Archive for the ‘Dry Cured Meats’ Category

Playing with Mold & Dry Cure Update


I started the cure on these ham cuts here. They were cut from the rear side of the ham, and post cure I decided that rather than stuff it into a bladder as is traditional with Italian Fiocco, I’d cut it in half and stuff it into some 61mm protein-lined clear casing I had on hand for making saucisson sec. They both fit into a single 24″ casing, which I cut into two pieces. I seemed to recall someone online mentioning soaking the casings pre-stuffing, and I can attest to it making stuffing far easier. Tied the casings with kitchen string, wishing I had splurged on a pair of pliers to put wire clips on the ends.

They were hung overnight in the cellar at 8.3C and 50% RH, which is both too cold and too dry. The humidity’s on its way up though, as I’ve reintroduced the bucket of water with wick for the winter. The hanging meats will also help bring it up. Last winter it was up in the 70% range.

This morning, I got to play with Penicillium Nalgionvense for the first time. Frustratingly, it’s yet another charcuterie product that is locally unavailable, so I had to buy it from the US. I’ve had a concerning lack of healthy white molds in my cellar over the past few months, so I’m reintroducing some desirable molds to see how it works out. The photo below shows how much [1/8 tsp in a ramekin of tepid water] I used, let it soak overnight, then applied it in the morning in a fashion similar to basting meats in a fry pan with the cooking fat. Spooned it on, coating the whole thing a couple times over. I’m extremely curious to see how long it takes to bloom and do it’s thing. I’ll post an update on the mold development and finished product over the coming weeks.

‘Charcuterie Day’ 2011


I’m used to butchering pigs on ‘Pig Day‘, and largely leaving charcuterie fun for some point in the winter when I feel like it. Not this year. My cellar’s empty. I feel like it now. I wanted to get started as soon as possible on a few different preparations. I also had to resist going too crazy today. For example, I had a nice slab of back fat [second photo] that I almost cured whole. Unwise. I don’t need 4 lbs of cured back fat ready all at once. So I split it in 3, started curing a choice piece [photo on left], and froze the other two for curing in a few months, hopefully before I run out of the first piece. I’ve learned with dry curing that pace is important. Have to be able to keep up to the stuff.

I may as well start there: dry cured back fat. Yes, this is essentially ‘lardo’, but because I fully intend on departing from convention to localize to where I live, use what I have in season, and suit the tastes of the palates I feed, as a general rule I’m going to try to avoid european names from here forward for risk of offending those that feel that a preparation named after a classic, traditional product  should respect it’s heritage. I agree. Mine might be washed in apple brandy and briefly smoked with apple wood if I feel like it. It might have wild herbs and wild onion from the north rather than mediterranean flavours. The differentiation might seem like high-concept wanking to some, but to me it matters.

So dry cured back fat. First off, I don’t need oodles of this stuff. My waistline certainly would appreciate some mindful moderation. I’m going to cure a 3/4 to 1 lb strip of the stuff every 3-4 months to hopefully always have some on hand. Today’s strip was 321g, 7g dry cure, some light grinds of black pepper, 2 sticks of summer savory leaves, and a crushed up twig-tip of dried rosemary. All the recipes I could find called for cure #1 instead of #2, and if somebody can explain that one to me, please do. My intuition says use #2 because it will be dry cured. This will be the first dry cure I do with #1. I think next one will be with #2. Into a zip-top bag it went, with a brick atop it for weight, to cure in the fridge ‘until’. After today, I have many ‘until’ dates that I need to get on a calendar to manage. It will then come out of the fridge and be hung in the cellar.

Next up was dry-cured ham, as I wanted to do a whole muscle dry cure preparation. I’ve long wanted to dry cure some ham, one day a whole one. I gave a small piece a shot as a newbie, and it was a fail. Time to try again. A friend had taken a very successful run at fiocco, and I wanted to do something similar. The piece I isolated was from the same location as a fiocco – which is essentially the sirloin tip as best I could tell [corrections welcome]. It was a good size to take a run at for now. 775g, 27g salt, 2g instacure #2, 3-4 sprigs summer savory leaves. Into a bag, into the fridge. [photo below left]

Next up was to decide when to take the ham cuts out of the brine pot in the garage. Conveniently, the weather has been cold, and the brine pot has been outside for days staying very cold, and not occupying space in my fridge. I’ve under-brined many a piece of ham, leaving that undesirable center with a little circle of gray, unpinksalted meat that makes for terrible presentation when sliced. But I also didn’t want to over salt it.  Estimating 1/2 day per lb, I decided to pull both pieces at the 27 hr mark. If it’s not enough, I’ll give them more time next year. One of the benefits of blogging: notes for when you forget what you did last year. I followed Ruhlman’s brine ratio and opted for no aromatics in it. They will be smoked over apple wood shortly.

The hocks are still in brine. I’m giving them 3 days in there. Looking forward to hot smoking them as well. Hocks are a funny beast. They are big and bulky relative to their meat output, so I’m going to try to keep them out of the freezer for that simple reason to leave room for beef, moose, and other things. Post smoke, I’ll pull all the meat, make some appropriate dishes for a week or so, and freeze any excess. I’m guessing that rather than a cubic foot of freezer space for them, it’ll be a medium sized ziploc baggie at best.

Dry-cured pig face. Although I think that roasting a head and pulling the meat is its best use for us and minimizes waste, I also wanted to dry cure some. I’m going to call this ‘pig-face’ as the cut I’m choosing is not strictly jowl. There’s some cheek in there. Some other bits and pieces. Other name ideas welcome, as ‘pig face’ isn’t terribly aesthetically pleasing, now is it? All the neck meat was put into trim, and the side of face that you see on the left was trimmed up, skinned, and cured. 900g pig face, 32g salt, 2.25g instacure #2, 2g black pepper, few leaves of dried sage, couple sprigs of fresh english thyme, and a tsp or so of welsh onion seeds. Ground up the cure in a mortar and pestle, and sprinkled it on. I’ve been very pleased with how uniformly the ground spice mix applies, the herbs get integrated with the salt really well and distribute evenly – just doesn’t look quite as lovely. Into the fridge it went.

The balance of the day was grinding meat, including some for a simply flavored fresh sausage that’s on deck, and lots and lots of clean-up from the day before. I’ll do individual posts on these items as they get completed, for those that are interested.

Moose Saucisson Sec at 8 Months


More learning as I go. Just checked previous posts to see when I made this batch of saucssion sec. 8 months ago today. I wasn’t sure how long this stuff would last, and apparently the answer is: ‘a really, really long time‘. I’ve wondered if one could indeed put up dry cured meats from fall-butchered animals and have them keep successfully without refrigeration or freezing until the next butchering season. Looks like the answer is yes. Perhaps even more exciting is that the quality has not deteriorated, and I even am going to suggest it has improved. I was satisfied with this batch, but not excited about it generally – likely the reason there’s still some hanging in the cellar. But it seems to have actually improved with age. Maybe I’m tasting satisfaction rather than reality.

I’m very pleased with the white molds that have become the norm in the cellar. And yes, mold can be very desirable indeed, despite how many people feel about it. Seems all mold has become synonymous with spoilage or ‘yuck’ in general – a 21st century misunderstanding. I don’t innoculate the meat with any culture, it’s simply the flora that decided to come hang out in my curing space. I’m still amazed at how some of these processes [fermenting being another one] seem so complex, exotic, and magical as a newbie retro-gastronomist [I'm coining that one, baby], yet are so natural, passive, and well…easy. I no longer wonder how our ancestors discovered fermentation or moldy charcuterie and cheese. Nature did its thing, and humans observed and went along for the ride. A tasty ride.

Cellar Update: Storage, Conditions, And No More Stink


Having largely settled into my new way of life with our cellar, I find I’m forgetting to post about the odd item that might be helpful for those considering going down that road. So some thoughts about the cellar. [the one that holds my wine, charcuterie, and cheese, not my root cellar]

First, the dry cured meats on the left are not from my hand, they’re from Oyama Sausage Co. – a generous gift from my brother having just returned from B.C.. A handy thing about having a cellar? No need to consume them before they get dodgy in the fridge – I can hang them in the cellar, and they can keep for months. I’d never considered this as a perk of being set up for dry curing, but let me tell you…it is. I welcome their flora to the mold-party, and will revel in their awesomeness through the summer and beyond if they’re not eaten before.

Secondly, the conditions. It’s 13.8C and 72% humidity down there. We just had 6+ inches of rain, and it’s 26C outside today so it will likely dip back down a bit on both fronts in the coming week. 15C and 60-70% rh is happiness for dry curing, if my memory serves me correctly. So in general, I’d say my cellar is on the cool side through the year as far as cellars go. That doesn’t hurt my feelings. My red wines will age slowly, my whites and apple wines will stay fresh, and really, truthfully, I’m happy to be storing meats on the cool side rather than the other way around.

Also noteworthy is an un-met expectation on my part. I had expected dry curing would be a seasonal thing. Not true. Conditions are naturally optimal through the summer [surprisingly], but with the intervention of water wicking onto the floor, the conditions were excellent through the winter and spring – albeit colder than optimal. I can dry cure meat all year. A rare expectation I’m happy to not have met.

Lastly. My cellar increasingly stunk for a couple months. I thought it was the cheese. Then the cheese was used up. Thought it was their bins. Nope. One of the batches of put up meat? That’d be gross. Finally, these last few days, I figured it out. It was the bucket of water and cloth that I use to wick water onto the floor in the winter to increase humidity. Despite having added a whole box of table salt to the thing, it still got nasty. Weird. I do know that the drops of water on the floor carry salt, as the splashes leave little salt deposits on my floor. Doesn’t hurt my feelings as it provides a level of antisepticness [that's not really a word, I just made it up]. All I can offer is that the salt wicked out through the cloth through the winter enough that the solution was desalinated enough to get gross. Weird. Solution? Remove bucket. Solved. Will bleach bucket, use new cloth, problem solved. I’m relieved it need not stink. [and if any of you chemists know of a salt that won't wick out of the bucket through a cloth, chime in please]

The cellar has offered such a boon of wealth of various forms in one short year. Yes, you should build one.

Saucisson Sec, Two Ways


These batches were put up on Tuesday [Mar 29]. I find I have to write about this kind of thing or I simply lose track of when they were made, which makes it a bit hard to remember how long they’ve been aging and how they’ve responded to temp, humidity, etc.

Both are essentially Ruhlman’s recipes, with two major exceptions. First, the pork version [used Irvings Farm Fresh Berkshire] has half the garlic called for, as I’m looking for a cleaner expression of the pork, less dominated by garlic. I find Ruhlman generally likes ‘flavor’ about 25% more than me, so I tone down his aromatics, generally.

The second batch was made from wild cow elk shank – trim I’d reserved in November for sausage. Because I could, I used some of the now-ubiquitous-to-me dried morel and shaggy parasol powders in this batch. I’m not sure they’ll show up, but I had to try in the name of research. And because, well, wild game and wild mushrooms in the same dry-cured sausage just plain sounds lovely.

So there they hang in the cellar, at 5C & 76%rh for at least a month.

Elk Brési w/ Wild Mushrooms & Labrador Tea


When butchering this cow elk in late November, I noticed how particularly perfect the shape and size of the eye of round would be for dry curing. No wonder it’s been done for eons. As usual, here I am, not innovating.

As I had run out of my first ‘test batch’, it was time for a more confident crack at it. Larger piece, thicker piece this time. I used Ruhlman’s  [poor Polcyn, always excluded] ratios of salt, sugar, pepper, and instacure #2, but for aromatics, looked to what I had as wild pantry items. Morel powder, shaggy parasol powder, wild thyme, and labrador tea. Sounded good in theory, but I suspected the labrador tea wouldn’t bring much to the party – that was until I crushed it with a mortar and pestle. Holy evergreen. Lovely evergreen. I hope that shows up in the final product. If so, it may become a standard terroir-driven pairing for me for this item.

So it’ll go into the fridge for a week, maybe two if I’m being forgetful(?) to cure, and then hung in the cellar for a long, long time. I’m going to guess two months minimum, with it being in a good zone for a few months past that. So I should be enjoying this through the summer with zippy salads, cheeses, and cold apple wine.

[update: this piece was scraped of aromatics and cellared March 27th. Told you I'd forget.]

Guanciale – Final Product


We put up 20 Irvings Farm Fresh pork jowls December 11, and it’s finally at a place I’d hope it would get – nearly 2 months later. Dense, with a light high-toned loveliness imparted by dry curing pork.

The verdict? Sliced thinly and fried is a bacon-like experience that is lovely indeed.  It fried up extremely fast [low moisture?], and my meat-hating-toddlers happily devoured their ‘spaghetti-and-bacon’. This particular variation [we did 4] was herbed [from my garden], and I think the herbs are a worthwhile addition. My conclusion simply supports my previous conclusion that jowls, and the rest of the pig head for that matter, hitting the local butcher shop bin is nothing short of sinful waste. It’s a shame. And one of those opportunities for budget minded locavores that I seek – you want cheap or in some cases even free local, ethically raised pork? It can be done.

My honesty-bone requires that I divulge that the crunchy jowl fat texture in its uncooked form is not my favorite. But that’s just me, and palates vary widely. The bottom line I’m finding is that pork is pork, whether from the head, belly, or leg when it comes to flavor. So long as there’s enough fat to bring flavors to the party, the whole hog is all good, in my opinion. Which brings me back to: if it’s tasty pork, why are we throwing it out? I think lack of awareness is the answer. Ask your local pork producer for pig head, and cheap, and you should be able to score some majorly cheap but tasty locavore eats.

Saucisson Sec d’Orignal


Moose sausage typically doesn’t get me excited. It’s generally made by local meat shops with pre-fabbed 5-gallon-bucketed mixes of ‘cure’ and ‘seasoning’, jacked up with pork to tame the flavor and add fat, resulting in a sausage that tastes like non-game something-or-other akin to a factory produced sausage item from a box store. Not always bad, just rarely that good and never great. Wow that’s a tad harsh. Truth hurts. [I actually feel for the butchers, as I would not want to defrost, de-hair, and trim out the often multiple bullet wounds from game animals shot by others. They probably don't want to either.]

I’ve made fresh game sausages with equally weak results. No boxed seasoning, perhaps, but still not something I’d be excited to tie into regularly. But that tide has changed. A while back I put up a batch of pork saucisson sec, and made a batch with this year’s calf moose to give it a go. Test run. Success. And to continue with my quasi-snotty french names for these products, I’ll be calling these ‘saucisson sec d’orignal‘.

This morning I finished a couple pieces of this and my brési with a hit of smoke. I’ll give them a few days to mellow out the fresh smoking before tying into them again. Smoke, like many things, is better with age. I may make the next batch a tad leaner, but other than that, very pleased. How to make it? Chacuterie‘s recipe for saucisson sec, substitute moose for pork shoulder. These took a month to cure at 4C and 65-70% humidity, and could stand to be a bit drier still.

[the photo is the saucisson atop brési atop guanciale - Christmas is a time to taste charcuterie, apparently. sweet]



It feels odd posting about items like this as it implies I’m some experienced pro at this, and I totally am not. But here it is, in all its glory:  my first successful crack at dry cured calf moose. I’m going to call it ‘Brési‘ after the french dry cured beef – the name derived from its appearance resembling brazilwood [Brazil in french = Brésil]. I was recently asked what the most complicated/difficult preparation I’ve done would be – and this would be up there. I put in my draw for a tag in June, hunted and butchered it in November, and dry cured it until Christmas. That’s a half-year process.

But making it is not rocket science. It’s essentially a smoked bresaola, for which recipes abound – I used Charcuterie’s as a starting point. The only key in my mind was appropriate use of Instacure #2 which is based on weight, and therefore quite straightforward. The big test was simply whether or not it would have a good time hanging out in my cellar or not. My first attempt at this last year  failed in a nasty-mold mess. This year, with the right cure and conditions in the cellar, it’s easier than pie – proving yet again that far more than half the battle in dry curing is creating the right space to do it. I used calf moose inside round, and I’m wagering that any cut of calf moose done in this preparation would be lovely – next time eye of round due to its fortuitous tubular shape.

The cellar has indeed been an adventure this year, and I’m enormously grateful.  I intend on posting more soon on how and why to build a space similar to what I have as it’s not hard or onerously expensive, and is proving to be an invaluable resource.

Guanciale Project: Day 8. Hang Day and Innovation


Today was the day the plethora of guanciale was due to hang. They’d cured for a week, had released a couple tbsp maybe of fluid per, and a fry-up proved salty enough to proceed – not wanting to risk oversalting if we left them longer. So into a big clean sink of water they went, got a solid rub-down-rinse, then dripped dry. We then did up 5 versions: sage & thyme, bay & thyme, black pepper only,  applewood smoke only, and plain. Poked a hole near an edge, tied them, and hung them up for their long visit to my cellar. Wasn’t sure exactly how this would all go down, but it went smoothly. Now, we wait.

The new hanging setup. One more item to share. Last night, before going to bed, I had an idea pop into my head that I put into motion this morning. I had learned that tying many items to dowels above your head is uncomfortable and just plain annoying – especially when the string’s a bit wet and you’re trying to tie knots securely enough to avoid meat on the ground. Or perhaps  if you cut the string a bit short to begin with. Solution? Nylon coated galvanized strapping [Home Depot] intended for hanging pipes, with a plain old stainless S hook run through the holes. You can buy steel strapping – but for the $3 more I opted for galvanized [it's a wet environment = rust], and nylon coating for overkill. A happy surprise – the nylon coat provides a super-smooth slide on the dowel when moving items. This setup is exceedingly better than untying and retying knots, they can easily be assembled/disassembled, is overbuilt in the strength department, and inexpensive [$6 for 10' strapping, $1.28/4 S hooks]. Now when tying stuff to hang, I simply tie the item, and tie a loop on the other end. The loop gets hung on an S hook, and voila. Hang-time is no longer time consuming. Need to move stuff? No problem. Ah, simple pleasures.