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Cure all

Winter is the time to turn your attention to curing your own meat

Am I reading things right? I squint and, surely not. But there it is via a tweet, ''no fury like a Japanese wife''. From the Japanese atomic energy agency, which likens nuclear energy to an angry wife. Specifically, she being the radioactive material and her actions being the radioactivity itself.

You guys are like uber-males, brave beyond belief. I'm imagining that long drive home to the person you likened to an A-bomb trying to come up with an explanation for your marketing focus, with the realisation that you are about to be belted by more gamma rays than Doc Bruce Banner.

Seriously, I am struggling to see, and even a pair of reading glasses doesn't help. Which is why I have become a Kindle reader. At first glance, this is just another piece of electronic flotsam that you'll have to find a power point to charge. It's crazy at home already with the phones, iPads, tablets, laptops, so I didn't go into a Kindle without some hesitation. But now I have it, I can't believe how useful it is.

Not only can I read any novel I want, but I can download, anywhere, even on top of a mountain, all sorts of non-fiction works and manuals.

It's one of those strange what-the situations. We pay so much to telcos for access to their networks, but I can download the latest Man Booker prizewinning work by Julian Barnes, apparently for free, anywhere, via this whispernet.

The cool thing about this is that you can now, via a Cloud - again, I can't even explain what a real cloud is, let alone a Kindle Cloud - I can read the books on any PC, laptop, iPad or iPhone and it keeps track of where I'm at. All of a sudden you can keep thousands of books at your side without the usual problem of needing a wheelbarrow to cart them around.

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My most recent purchase is Chartcuterie: The craft of salting, smoking and curing, by Michael Rulman and Brian Polcyn. It's a definitive work without an overload of glossy food shots - in fact there's only one, on the cover. The book takes it for granted that you have a passion and some knowledge of cooking and curing, plus it doesn't require you to have a handy 150kg pig on hand to experiment with - although if you happen to have one of these in your backyard, you'd be needing something like this to help you get rid of it without gaining the attention of the authorities.

I need it because I am about halfway into my project of hand-raising a pair of Berkshire pigs to do just that - make the entire charcuterie repertoire: hams/prosciutto/jamon, coppa, jowl, bacon/pancetta, and on to the wild and woolly world of salami and sausage.

Neither of my pigs realise this, obviously, because if they did they would use their amazing abilities to escape and head for the hills.

I've started practising on some of the more easy parts of the pig. In a nutshell, Charcuterie explains that normal everyday salt flakes will work just fine, but if you are getting serious you need to look at some more defined salts.

So-called Cure #1 and Cure #2 are blends of sodium salts, the normal stuff we use, and nitrite or nitrate salts. Nitrite is a more severe curing agent, more effective at preserving the colour of the meat and stopping the fats from going rancid, but mainly, it works pretty well on oxidising bacteria. A little goes a long way, which is why you only need a small percentage of the cure as nitrite salt (about 6 per cent of Cure #1), and the rest as normal salt. Note nitrite should not ever be used for any other purpose; it can poison us too. Cure #2 contains nitrate and is used for salume that is aged for long periods, like jamon and fermented sausage.

The general rule in this book for a dry cure - wet cures are done in brine - is two parts normal sodium salt (salt flakes, uniodised) to one part sugar, then add 10 per cent of their combined weight in curing salt. So, if I use 200 grams of salt with 100 grams of sugar, I need to add 30 grams of curing salt. Which is effectively only 1.8 grams of nitrite salt.

I have the curing salt - you can pick it up from Butts and Brew in Kaleen - and I have access to a pig. My friend Jeff Fook is usually knee-deep in pig parts this time of year making salami, so he has a 200-kilo pig lined up for the process and it doesn't require its head for much longer. What I want is the jowl or cheeks to make the beautifully named guanciale, cured pork cheek.

It's pretty quick so a good place to start. You can have the - I'll say it again, guanciale - ready in under a month, plus it's probably the king of bacon-like products. The temperature and humidity outside are perfect for curing right now.

CURED PORK JOWL

1 pork jowl, about 1kg - you could use 1kg pork loin, aka pancetta

70g salt flakes, I use Murray river salt flakes

70g caster sugar - I know, it's slightly different to what I just said

5g Cure #1

2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped fine

15 peppercorns, cracked

1 bunch thyme, leaves only

Clean the jowl so it's an even triangular-like shape. Mix all the curing agents together and rub them into the pork. Put into a ziplock bag and into the fridge. Each day turn the bag over and redistribute the contents. After seven days, it should feel firm rather than floppy.

Wash off all the cure, tie a piece of string to it somewhere, wrap it in muslin and hang it outside away from the sun, somewhere really cold and preferably with a little bit of breeze. You are looking for 8-12C and humidity of 60 per cent. After two weeks, it should feel firm but not going the way of beef jerky.

The best way of having this is to lightly fry wafer-thin slices over a low heat in good olive oil with small sage leaves. Have some toasted thick bread ready. Rub the bread with garlic, top with pork and a very small drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

A joyous dish that you'll need to cheer you up if you've just finished Julian Barnes's A Sense of an Ending.

Bryan Martin is a winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, www.bryanmartin.com.au

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