When the New York Times filed a rare Portland restaurant review for downtown's Little Bird Bistro, its opening lines targeted chef Erik Van Kley's charcuterie board: "Of all the dishes served at the Little Bird Bistro in Portland, Ore., the charcuterie plate best encapsulates its spirit." At the time, Van Kley was playing around with jam-topped foie gras brûlées and oxtail terrines, though Van Kley notes now that the restaurant's repertoire has extended far beyond those early offerings. "We introduce new things every couple months or so, but after we introduce something new, we put it into rotation," Van Kley says. "It makes an appearance a couple times a week for three or four months until we decide that we're bored with it and we move on."
When compiling a charcuterie board, Van Kley reveals he has a formula aimed at diversity of texture. "We like to have a sausage, something fried, something sliced, something smoked," Van Kley says. "We go out of our way for a difference not only in flavor profiles, but in textural profiles as well." As a result, the Little Bird board features items — a curl of pork rind, a deep-fried croquette — considered unique to a charcuterie tasting. They join country-style terrines and classic rillettes on the six-item board.
1. Scotch egg: The soft-boiled Scotch egg, wrapped in a house-made garlic sausage, represents both the board's textural element and Little Bird's menu flexibility: Earlier that day, the board featured a tete de cochon (head cheese) croquette until the kitchen ran out, with the Scotch egg acting as the pre-planned Plan B. The sausage wrapped around the egg — the same one that's featured in Little Bird's cassoulet dish — is whipped with Riesling and sits for 24 hours before its stuffed into casing and poached. "Everything prepped on the charcuterie board is three days out at any given time, if not a week out," Van Kley says.
2. Pâté de Campagne: In Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird, the cookbook of Little Bird's companion restaurant Le Pigeon, chef Gabriel Rucker writes that making terrines is "similar to romancing a beautiful lady... [it] takes time and finesse to make it properly." Pâté de Campagne (aka country terrines) are thusly named for their "rustic" coarse-chopped pork; and according to Van Kley, its flavor profile often changes. "The only part of the prep that's a given is a course-grind of protein to remain true to the 'country' aspect," he says. The version pictured here is topped with an apricot mustard.
3. Chicken liver mousse: While chicken liver mousse is often served in a dainty ramekin or carefully shaped quenelle, Little Bird offers three slabs of its unctuous chicken liver mousse, propped up by sweet-and-sour candied shallots. According to Van Kley, chicken livers are brined for 48 hours before they get turned into mousse, and he admits that "any kind" of liver mousse — "made with a shit ton of butter" — is his favorite charcuterie item to eat.
4. Pickles: For the acidic contrast, Little Bird's pickle assortment includes cucumbers, onions, and three apple spheres picked with mustard.
5. Pork rind: A curl of pork rind provides a salty crunch.
6. Pork rillette: Little Bird's pork rillette is "the only thing that's kind of a standard" on the board, Van Kley says. "It's there all the time because we break down half a pig once a week and are kind of a pork-heavy restaurant as it is. So we wind up with a lot of pork scrap." The Little Bird team freezes the pork scrap and makes the rillette on an as-needed basis: When its rillette supply runs low, the kitchen roasts the pork confit overnight and whips with fat (to make a meat paste) the next day. "We probably make four quarts of rillette at a time, and that probably lasts us three or four days," Van Kley says. It's served here with a loop of pickled red onion.
7. Saucisson sec: This French-style dry-cured sausage is made in-house during a three-step process: One full day is devoted to each step of seasoning, grinding, and casing the meat (it's then hung in Little Bird's walk-in for a week after that). Van Kley says each charcuterie board offers a sausage variety of some kind; sometimes, it's a sausage the staff calls the "Little Smokey" — a hot link that's been smoked.
8. Pork rillon: The pork rillon — essentially a flash-fried pork belly, served atop a pickled fennel slaw — represents the "whole muscle" preparation on the board, Van Kley says. (Traditionally, a rillon is a chunk of pork belly that's allowed to retain its shape; a rillette confits the meat with fat to create a pate-like paste.) In the event the kitchen runs out, it's replaced with duck ham.
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