Whether it's behind the deli counter or on the grocery aisle, the sheer selection of cold cuts may seem overwhelming at times. When you're faced with five different kinds of hams, a wide range of prices and jargon like “restructured” or “cured,” knowing exactly what types of cold cuts you're dealing with is half the battle.
Of course, ham, turkey, roast beef, salami and chicken serve as common meats for cold cuts. Cold cuts such as ham or turkey are often prepared by boiling or smoking. On the lesser-known end, you may see prosciutto, a salted and aged ham that -- like pepperoni cold cuts -- lends itself to pizzas and platters. Mortadella is a very thin, often spiced, type of salami that pairs well with crusty breads while pastrami, famously paired with rye, is made from corned beef, pepper and spices. Although common, many still question what exactly bologna is. Bologna cold cuts are a type of processed meat, meaning they come from finely chopped meat and fat that is seasoned and formed into a sausagelike block. Sausages and hot dogs are also processed meats.
Once you've got the meat down, it's time to differentiate between types of cuts. Whole cuts are the simplest, least processed type of cold cuts. When you see this term at the deli or on the package, it simply means that a cooked section of whole meat has been thinly sliced into cold cuts. Whole cuts, which contain the least amount of additives compared to other types of old cuts, are generally a bit thicker than other cuts and they tend to feature a coarser texture with a fuller flavor.
Also known as sectioned or formed meat products, many cold cuts consist of restructured meat. Similar to processed meats, sectioned and formed meats feature bits of meat and fat bound together with non-meat additives, including meat emulsions and proteins. When cooked, these proteins bind together and solidify the meat into a loaflike shape, which is then sliced into thin cold cuts. This type of cut features a smoother texture and less full, though often saltier, flavor than whole cuts.
Cured vs. Uncured
Cured meats such as salami, prosciutto, pastrami and other charcuterie-style meats often find themselves among cold cuts. This old-world preparation method relies on salting or brining to preserve meat over a long aging process, making for a dryer texture and deep, intense flavor. These meats contain sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate, while uncured meats do not. Sugar, honey or maple-curing lends the meat a sweet flavor that contrasts with its innate saltiness.
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