Monday, January 24, 2011

CharcutePalooza: The Salt Cure

Fresh Pork Belly
A gorgeous local farm-raised pork belly

   At last! My pink salt has arrived! Now I can move onto more pressing matters, like curing! And blogging! The CharcutePalooza challenge for the month of February is salt curing. While sodium in general has gotten quite a bad rap in the health world, salt is an incredibly valuable mineral our bodies cannot do without. I realize that many of you are concerned about nitrites and pink salt. Nitrites, however, naturally occur in many fresh vegetables (hence why celery juice is used in "uncured" lunch meats). I personally do not consume large amounts of nitrite cured meats anyway, and do not worry myself over it, but that's just me. You should do your own research.
   I feel it is truly a crying shame that more people do not cure their own bacon. If I had known how easy the process was, I would have done it ages ago. My hopes are that I can possibly persuade you to try it for yourself. All it involves is some really nice pork belly, some salt, pink salt (although you can do without it), and whatever flavorings you so choose. Bacon is traditionally smoked, but you can skip this step as well.
   I prefer sweet bacon, so after acquiring a beautiful pork belly, I slathered it in a mixture of salts, maple syrup, maple sugar, and black pepper.

Soon to be Bacon
Basking in all its' maple glory

   From there, it was into a Ziploc bag to be stored in the refrigerator to cure for about 7 days. It will need to be turned over every other day. Finally, it will be smoked. I am really looking forward to a good excuse to fire up our smoker in the middle of winter. Next up was Pancetta. Made much in the same way bacon is, pancetta is its' Italian cousin, just as tasty, only it fore goes the smoking and adds a little dry curing time.
   I trimmed another pork belly until it was nice and square. For its' rub I used salt, brown sugar, pepper, bay leaves, nutmeg, mustard seed, thyme, and fresh garlic. It was hard not to start gnawing on it right then and there, it smelled that good.

Uncured Pancetta

   Like the bacon, it will also spend 7 or so days in a bag in the refrigerator. But instead of meeting a smoker/oven, it will be rolled, tied, and hung to dry in the same coat closet that the duck prosciutto hung out in. Yay, more creepy meat in the closet! It will take a few weeks to finish, but will be oh so worth it.
   After trimming the second belly, I was left with a small heap of meat and fat leftovers. According to Mr. Ruhlman, an excellent way to put those scraps to use (waste nothing!) is to make Salt Pork out of them. I have actually never used salt pork (which is exactly what is sounds like), but it can be used to flavor any number of dishes. Chili, stews, beans, tomato sauces, soups, and risottos can all benefit from a small hunk of salt pork. And it can be kept in the freezer for seemingly forever, so why not?!

Soon to be Salt Pork
Salty & Porky

   Since finally getting my hands on Charcuterie, I have been reading over all of the chapters and getting a good sense of what Michael Ruhlman is all about, at least when it comes to meat. I find it very exciting that someone is so passionate about supporting the art of meat curing. With so much negative hype about salt and fat, most people won't even look at a slice of salami, let alone put it in their mouths. What most people fail to realize is that the real concerns are the quality of the foods we eat, and the hidden evils that lurk in them. Preservatives, additives, flavoring agents...those words you can't pronounce on the label, those are what you should be worried about. Salt and fat have been around as long as we have, and always will be. So here is to salt and fat!

Long live charcuterie!

1 comment:

  1. The Pancetta really appeals to me, I bet these are tasty.