The infamous Paleo diet and general caveman like food habits are hugely popular in the world of fitness and well-being right now, with cured meats being held in deliciously high esteem.
And the meaty angels atop the Christmas Tree of food? Bacon and sausages.
This pork love has ignited the fire of a thousand flames in the hearts of meat eaters everywhere, inspiring love, art and even... feet.
Now with this great pork power, comes great pork responsibility. A responsibility to give the people what they want, and showing them how to provide such tasty treats at home. Teach a man to cure, and you feed him for a lifetime and all that.
So, first things first, What exactly is curing?
The term 'uncured bacon' is, quite frankly, a nonsensical oxymoron. For, my friends, uncured bacon is pork. Salt is highly regarded as the main defining ingredient.
In the best quality hams, like prosciutto and jamón ibérico, salt is the only ingredient other than the meat. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word curing as, ''Preserve (meat,fish, tobacco or an animal skin) by salting, drying or smoking.’'
The salt, by way of osmosis (as you may remember from Junior Cert Science) draws water out of the cells of both the meat and the bacteria. This kills bacteria and creates an environment that is no longer favorable for their growth.
And while preservation is undoubtedly the primary purpose of curing, the end results (i.e. more highly concentrated protein and deliciously enhanced flavour) are hard to ignore.
1. First things first
Firstly, decide on what kind of meat you’d like to use. While ham is a popular choice for curing, you can use anything from beef to venison. You can’t really go wrong with a good piece of meat, although first-time curers might want to go with a more forgiving pork belly or rump.
If necessary, trim off any excess fat, tendons or meat. And for larger curs of meat, try stabbing with a prong for better salt coverage.
2. Mix it up
Combine demerara sugar and salt (150g of each). The key ingredient is the 'pure dried vacuum’ (PDV) salt, which has very fine grains.
These draw moisture from food at a regular rate; a flaky salt causes a patchy result, meaning uneven flavour and cooking. Other spices such as coriander, fennel seed or star anise can be added at this stage, depending on your own tastes and pallet.
3. Spice up your life
Bruise a teaspoonful of juniper berries for a hint of sourness, grind black peppercorns and blend them in, along with a few torn bay leaves, to the mixture.
A handful of this dry cure goes into a safety standard plastic tray as a bed for the meat, another handful on top of it, making sure the whole surface is covered.
4. Get down and dirty
With your hands, rub the mix over the entire cut of meat. Cover a tray with parchment and line the bottom generously with your mix. Cover the top of the meat with your remaining mix for equal coverage. If you wish, you may cover the top of the meat with another piece of parchment, then another tray, and finally a heavy object to weight the meat down.
Note: Do not use metal trays without parchment. The metal reacts with the salt and sodium nitrite. If using metal, be sure to use a piece of parchment between it and the mix.
Also note: Weight not entirely necessary. So if you don’t want to change the shape of your meat, just let the salt do its job naturally.
5. Fridge it up
Refrigerate for 7-10 days.Allow for adequate airflow by leaving a small piece uncovered.
Remove from the refrigerator and rinse off the salt mix with cold water, and allow to air-dry over an elevated rack. Wipe down the excess moisture with some kitchen roll.
You may need to roll up the meat at this stage. Not all meats need rolling, but if you roll it rightly, there is less space for mould or other bacteria to inhabit the meat. When it’s rolled, wrap tightly in cheesecloth. This will help wick away the moisture that forms on the outside of the meat.
6. Trussin' and a fightin'
Truss the meat to help it keep its shape while it ages. Use butcher’s twine and simply tie off every inch until the length of the meat is trussed.
Then label the meat and hang in a cool, dark place for anywhere from a fortnight to two months. Anywhere cold that doesn’t get a lot of light will do fine.
Et voila! 3 months later and there you have it. Alongside a world of satisfaction, you'll find yourself in one of the most delicious situations you've ever encountered.
And you can be sure, it could cure a multitude of ills.
...I'll get my coat.