On Tuesday, New York Times writer and alleged friend David Brooks published a column to let us know, per usual, that we’re ruining America. Which, duh. But in delivering his account of a recent lunch, Brooks took the opportunity to publicly roast an acquaintance for her lack of education and unfamiliarity with fine, cured meats. The offending paragraph, in full:
Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.
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Without word from the (now former?) friend, we’re left to believe she was rendered speechless in the presence of meats typically reserved for America’s greatest scholars. What if it wasn’t the capicollo at all? Maybe the counter reminded her of that scene in The Sopranos where Christopher Moltisanti is haunted by a guy he killed at the butcher shop? Maybe she’s vegan? Maybe she realized she was at lunch with David Brooks?
Regardless, and in possession of several college degrees, the staff of Esquire has enjoyed dozens, hundreds, of Italian sandwiches over the years—without necessarily knowing what makes them taste so damn good. So we reached out to Casey Lane, chef/co-owner of New York’s Casa Apicii, to give us a few beginner’s tips on cured meats:
Three meats you should absolutely know are soppressata, prosciutto, and mortadella.
- Soppressata is an Italian dry-cured salami—the most common and famous of the salumi. Variations are found throughout Italy, usually growing spicier as you go further south.
- Prosciutto is the mother of all cured ham. Salt and time and properly raised hogs are the only ingredients in one of the most amazing food items in the world.
- Mortadella is the predecessor to the American bologna sandwich. My personal favorite.
First time at a new shop? Try the “Godfather.”
Always start with having a Godfather, a Padroni, a Godmother—whatever your chosen place offers as their classic cured meat sandwich. It’s the staple of any quality shop. It usually has pickled peppers, tomato, prosciutto, mortadella, soppressata, olives, and a red wine vinaigrette of sorts—the perfect intro to cured meat sandwiches.
Vegetarian? The “Pomodoro” is a safe bet.
Pomodoro is typically a vegetarian sandwich with tomatoes as the main ingredient. In the peak of summer, this a great option for vegetarians and carnivores looking to have a lighter lunch.
And don’t skimp on the capicollo!
Also known as coppa, this is arguably the finest cut of meat on a hog. Coming from the upper shoulder, this muscle runs from the end of the loin into the neck and has beautiful marbling. Traditionally it is spiced with chile, black pepper and allspice and cased as a whole muscle rather than ground like many other salumi.