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Curing and preserving with salt

The ancient practise of curing and preserving with salt not only increases the shelf life of meats, it's also a delicious cooking technique.

Curing and preserving with salt

Decide what kind of meat you’d like to use. Ham is a popular choice for curing, but you can use anything from beef to venison and much more in between. With a good piece of meat, you really can’t go wrong, although the first-time curers might want to go with a more forgiving piece of meat, like pork belly or pork butt.

If necessary, trim off any excess fat, tendons, or meat. Say you’re trying to make Capicola charcuterie. You might buy a boneless pork shoulder, and then cut the picnic end of the pork shoulder from the pork butt, leaving you with two distinct cuts of meat. You can then use the picnic end of the shoulder in a sausage, for example, and the butt in your dry-cure charcuterie.

For larger cuts of meat, consider stabbing the meat with a prong for better salt coverage. You don’t have to stab the meat before applying the dry rub, but for certain cuts of meat — larger cuts or cuts like pork belly, which are often covered with a lining of fat — stabbing the meat allows the salt and nitrite mix to penetrate deeper into the meat, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the cure.

Decide whether you want to cure with a pre-mixed curing salt or mix your own. Dry-curing with salt will sap away the moisture from the meat and intensify the flavor of the meat, but it still won’t eliminate the possibility of botulism spores germinating

Use a ratio of 2:1000 sodium nitrite and salt, if mixing your own curing salt. If you want to make your own curing salts, be sure to nail the ratio of sodium nitrite to salt. For every 2 grams of sodium nitrite, for example, use 1000 grams of salt. Another way to do this is to take the total weight of your salt, multiply it by .002, and use that much sodium nitrite in your mix.

Mix up your spices along with your curing salt. Spices add a rich dimension of flavor to your cured meats. While it’s important not to get too carried away and spice the meat to oblivion, a good spice mix will intensify flavors and add distinct profiles to your cures. In a small spice grinder, grind up your spices and add them to the curing salt/salt mixture. Peppercorns, coriander, star anise and citrus all work well, as does sugar.

With your hands, rub the curing salt and and spice mix over the entire cut of meat. Cover a tray with parchment and line the bottom generously with your curing salt and spice mix. Place your meat on the bed of curing salt (fat side up, if appropriate) and cover the top of the meat with your remaining mix for equal coverage. If desired, cover the top of the meat with another piece of parchment, then another tray, and finally a pair of bricks or another heavy object to weight the meat down.

Refrigerate the meat for 7 to 10 days. Allow for adequate airflow by leaving at least a small portion of the meat uncovered. After 7 to 10 days, a lot of the moisture should have been drawn out by the salt.

After 7 to 10 days, remove from the refrigerator and rinse off all the salt/spice mix. Under cold water, remove as much of the salt/spice mix as possible and allow to briefly air-dry over an elevated rack. Take a paper towel, as insurance, and wipe away any excess moisture before proceeding to the next step.

Roll up the meat (optional). Most cured meats will not need to be rolled into shape at this point, but some will. If you’re taking pork belly, for example, and trying to make pancetta, you want to start with a rectangular piece of pork belly and roll up the longer end very tightly. The tighter the roll, the less space there is for mould or other bacteria to inhabit.

Wrap the meat in tightly cheesecloth. Tightly wrapping the meat in cheesecloth will help wick away any moisture that forms on the outside of the meat, keeping it dry while it ages. Fold the cheesecloth over both sides of the meat, bunch the cheesecloth up at both ends, and tie the ends into knots. If possible, create a second knot at the top of the cheesecloth into which you can pry your hanging hook.

Truss your meat to help it keep its shape while it ages (optional). Especially if dealing with a rolled piece of meat, trussing will help the meat stay tightly rolled and keep its shape. Use butcher’s twine and simply tie off every inch until the length of the meat is trussed. Remove any dangling pieces of twine with shears.

Label the meat and hang in a cool, dark place for anywhere from two weeks to two months. A walk-in refrigerator is ideal, being cool and dark, but anywhere that doesn’t get a lot of light and doesn’t exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) will work.

Serve. After you’ve removed the trussing and cheesecloth, cut thin slices of the cured meat and enjoy. Store any cured meat you don’t use immediately in a refrigerator.

Taken from WikiHow.

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