As tasso ham is scarce outside Louisiana, you might be missing its spicy, smoky flavor in traditional recipes like gumbo and jambalaya. This Tastessence article provides a list of tasso substitutes. You can use these alternatives in Cajun and Creole cooking.
Did You Know?
City hams are prepared by injecting brine into the meat for a very rapid curing. Usually, they are simply smoked (not aged). As a result, you get a moist ham with a mild flavor. Country hams are dry-cured in salt and saltpeter for about a month, and then smoked in hardwood such as hickory or red oak. After that, they are aged for several months. They are flavorful, saltier, and drier.
Tasso ham is highly spiced, cured, and smoked pork that is commonly used in Cajun-style cuisine. This heavily smoked ham comes with a peppery-spicy rind. It is crafted from pork shoulder and not from the hind leg of a pig, so actually, ‘ham’ is a misnomer. Tasso ham is usually not eaten on its own. It is an invariable part of some Cajun-style dishes like gumbo and jambalaya. It is also added to soups, pastas, gravies, shrimp and grits, and red beans and rice. It imparts a typical flavor to stews and braised vegetables. With tasso, you can add a rich peppery kick and deep flavor to a dish.
The pork is first marinated and then smoked. Kosher salt, brown sugar, onion powder, bay leaves, cloves, and allspice are some of the commonly used curing agents. The meat is cured for about four hours. Then it is rinsed and rubbed with a mixture of spices. Usually, garlic, cayenne pepper, and filé powder (the powder made from ground sassafras tree leaves, a typical ingredient of Creole cooking) are mixed and rubbed over the meat. To balance the spicy flavor, one may add sugar, honey, and nutmeg to the mixture. The meat is then smoked for 48 hours. The spicy, smoky, slightly tangy ‘tasso ham’ is finally ready. Now that you know how tasso is prepared, you can easily choose a tasso substitute, suitable for your recipe, from the following list.
Tasso Ham Alternatives
Chorizo, the popular Spanish pork sausage, is usually available as a fermented, cured, smoked sausage. However, it is also sold fresh (uncooked). In that case, you may have to cook it before using it in a recipe. The coarsely chopped pork and pork fat is seasoned with pimentón (a type of smoked paprika) and salt. Portuguese chorizo contains pork, fat, wine, paprika, garlic, and salt. Dried smoked red pimentón give chorizo its typical deep red color and characteristic smokiness. Its spiciness depends upon the type of pepper used. Mexican chorizo is made with native chili peppers and is usually not smoked. So, it is better to use the Spanish version as a tasso smoked meat substitute.
Despite the name, it resembles ham (not bacon) in texture and flavor. It is made by curing and smoking pork loin. Those who are calorie-conscious may find Canadian bacon as the best cooking substitute for tasso ham, as it is made from a lean piece of meat. Usually, it is sold pre-cooked and pre-sliced. It has the smoky flavor, but it is not spicy. So, you may have to saute the chunks along with onion, pepper, and garlic, before adding them to the dish.
Smoked ham, that is easily available in super markets, can be used in place of tasso. If you find it less spicy, adjust the seasoning as per your need. Black Forest ham (a German variety of smoked ham) is smoked over pine and fir. It is known for its slightly sweet but smoky flavor. You can even prepare your own cured and smoked ham, just by planning in advance.
Andouille, the coarse-grained smoked sausage made from pork, is often used in Louisiana Creole cuisine. In the U.S., it’s sold as a Cajun sausage. Like tasso, it contains pork, pepper, onions, garlic, wine, and seasonings, and is quite spicy. Mostly, it is made from a smoked Boston Butt roast. Once stuffed, the sausage is smoked again (double smoked). Its French and German versions are less spicy. If you are in France, you will get gray-colored andouille, made from pig chitterlings (the small intestine of a pig), tripe (stomach lining of a cow), onions, wine, and seasoning. It will have a distinctive odor. If the sausage that you have got is less spicy, you can add a pinch of cayenne pepper, a little bit of onion and garlic paste, or a few dashes of hot sauce to the dish.
Andouillette literally means ‘little andouille’. It contains pork (sometimes veal), chitterlings, pepper, wine, onions, and seasonings. However, this coarse-grained sausage comes with a strong distinctive odor which may offend people who are not used to it.
Generally, you can replace tasso ham in a recipe with a spicy, smoky sausage. You can use any good smoked ham. There is no need to coat the ham. Just adjust the seasonings in your recipe accordingly. As you know how tasso ham is made, you can use Cajun spices or other spices and herbs like cayenne, thyme, garlic, filé powder, and salt in your recipe. And if you have Cajun spices, prepare tasso ham at home, because only tasso can make your gumbo taste authentic and yummy.