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Salt Curing Meats
This morning, after I got up, I tended to four pieces of meat, in the fridge, which are salt curing. 1 Maple Black Forest Loin Ham, 1 Boysenberry Rosemary Loin Ham, and 2 pieces of dry cure maple Hog Jowl Bacon.
The process is fairly simple, and using the process I use, the end product is only salty on the outside, richly flavorful on the inside, which is safe to eat raw like proscuitto, or which you can cook, and then use like wet cure ham. This is SIMILAR to a salt box curing, but you don't bury the meat in the salt, you just rub the salt on the outside, and for a shorter period of time, so the saltiness is greatly reduced. The secondary drying is done by hanging, rather than by salt.
Downstairs in the basement, I have two crocheted net bags hanging from a beam - one contains a Black Forest Loin Ham (no maple), the other contains a small Boneless Picnic Ham. (Which were, by the way, amazingly delicious.)
I use small meat pieces, boneless. This makes it fast to cure, and easy to handle, and more certain that it will cure well to the center. I cannot yet raise my own pork or beef, so I am using purchased meats, and loins, chuck, and other pieces are often on sale, and work great.
They get salted down with a mixture of kosher sea salt, sugar, spices, and a tiny bit of nitrates (I've done them without and they do not turn out as well), and put into a ziplock baggie. That goes in the fridge, where it is turned and drained daily, and where I re-salt every other day. After a week, or about the time they stop draining significantly, I take them out of the baggie, scrape or rinse the salt off (depending on the recipe and type of ham), and then let it air dry in the fridge for another week. It then gets cased in melted fat to keep it from drying too much, since we are in a very dry climate. After the fat hardens, I wrap it in a piece of clean old t-shirt fabric to keep bugs and dust off, and put it into the crocheted net bag to hang it. Some people just hang it with a meat hook without a covering, but it is very dusty here, and bugs can be a problem.
It hangs for about 2 weeks (for this size meat pieces), and then we get to use it. They can continue to hang while parts are used, you just cut off what you need and leave the rest hanging.
I do dry cure instead of wet cure because it takes less space, and after the initial curing phase, can move out of the fridge and be stored for several months.
We DO have a cool basement, which helps, since you don't want it at a high temp where it hangs. You can cure it initially without a fridge but it is riskier, they used to cure them in the smokehouse in the cool fall temps.
The end result is complex, mellow, salty enough to satisfy the palette but not overwhelm it. Amazing meat!
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I do what I do because I understand the science behind it, and I've researched worldwide sources to verify the safety of my practices to my own satisfaction. Please do your own research, and proceed AT YOUR OWN RISK.