Why It Works
- A combination of easy-to-find soft Genoa salami and pancetta work in place of the fatty cured pork.
- Sweet paprika, pickled Calabrian chiles, and a fresh red Fresno pepper add chile flavor, color, and heat.
- The addition of buttermilk powder, which—just like the sausage—contains lactic acid, simulates the tang of ‘nduja.
- Olive oil is added when necessary to give the fake ‘nduja the proper spreadable consistency.
Like many, I’m a big fan of ‘nduja, the funky, spicy and tangy spreadable salume that comes from the southern Italian region of Calabria. I keep a container of it in my fridge constantly, to use in pasta sauces, as a topping for pizza, or simply to spread on a hunk of crusty bread as a snack. Not that long ago, ‘nduja was not known to many here in North America (myself included) and hard to come by in stores. But nowadays, many people are familiar with the joys of the stuff (perhaps thanks in part to Elazar Sontag’s excellent Serious Eats Guide to ‘Nduja, which you should read right now if you haven’t already). And the sausage is more and more available in stores, though it still seems to be limited to specialty stores and isn’t available in most supermarkets, even those in big cities like mine.
Which is why I wondered if it might be possible to make a sort of faux ‘nduja, or ‘fauxduja’ as I like to call it, using other cured Italian pork products, some seasonings to give it the proper heat, appearance, and tang, and a food processor to give it the proper spreadable consistency. Spoiler alert: It is!
Here’s how I landed on my formula. I looked for a mild-flavored, all-pork, cured salume that was already on the softer side. I didn’t want one that already had a lot of flavor of its own, since, unlike with other salami, spices like fennel or oregano are never used in ‘nduja. And in any case, I’d be adding the flavor separately. And I wanted a softer one to begin with, so it wouldn’t require the addition of too much extra liquid and/or too much processing to achieve the right consistency. In the end, I went with Genoa salami, one that had some give to it when squeezed. Because ‘nduja is generally a coarse-textured sausage (in part because it is made from several pork cuts of varying textures and fat content), I combined the salami with a smaller amount of firmer pancetta, which didn’t break down as quickly as the salami.
To give the fauxduja the right fiery-sweet chile heat and blazing red color, I used a combination of peppers: ground sweet paprika for sweetness, oil-cured Calabrian hot peppers (the same ones used in the real deal) for heat and color, and a single fresh red Fresno pepper, for another boost of color, flavor, and heat.
Unlike with most salami, which cure at low temperatures for weeks or months, ‘nduja is cured in a matter of hours and at high temperatures. The fermentation that takes place under these conditions gives the sausage a distinctive tang, mainly provided by lactic acid, the same acid produced in the fermentation of milk into yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream. While I tried adding some of these soured milk products to mimic that flavor, they added more unwelcome moisture to the mix and not enough tang. Instead, I switched to dried buttermilk powder (used in baking when buttermilk itself is unavailable), a concentrated form of lactic acid with zero moisture.
Finally, I used the food processor conservatively, in order to avoid overprocessing the mixture and ending up with a too-smooth paste. Once the texture got close, I adjusted the heat with more Calabrian peppers and the consistency with olive oil as needed and then stopped processing before the tiny bits of red pepper were too small to see.
And that’s it. It comes together in a flash, and keeps for more than a week in the fridge (by which time it’s likely to be used up and in need of remaking anyway). Would my faux ‘nduja fool a Calabrian into thinking it is the real thing, or prevent their anger that anyone attempted to pull a fast one in the first place? Probably not. But it still gets close enough that it will work just fine when it is otherwise unavailable (and there are no Calabrians around). In fact, when I say I keep ‘njuda in the fridge at all times, it’s usually fauxduja in there.
- 7 ounces (200g) Genoa salami, casing removed if present, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (see note)
- 4 ounces (110g) pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/3 cup (48g) buttermilk powder
- 1/4 cup (28g) sweet paprika
- 1 medium Fresno pepper (14g), stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- 2 to 4 oil-cured Calabrian hot red peppers (6 to 13g), drained and stemmed (see note), or 1 1/2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon chopped Calabrian peppers, drained
- 2 teaspoons (6g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight
- Olive oil, as needed
Place salami, pancetta, buttermilk powder, paprika, Fresno pepper, 2 Calabrian peppers (or 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped Calabrian peppers), and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until a semi-smooth paste forms, 15 to 30 seconds, scraping down sides of processor as needed (paste should be even, but red pepper pieces should remain clearly visible.) Taste for heat and add additional Calabrian peppers if desired. If needed, add olive oil 1 teaspoon at a time and pulse until mixture reaches a just-spreadable consistency.
Transfer to a container and refrigerate until firm, at least two hours. Serve or use as desired.
Look for a Genoa salami with a soft consistency (you should be able to compress it easily with your fingertip).
If Calabrian hot peppers are unavailable, add cayenne pepper, 1/8 teaspoon at a time, until the desired heat level is achieved.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Faux 'nduja can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 10 days.