If you’ve got a jar of sauerkraut bubbling away on the kitchen counter or a crock of pickles tucked away in the basement corner, but you just don’t get the same thrill from them as you used to, you might be ready to start curing meat. Though I am grossed out by certain food combinations that other people claim to enjoy - raisins and onion, feta and watermelon, cheese and jam, fresh fruit and chocolate - I consider myself pretty unflappable when it comes to trying anything on its own, whether it’s deer kidney or stock made from chicken feet.
Yet I admit to feeling a bit strange when I found myself tucking chunks of raw meat into an out of the way corner of the house and letting them alone for a few weeks. I’d eaten plenty of cured meats, most notably saucisson sec when Alanna and I were in France, and I never thought twice about it. Last year I even made some bacon, which turned out nicely. But, as I say, though I’d thought about it in the abstract, the process of hanging salted meat at room temperature for weeks discomfited me, and I love carpaccio. But this uncertainty made it all the more satisfying when the end product turned out to be, if not spectacular, at least good.
Last December I cured some duck breasts, and the results were promising enough to encourage me. Pictured above is my attempt at bresaola, which was compromised from the start by the fact that the eye of round from the cow we’d been butchering was not intact. I had to settle for several smaller, well trimmed pieces, and I attempted to adjust the salting and aging time accordingly. The smallest pieces were too dry, and all of it was a bit saltier than I would have liked, but at this point I’ll take any variety I can get, and the distinctly funky, tangy flavor of cured beef is certainly that.
One benefit to doing a whole chunk of meat like a duck breast, a piece of beef, or the whole leg of a pig is that there is no risk of botulism developing during the curing process. I’m sure it could make you sick if you totally botched the salt, but it’s not likely to kill you. I’m confident I could be careful enough to avoid this risk if I was to make aged sausages (nitrites or saltpeter are included for this purpose), but I lack the extensive specialized equipment necessary to grind, stuff, and age them. Someday!
My guide in all of this is Charcuterie, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject. It covers the basic science of curing meat coupled with detailed recipes.
Have any of you experimented with curing your own meat? Successes? Failures? (Hopefully not) Botulism?