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Tasso is a type of pork or meat used in Cajun-style cuisine. Though it’s often referred to as tasso ham, it technically isn’t ham. Tasso is made from the pork shoulder butt instead of the more traditional pork shoulder leg. Typically used as an ingredient in a Creole-style dish such as gumbo, jambalaya, or even a breakfast casserole, this smoky pork shoulder is rarely eaten on its own. Highly seasoned with Cajun spices, tasso is relatively hard to get outside of Louisiana.
To cure this Louisiana-based dish, chefs and manufacturers use an array of curing ingredients. While everyone has his own special touch, typical elements include kosher salt, brown sugar, onion powder, bay leaves, cloves, and allspice. The pork is then left to cure for about four hours until it is ready to be rubbed with the Cajun spices.
Traditionally, Cajun cooks rub the cured pork shoulder with a variety of spices such as garlic, cayenne and very importantly, filé powder. Filé powder is made from ground sassafras tree leaves. This seasoning is Creole and it’s mostly found throughout New Orleans and Louisiana.
Other ingredients for a somewhat sweeter, tangier rub might include granulated sugar, honey, and nutmeg. The meat is then smoked for up to 48 hours with this seasoning on it, allowing the seasoning to infuse with the meat. The end product is a moderately tangy, slightly spicy, very smoky meat.
Relatively firm and often cut into chunks or slices, tasso is used in traditional Louisiana recipes such as gumbo, jambalaya, or red beans and rice. Because it’s quite fatty and it comes from a muscle area often used by the pig, this spicy piece of pork is quite flavorful even without the addition of spices. Like ham, the tasso is pink in color with darker edges. It is often sliced thin like pancetta or lunch meat, otherwise it is cubed. It adds a colorful, flavorful kick to any dishes, from breakfast to dinner.
When used as a base flavor in dishes like jambalaya, the tasso is accompanied by other ingredients such as chicken, andouille sausage, vegetables and tomatoes, seafood such as shrimp or crawfish, rice, and stock. In some cases, andouille or smoked sausage or even crumbled chorizo may be used in place of tasso where the pork shoulder is unavailable.
FAQ on What is Tasso
What exactly is tasso and how is it used in cooking?
Tasso is a type of seasoned and smoked pork that originates from Louisiana, particularly Cajun cuisine. It's made from the shoulder of the pig, which is cured with a mixture of spices like garlic, cayenne, and sometimes sugar, before being smoked over hardwoods. Tasso is typically used to add a smoky, spicy flavor to dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya, and beans. It's diced or chopped and sautéed at the beginning of cooking to infuse the dish with its distinctive flavor.
Is tasso considered a type of ham?
While tasso is made from pork, it is not considered a traditional ham because it comes from the shoulder rather than the hind leg of the pig. Tasso undergoes a different preparation process, involving a spice rub and smoking, which gives it a unique flavor profile distinct from that of ham. It's more akin to a highly seasoned and smoked meat product used for flavoring other dishes rather than served on its own like typical ham.
Can tasso be eaten on its own or does it need to be cooked?
Tasso is generally not eaten on its own due to its intense flavor and is instead used as a seasoning meat. It is already smoked and thus technically cooked, but it is best enjoyed when added to other dishes and cooked further. This allows the bold flavors of the tasso to meld with the other ingredients, enhancing the overall taste of the dish.
What are some common substitutes for tasso if I can't find it?
If tasso is unavailable, good substitutes include smoked ham, andouille sausage, chorizo, or even bacon. These alternatives can provide a similar smoky flavor to your dishes. Keep in mind that each substitute has its own unique taste, so the resulting flavor of the dish will vary slightly. Adjust the seasoning accordingly to achieve a balance that's close to the original recipe calling for tasso.
Is tasso spicy, and can the spice level be adjusted?
Tasso is known for its peppery and spicy kick, which comes from the cayenne pepper and other spices used in its cure. The spice level can vary depending on the recipe used to make it. If you're making tasso at home, you can adjust the amount of cayenne and other hot spices to suit your taste preferences. When purchasing tasso, look for brands that offer different levels of heat to find one that matches your desired spice level.