Gilbert Amsellem lets out an uncomfortable laugh as he recalls how much meat he's thrown out while testing recipes for his nearly two-dozen-item-strong charcuterie case that boasts fat-studded Rosette de Lyon, dried chorizo, and beef prosciutto.
"Our salami takes nine hours to smoke, but if it would come out wrong, it would go straight in the garbage," the Lyon native says of his velvety, three-inch-thick forcemeat that offers whiffs of black pepper and garlic. "Can you imagine how crazy it makes you when for months things are going straight into the garbage?
"For the prosciutto, it took me three years to figure out which cut reacts the best," he says.
It's a challenge that the 59-year-old, sporting a canvas apron and a thick French accent, has dealt with constantly since opening Harbour Bistro in Surfside about a year ago. He's an observant Jew making charcuterie in the heart of one of Miami's largest Jewish communities, and pork, one of the central pillars of charcuterie and especially French charcuterie, isn't an option under kosher laws. That means finding replacements for the central ingredient in many pâtés, cured cuts of meat, and dried sausages.
In nearly every instance, the lack of swine is just fine. The dried beef chorizo ($8.80 for four ounces) is just as rich and fatty as what's sold in Spanish markets. Each slice is heavily perfumed with paprika, garlic, and a dash of red wine. The beef coppa isn't as spicy or quite as marbled as its Italian, pork-based counterpart. "Americans aren't crazy about spices, and we wanted to make something everyone would try," Amsellem says. Instead, each slice is slightly tender at its center and firms up toward the circumference, which is thick with the scent of rosemary and thyme.
The only time you miss the pork, if you eat pork, is with the beef prosciutto ($21 for four ounces), which lacks that deep nutty flavor of a long-cured hog's leg. That being said, each translucent slice is swirled with rich fat and bears the same slightly musty smell of the real thing thanks to a nine-month curing process. The beef bacon ($1.05 per ounce) is culled from the cow's belly, cured in maple syrup and salt, and then smoked over maple wood for 24 hours.
Amsellem began tinkering with charcuterie about five years ago. For the past decade, he and his wife Chantal have run Surfside's Harbour Bistro, a popular upscale kosher spot for best known for its steaks and sushi. The pair had lived in France since the late 1980s while running a home furnishing and accessories business. Yet the beginning of the Second Intifada in September 2000 that killed an estimated 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis also ushered in a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe, the Amsellems say.
So they sold their business, packed up everything, and relocated to Miami in 2004. They opened Harbour Bistro three years later.
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A few years ago while on a trip home to Lyon, Amsellem took a crash course from a butcher cousin who set him up with a few basic recipes and spice combinations like those used in his lamb merguez. This put him on a path to developing a vast charcuterie repertoire than today includes everything from Montreal-style smoked meat to Jewish deli classics such as tongue, pastrami, and corned beef. There are also French classics like duck rillettes ($8.80 for four ounces) and a stunning pâté en croute with a golden crust wrapped around a pistachio-studded veal-and-duck emulsification topped with port wine jelly.
If there's any further need of proof for this place's French bona fides, one only need a bite of the intensely creamy chicken pâté. The livers are marinated in dry Chardonnay; cooked with shallots, thyme, rosemary, and cognac; and topped with fig jam.
"This isn't your grandmother's chopped liver," Amsellem says.
The Harbour Bistro
9427 Harding Ave., Surfside; 786-275-6585; harbourgrillgourmet.com. Lunch Monday through Wednesday and Friday noon to 3 p.m.; dinner Monday through Wednesday 5 to 10:30 p.m., Thursday and Sunday noon to 10:30 p.m.