the spread before the spread

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Appetizers, Cocktail Party, Dinner Party, Sources, Fête Fact, Posted on December 3, 2019 by Sandy Bergsten

Here’s a holiday quandary- when the pressure is on to put on a lavish holiday meal what can you serve beforehand that will simultaneously delight your guests and not push you over the edge?

Disclaimer Thanksgiving dinner is not one of my favorites. Don’t get me wrong, I adore having my house and table brimming with family and friends. It’s just all those bloody side dishes. Not to mention how that big bird hogs the oven for most of the day. And then right when you get your head around the big meal, the crew is clamoring for lunch and shortly after hors d'oeuvres.

I must say this year’s Thanksgiving dinner was one of my best. I pulled out all the old family recipes and made absolutely everything ahead of time. On Thursday all I had to do was pop everything into the oven. Because let’s be honest- if the hostess has a genuine smile on her face so will everyone else. (And vice versa).

But you might be asking- what did you serve beforehand? Obviously, nothing that needed to go into the oven for any significant period of time. And certainly not something that needed last minute fussing.

A couple weeks ago I spied the cover of the French issue of Food and Wine at my friend Robin’s house. As I began flipping through its pages the “ultimate French aperitif party” caught my eye. It looked amazing and substantial. One of the best things was that everything could be made or procured days in advance, then stowed in the frig in little ramekins. That way moments before the doorbell rings all you would have to do is take everything out and place it on a tray.

The cornerstone of this tray is a saucisson spread. It’s a pate-like dip made from dry cured sausage. (Yum!) It looked relatively easy to make if you had a Cuisinart. (Yay!) And it could be made a week in advance. (Hip hip hooray!)

I was all in. I gave it a test run in Chicago, and it was delicious. When I arrived on the west coast, I was dismayed that I couldn’t find saucisson sec. I went to four different stores. If I had more time, I would have mail-ordered some from D'Artagnan

Looking for answers I picked up the quintessential meat bible, Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman to see what I should do.

Inside I got a great definition about dry sausage and how to make one should I be so bold. But I was still perplexed if I could sub saucisson sec for a dry cured salami, which seem to be all the rage in the gourmet sections of most grocery stores. So, I decided to use one of my life lines and texted my dear friend Michael directly. He said that essentially, they are the same thing.

With a sigh of relief, I popped one in my cart. If Michael would have had it his way, I would have started the process months before and would have perfectly cured sausages hanging in my very own cellar.

To make this saucisson spread start by removing the casing from a six to eight-ounce dry cured sausage.

Roughly chop.

Pulse saucisson sec in a food processor until very finely chopped, about 20 times.

Add two tablespoons room-temp butter and 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves. Process until combined, about 10 seconds.

With food processor running, add two tablespoons olive oil. Process until incorporated, about 5 seconds. The spread can be made up to 1 week ahead. Cover and chill. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Serve spread with cornichons and baguette slices.

To replicate the ultimate French aperitif party tray, complete with marinated olives (I picked mine up from the olive bar at the grocery store), baked cheese with herbs (recipe to come) and a full range of French crudité.

Not only did everyone ooh and ahh at my spread, but I actually got to sit down and truly enjoy my company and my dinner. For that I am truly thankful.

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