Tasso: America’s Great Unknown Secret Ingredient
By Tim H. Martin
So, what is tasso? I believe it’s the best-kept secret ingredient in all of American food culture. Unless you’re from the Cajun Country of southern Louisiana, you’ve probably never heard of it — even my spell-checker doesn’t recognize the word!
Tasso (pronounced TAH-so) is heavily smoked pork shoulder with a spicy crust used to season other dishes. After coming out of the smoker, it’s typically diced, frozen and pulled out of the freezer when the time comes to crank up the flavor. A simple pot of butter beans or homemade gravy will never be the same again after tasting them with a handful of tasso added.
Smoked tasso is traditionally used in gumbos, vegetables, jambalaya, soups and sauces, but its range and applications are beginning to emigrate out of the bayous. The first time I heard the word was in a Charleston restaurant. The chef used tasso in his signature dish: Shrimp & Grits with Tasso Gravy. This Low Country culinary genius discovered tasso in Louisiana, and it soon became his secret weapon.
Tasso gives dishes a mysterious smoky undertone with hints of Cajun flavors and small bits of tender pork that kick flavors out of the end zone. You can order it from Cajun specialty shops online, drive to Louisiana or make it at home. Here’s how I made my first batch.
Tim’s Wild Tusker Tasso
In July of 2016, I stepped out of the truck to open the gate of my fishing property and spotted a large herd of feral hogs turning our pasture into what looked like a B-52 bombing. Luckily, my .300 magnum was riding shotgun that day, and the wind was in my face, so I decided to play American pig sniper.
The hogs were rooting about 300 yards away. I locked, loaded and stalked closer, crawling to a vantage point atop a dirt mound. I took the prone position, turned my cap backward and dispatched three pigs before the survivors scattered into a tree line.
Now, July isn’t the best month to harvest wild hogs in Alabama, so I had to act fast — what to do with the meat? Then I remembered my longtime desire to try making homemade smoked tasso. I figured the shoulders would be perfect for this project, so I quartered up the tuskers and got them on ice as quickly as possible.
That evening, I consulted a couple of Cajun cooking experts for advice and smoked my first batch of tasso later that week. It wasn’t rocket science, and it turned out great!
Feral hogs might be the most destructive creatures in America. It’s nice to know they can be easily transformed into my new secret ingredient.
Note: If you don’t have access to wild hogs, grocery store pork works well, too.
Smoking Your Own Tasso
• Approximately 5 lbs. pork shoulder or Boston butt
• Creole seasoning (traditionally) or a mixture of your favorite rubs — enough to form a crust.
*I used a mixture of mostly Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning, with a dash of Southern Accents, garlic powder and a little Kosher salt. You can play it safe by using all Cajun or Creole seasonings, or experiment with multiple rubs.
Slice the pork into inch-thick steaks. Coat well with seasoning, front and back. Place meat on cookie-cooling racks with a pan underneath to catch drips. Refrigerate for about three days uncovered to air dry. You want dry meat. Smoke with hickory, pecan or oak at 175- to 200-degrees for about 2 1/2 hours, or until the internal temp reaches 170 degrees. Shoot for pinkish insides with a darker crust. Cool thoroughly, then dice into 1/4-inch cubes. Freeze in a ziplock bag and add to your dishes as desired. The meat is hard after it comes out of the smoker and dries, but once simmered, it softens nicely.
Optional Step: If you want tasso with a strong hickory smoked flavor, marinate the meat for an hour or two in Liquid Smoke prior to the 3-day refrigeration step, then season with hickory-flavored rubs just before smoking with hickory chips.