I enter The Meat Consultant’s industrial chic tasting room/kitchen with the promise of a tasting of cured meats with a twist lingering in the air. Owner JJ Wu Chang hands me a glass of wine and tells me how his hobby turned into a business, before unveiling an impressive parade of dry-aged meats infused with unique flavours, from coffee cured wagyu bresaola and five spice mangalica lonza to tuna mosciame and wine brined wagyu rumpetto.
How did curing meat go from a hobby to becoming a full-on business?
The Meat Consultant initially started as a minor interest in making my own ham thanks to a cooking group that was formed by a few friends. One of them had given me a recipe to make Sichuan Peppercorn Duck Prosciutto, which I had loved! I’m a big fan of well-made duck, so I was instantly captivated by the process of making it at home. I started experimenting with different flavours and different pieces of meat to see how I could make it unique.
After a while, friends started asking about it and wanted to buy some from me. I couldn’t keep up with production so I found a space that allowed me to scale up and started wondering if this would make sense as a business. The rest is history.
The cured meats at The Meat Consultant are all infused with unique flavour combinations, what made you decide to stray away from the purely traditional forms of dry-aged meats?
I used to enjoy eating ham bought from grocery stores or delis but after a while I found the flavours to be quite bland and repetitive. I wanted something that would be different and stand out. With that in mind, I decided to infuse different spices from other cultures to see if I could generate something new. While doing so, I had to make sure that I wasn’t just going about this in a way that would be a detriment to the final product. It still had to be ham while being unique enough to stand on its own and not be compared to its predecessors. There had to be a familiarity to it, making something that respected the traditions of the old country while creating something you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.
Where do you get your flavour inspiration from?
When I first started, I looked online for different recipes for inspiration. It was definitely a huge help as there are a plethora of flavour combinations that I didn’t know about. Given my lack of culinary education, I felt that I had a lot to learn but at the same time I didn’t feel boxed into traditional flavour pairings that I felt would limit my choices. I experimented with ideas and read up on recipes from traditional cooking methods to see if I could incorporate them into charcuterie recipes.
However, despite all the experimenting on my own, I always find that I consult my aunt, a retired catering chef and home cook, for new inspiration, like maybe more middle eastern herbs and spices for future lamb prosciutto recipes or Peruvian ones for fish.
In addition to meats, you also cure fish…
Yes, fish is definitely something I want to keep in my mainline of products. I had people coming up to me to see if I had any other options for proteins (outside of poultry, lamb, pork and beef) and fish instantly came to mind. The obvious one that people instinctively eye is smoked/cured salmon and I did too. However, after some research, I realised that the process of curing and preparing this was drastically different from what I normally would do with ham production.
I then stumbled upon a recipe for mosciame, a traditional Sardininian dried fish. The steps to create this were the same as ham but using a piece of tuna. The benefits of following the steps to make ham is that the product ends up lasting a lot longer than traditional cured salmon. For reference, curing a salmon can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours while curing tuna for mosciame takes up to 14 days. The final product definitely astounded me as it was so delicate yet so complex at the same time. In the future, I plan to try different kinds of fish with different recipes, such as miso cured swordfish.
During our tasting, we went on a complex journey of distinct aromas, initial bursts of flavours and lingering aftertastes. What were some of the techniques you used to create that experience?
When I was experimenting with the initial flavours during the past two years, I had a handful of flavours that just didn’t cut it. They were awful. Since the process of ham takes up to 8 months long to make from start to finish, I was desperate to try and ‘fix’ them with any method that I could get my hands on. This would include cold smoking, rehydrating, cooking, redrying or straight up throwing them into the trash. This allowed me to have a better understanding of how some flavours interact with one another.
One example would be the cured hamachi mosciame. The piece by itself was an experiment and the final product was an oily fish that had a bit of lingering fishiness to it with a huge kick of spice near the end (thanks in part to the chilli peppers I had added to the recipe). It was definitely a divisive piece but I wanted something that everyone could enjoy when I would serve this in-person. Oilier pieces such as the hamachi mosciame lend themselves a lot to being cold smoked as the smoke has something to cling onto. Once the piece is cold smoked with oak wood chips for a few minutes or so, the final flavour is completely different. The smoke is definitely overpowering but allows the entire piece to be transformed completely into an almost luxuriously sumptuous flake of umami.
Curing meat involves a lot of trial and error and a lot of patience. What were some of the biggest disappointments and some of the best surprises that came out of the experimental phase?
I had some highs and lows when it came to experimenting. Some of them turned out great, such as the miso-brined Kagoshima lonza with seaweed powder, while others churned out horrid concoctions such as tom yum-flavoured pancetta. Besides the spices used in curing, the meat itself is a huge key factor in how the final product turns out. I found this out the hard way when I first started out as I did not have too many meat options that I could readily get my hands on.
In my first year, I was enthralled with the idea of using locally-produced pork from farms in Yuen Long. I had bought some and immediately set about to experimenting. The final product was about as stellar as soggy cardboard. I realised that the breed, diet, and even the age of the animals played a huge role in the success of any piece. There is a reason why iberico jamón uses Iberian pigs but this isn’t to discount others at all. I’ve experimented with all sorts of breeds such as Ohmi beef—Japanese wagyu cattle from the Shiga Prefecture—and ducks from Challans in France all the way to Mangalica pork from Hungary. Every piece has its own characteristics and I have to make sure that the flavours will work well with those pieces and complement the quality that is already there. I normally say that, if the canvas is bad, then the painting can only be so good no matter how many layers you add.
For now, clients can order directly from your website, but you will also soon be offering a fully curated dining experience at your tasting room in Wong Chuk Hang, what can we expect?
The Tasting Room experience is something that I’ve had on my mind for a little while now. While stock will depend on production and availability, each tasting menu should consist of about 10-15 different items along with wine/drink pairings. This will consist of items that are available online along with some other smaller batches of unique items that aren’t available online.
The goal of The Tasting Room is to allow people to understand what the world of charcuterie looks like when you break out of the traditional conventions while still paying homage to them at the same time. I would say that the experience would be similar to an omakase style tasting menu where everything is slowly presented to you along with the story of how each piece came to be. It will be presented in a way that will allow each piece to shine on its own while showcasing the entire menu’s sense of harmony.