In a city that's so fixated on meat in all its many forms, it's no surprise that Dallas is producing some stellar charcuterie boards. Chefs in Dallas are using old-school techniques to produce both classic versions of and modernized takes on rillettes, torchons, mousses, and salumi in-house, along with a bevy of fancy accompaniments like housemade mustards and pickled every-freaking-thing.
Over at swanky Henderson Avenue staple Hibiscus, Graham Dodds and chef de cuisine Nick Ocando strive for variety, integrating a plethora of different meats, textures, flavors, and temperatures into their charcuterie plate. "First and foremost, sourcing is important to me. I want to know where my meat comes from," says Dodds. "I like to highlight the diversity of the animals around us, and create a variety of textures so the plate is interesting."
1) Pickle smorgasbord: Ocando brings techniques that he learned from his mother to produce a seriously diverse array of pickles on the charcuterie board. "We grew up in Maine, and my mom would pickle everything that we had leftover from the garden," he says. At Hibiscus, Ocando is pickling practically everything that enters the kitchen. A pile of "mustard caviar," or mustard seeds that have been soaked in cumin-infused pickling liquid, provides unique texture and zip to the plate. Golden carrots pickled with fresh ginger also make an appearance, along with pickled baby turnips, okra, diminutive beech mushrooms, and beets. A mix of tiny fresno, tabasco, banana, and serrano peppers are ferociously spicy and add a powerful punch to the board. At any given time, at least ten pickles make an appearance on Ocando's board, and he reuses the brine from pickle to pickle with adjustments for taste.
2) Toulouse sausage: This is a French-style sausage that's typically found in cassoulet, Dodds explains. A white wine reduction is added to a chilled mixture of ground Foster Farms pork and pork fat that's been seasoned with "a lot" of nutmeg, salt, pepper, Italian flat-leaf parsley and a generous amount of garlic. After cooking, the sausage is sliced and served warm over a generous smear of a very unusual housemade mustard. Ocando says he's always known it as "Swedish mustard," though there's really nothing Swedish about it: egg yolks, cream, and mustard powder are cooked over a double boiler until thickened, and a small amount of cider vinegar is added at the end. The result is a creamy sauce that's considerably milder than a typical mustard.
3) Head cheese: Whoever came up with the name "head cheese" did a great job of masking how delicious this stuff really is. Of course, head cheese isn't cheese at all: The only manner in which milk is involved is in the whey that the pigs Dodds procures from farmers in Winnsboro are fed before slaughter. "The pigs are finished with whey from Jersey Girl milk, which creates this really rich, milky flavor," says Dodds. "This is how pigs are traditionally raised in Parma, Italy, where pigs are fed the whey from making Parmigiano-Reggiano." Pig heads are roasted and braised until they're falling off the bone, then the meat is picked from the bone, tongues and eyeballs excluded. (Whew.) The braising liquid from the pig heads is then reduced to bring out its natural gelatin, which enhances the richness of the head cheese. When the desired viscosity is reached — "you want it to be firm but not chewy," says Ocando — the braising liquid is folded back into the picked meat and mixed with fennel, tarragon, parsley, and chives before being spread into a pan to cool overnight. It's then sliced and served straight from the walk-in in order to retain its perfectly creamy, meaty texture.
4) Seared duck breast: Duck is certainly a common meat on charcuterie boards, but Dodds serves it a bit unconventionally. After being smoked using the smoker across the street at The Porch, the duck breast is seasoned with Chinese five spice and seared on the flat top. The meat is then sliced thinly, adding to the textural variety on the plate, and adding a nice temperature contrast to the other meats that are served cold.
5) Rabbit pâté: The rabbit pâté here is rustic in presentation, but Dodds livens up this traditional charcuterie offering by making it with locally raised rabbits from Corsicana, Texas. "It's mostly rabbit in there, with some caul fat around the outside to preserve it and add flavor," says Dodds. The rich, ever-so-slightly gamey flavor of the rabbit is a mild-but-brilliant canvas for a traditional pâté spice that is heavy on fennel and coriander.
6) Goat chorizo: Like most of the cured meats on Dodds' board, chorizo is traditionally made with pork. At Hibiscus, though, goats from Windy Hill Farms in Comanche, Texas, are brought to the restaurant fresh, before being ground, seasoned with smoked and hot paprika, stuffed into casings, and then cured. The hot paprika and other secret spices add a nice kick to the otherwise mostly mild charcuterie board, especially when paired with a spicier-than-you'd-suspect pickled fresno pepper.
The exact assembly of the charcuterie board changes frequently based on what's in season and the whims of the chefs, but whether it's a precursor to a multi-course feast or a meal of its own paired with a couple cocktails at the bar, rest assured it's always delicious.