It is almost poetic, this thing that happens to meat when salt, sometimes nitrates, and bold or subtle blends of herbs, fruits or other seasonings are infused into them, and the moisture in the meat is drawn out. The meat is changed. Made more while it shrinks.
It is also symbolic. The words do not exist to describe my delight in being able to do this, to produce our most favorite meats ourselves. Not the soft and watery cured meats that litter the coolers in the stores, but firm, dense and aromatic meats that burst with flavor upon your tongue. The flavor is complex, mellow, and salty enough to satisfy while not overwhelming.
These foods do not cause my lips to swell, my lungs to congest, and my skin to itch the next day, because of the load of chlorine and chemicals in them that I cannot tolerate. THIS meat helps me instead, delivering probiotics and enzymes that help my digestive system heal. Oh, yeah, didn't you know? You can eat this raw if you want to, just like proscuitto, and when you do, it packs a wollop in healthy microbes and enzymes. Even if you cook it, it is easily digestible, the proteins already partially broken down into usable chains.
The small boneless hams hanging in our basement somehow represent all that we are trying to do. A skill forgotten by all but a few, learned again. Not only is the meat made more as we process it, WE are made more. Food condemned by modern medicine as "unhealthy", becomes healthy again, when done in the traditional manner, rather than by contemporary shortcuts.
I've not yet learned to smoke my own meat. This requires more equipment we do not yet have. It is on the list. We will get there eventually. For now, we use other methods to get a natural smoke flavor into the meat. It isn't perfect yet. But even our imperfections are such an improvement over the alternatives which are all we've had up to this point.
This thing though, the handling of raw meat, the curing, the hanging it at room temp without refrigeration. It seems so scary, and so complicated. But once you do it, it is elegantly simple.
The most lovely thing is that even a person with limited physical capacity can do this! For those who must ration their energy day to day, this is a thing you can do!
Gather the spices together. If that is all you do one day, that is fine! Put them in a place where you can easily get them all the next day. The salt, the Tenderquick, the sugar, the herbs that make it distinctive.
Mix them up the next day. There is no hurry, if the meat is in the fridge, it has a few days for you to do this one task at a time. Check it off your list. You got something done that will become something wonderful.
The next day, it comes together. Get the meat and a knife. Trim the bits of meat off that you don't want to cure. It does not need to be picky. I use pork loin most of the time (cheap, and easy to handle). Pretty much no trimming needed. Today, you get to do two things, but it is worth it.
Get some ziplock bags - gallon size will do for a piece of pork loin, or some boneless shoulder.
Get a plate.
Get your salt mixture.
Put the meat on the plate. Salt it. Salt the edges. Flip it and salt the bottom. Make sure you have a good layer of salt clinging to it all.
Put it in a baggie.
Put the baggie in the fridge. Check a BIG thing off your list, you are officially curing meat!
Drain the liquid off the meat each day. Flip the baggie so the meat is on the opposite side. Keep it in the fridge. Every other day, sprinkle a bit more salt on each side to replace what is washing off.
Salt cured meat goes so many days for each inch of thickness. Research it online. Eventually I'll post a recipe, but not today. Today is about making you want to do it!
These smaller pork loin pieces go for 5-7 days.
When it finishes that phase of curing (the way you determine this depends on what you are making), you either wash off the salt, or you brush off the excess leaving bits of herbs on the meat - again, it depends on the kind of meat you are curing.
Then you hang it. Or not. Or smoke it. Or not. Depends on what you are doing.
Most of the ones I do, I hang. I wrap it in a clean piece of old T-shirt material to protect it from bugs, and then put it into a crocheted net bag, and hang it from a beam in the basement where the mice cannot get at it. An old pillowcase works well also.
It is easy to do, even if you have little energy. You just break it up as much as you need to. A little here, a little there. And the daily process is so simple that it works into a day of carefully metered energy expenditures.
Do little pieces of meat. 2-3 lbs. Nothing heavy to lift. Easy to move it to the sink, drain it. Easy to sprinkle it again because it is small. Not too many days to cure because it is thin (less than 3 inches thick). Doesn't take long to hang because of the smaller size.
Bacon. Ham. Proscuitto. Corned Beef. Dried beef. Lamb ham. Venison ham. You can do all of those as a dry cure.
Simple, not too heavy, gentle work, that makes magic!
I've got hog jowls in the fridge and another pork loin, waiting for the salt that I mixed yesterday. But today I am crocheting more net bags to put the cured pieces from the fridge into. When I'm done with that, I'll start the next pieces. They will wait for me.
The next one will be cured with maple.