply leave it out. I routinely use sugar in my brines as I find it cuts some of the saltiness and gives a more well-rounded flavor. It does not make the product sweet. I let the rolled belly brine for 2 days, but I think next time (there will definitely be a next time!) I will do 3 days to let the brine penetrate evenly into the meat.
To prepare the pork belly:
2 to 3 pound slab skinless pork belly
1 shallot, grated or finely minced
3 or 4 springs thyme, leaves only, finely minced
freshly ground allspice, white pepper and clove (about 1 tsp each, more to taste)
For the brine:
190 g kosher salt
100 g sugar
11 g pink salt
1 tbs black peppercorns
5 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tbs whole allspice
1/2 tbs whole cloves
2 liters (about 8.5 cups) water
For the cooking liquid:
3 bay leaves
1 tbs black peppercorns
1/2 tbs whole allspice
2 tbs kosher salt (optional)
3 liters (about 12.5 cups) water
Prepare the brine by dissolving the salts and sugar in the water. Add the other ingredients and allow to cool completely.
In the meantime, prepare the pork belly by distributing the minced shallot and thyme leaves on the fleshy side of the pork. Sprinkle / press the ground spices on top. Roll and tie the slab into a a tight cylinder. Don't be shy— you want it as tight as possible. When you add the meat to the brine, be sure it's completely submerged. Brine the meat for a minimum of 48 but up to 72 hours under refrigeration.
When the brining time is up, put the rullepølse into a large pot and cover with the cold water. (Don't remove the kitchen twine.) Add the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn down the heat and let is simmer for about an hour or so, until the meat is tender. (I did this in my pressure cooker and it only took 30 minutes under pressure. I let the pressure release naturally, which took about another 10 minutes.) Once it's tender, I recommend letting the meat rest in the cooking liquid until it has cooled a bit, say for about a half hour to an hour. It's always good practice to let meat rest, whether you're frying, grilling, braising or boiling it. This allows the juices and flavors to settle and redistribute.
If you are going to press the roll, put the meat in the fridge to cool before pressing. According to the original recipe, the meat is to be pressed for 24 hours. I only did it for 2 hours and that was sufficient to create a compact roll. If you're not going to press the roll, remove it from the cooking liquid once it's cool enough to handle. Wrap it in plastic wrap. It helps if you have a sushi rolling mat or flexible cutting board to secure tightly around rullepølse with rubberbands or kitchen twine. I think this will help the roll form a compact cylinder as it cools. Here's the important bit: the rullepølse needs to be completely cold before cutting into it. There's a fat layer on top and if that's not set, you won't get clean, even cutting.
Serve in sandwiches or on top of Danish-style rye bread with a side of pickled beets or cucumbers. I like mine with a little remoulade on top. Tonight I'm planning on making banh mi. Doesn't that sound delicious?
*(The recipe came from a Danish language blog called Beretninger from et autentisk landbrug. It's written by a female farmer about life on a Danish farm.)