Today the art of curing and preserving certain meats is being lost in homes, because with modern refrigeration it is no longer necessary. However, healing is a very ancient art to preserve food and although nowadays it is not essential, certain meats continue to be cured because the resulting flavor is very tasty.
As a child, in some pig slaughter, I have seen this method used to preserve the large amount of meat that was obtained that day. I had once been allowed to participate in the operation of salting a small piece of meat, under the supervision of an adult, and I remember how important it was not to leave any nook and cranny uncovered with the salt.
In a way, curing at home seems like a useless job when there is a wide variety of salting products in stores. Although it is not currently interesting to cure half a pig carcass or dozens of beef tongues, there is no doubt that it has certain advantages to do a little salting at home from time to time.
Reasons to cure food at home:
- The taste of home-cured products is much better than that of those bought already salty.
- It can vary the composition to taste of the brine or of the ingredients used in the cure.
- The toughest meats, and therefore cheaper, become soft and tender when tanned, thus it saves at the same time that a more good and juicier meat is tasted.
- The variety of suitable meats to cure is much greater than we imagine and they are a great resource to avoid the monotony of the menus.
- At home you can do the curing with the most desired flavor and by a method that ensures prolonged conservation.
- Home curing is a salvation when you don’t have a freezer or you live in a remote place and away from commercial areas that make daily shopping difficult.
- Home-cured meat turns out cheaper than purchased already prepared.
What is healing?
We call the cured preservation of meat with salt and some spices. Food spoils when microbes or bacteria enter it and destroy it. But if these foods are well salted, the salt will extract the water from their cells, as it attracts it osmotically, and that will prevent microorganisms from living.
The spices also contribute to conservation and they give a pleasant and varied flavor to the preserved product, but by themselves they cannot prevent decomposition as salt does. The spices that we choose will depend on our tastes but also on the piece of meat that we want to cure.
There are two main methods to cure meat: brine, when using liquids, and salting, when dry-cured. Each method has its advantages. The first thing we must solve when we consider which one is the most appropriate is whether the resulting flavor differs greatly depending on the method chosen and what benefits each method offers.
This method lends itself best for lean meats, because it is less aggressive, and for large pieces of meat with bone, particularly if it is hollow or irregular in shape.
The brine penetrates every nook and cranny that are formed between the meat and the bone where it could be difficult for the salt to reach in the dry salting, no matter how much it is rubbed and covered on the outside. And it is at those points where the salt does not reach where the bacteria reproduce.
Also, with the brine we can include other ingredients that provide diverse flavorsIt is a matter of trying to adapt the recipe to our personal taste. But if we want to cure with molasses, vinegar, wine, spirits or beer, brine is the mandatory method.
Another advantage of brine over salting is that it acts quickly and its result can be enjoyed much sooner. The meats cured in brine are cooked later, thus producing a kind of cold cuts with a very attractive and delicate flavor, but they are not suitable for subsequent drying.
This curing method is more suitable for large and fatty pieces of meat, for example, a pork leg that you want to have prepared for Christmas. The method works more slowly and the meat is more salty, but as a consequence it is a more safe and reliable cure.
The taste of meat cured in this way can be improved by rubbing it with some herbs and spices at the same time as salt, but no liquid can be used. As soon as any liquid is used, the meat enters the classification of cured in brine and we cannot expect it to last as long as with dry salting.
Also with this method much less space is needed and there are no dirt or liquid residues that are difficult to remove. It is also a better method if we want to cure the meat completely before drying it, as is the case with ham or jerky, for example.
Throughout successive entries I will explain to you which are the most suitable meats according to the method we have chosen, the utensils we will need or the processes to achieve the best results. Little by little we will unravel all the secrets of healing, the art of preserving meat in salt.
Images | WordRidden, Czech, Hohum and Tamorlan
Directly to the Palate | Black salt flakes, a decorative element for our dishes
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