Bresaola is the salumi that got me started in to meat curing at home a couple of years ago now. Some of you might remember the story of rat cage and the thing eventually ending up in the trash. Since then I have got far more obsessive (some might say that isn’t possible), and a little more scientific with my meat curing. I have cured a lot of meat over the last couple of years, but somehow keep coming back to this simple air dried beef charcuterie.
Maybe because it was the first thing I ever cured. Maybe because I had hit and miss luck with curing it (done three times, one in the trash). Certainly because it tastes absolutely fantastic. Bresaola is the reason I spent far too much time hunting on Craigslist for a second hand meat slicer. This is one piece of meat that has to be sliced really thinly for maximum enjoyment. (out if interest – if you are looking for a meat slicer avoid the “home” models, and look for a second hand pro model on craigslist. It works out cheaper and better).
At the heart of it Bresaola is just simply cured and then air dried lean beef. For this one I used the eye of round cut, but a thin piece (or trimmed) of top or bottom round could be used as well. Personally I like the idea of curing these cuts, because cooked they aren’t my favorite, however cover them in salt for a bit and dry in an airy place and they are completely transformed in to something entirely different – delicious that is.
The recipe I follow for my bresaola is that from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book. The one exception I generally make to his recipe is that I stuff the meat in to a casing after curing and before air drying. This helps slow down the drying process, and helps prevent case hardening (where the outside of the meat dries out too fast, becomes hard and stops the inside drying out properly).
I have also found that a higher than recommended humidity works well for bresaola – I keep mine around 80% humidity, with a little airflow to help keep the nasty mold off and facilitate drying. This airflow is achieved by having a fan hooked up to my humidifier. Every time the humidifier turns on so too does the fan. This not only helps distribute the humid air, but it circulates all the air in the chamber.
I am not being a spoiled yuppie here when I say that the quality of the beef really does matter. This recipe is essentially pointless unless you use properly raised beef. Pasture raised is best. Organic pasture raised even better. Find a local farm that you like, and strike up a good relationship, it really pays off.
Homemade Bresaola Recipe (adapted from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book)
(percentages shown here are percentage of meat weight)
1300g beef eye of round.
25g (2%) kosher salt
30g (2.3%) sugar
4g (0.3%) cure 2
5g (0.4%) black pepper
6g (0.46%) chopped fresh rosemary
6g (0.46%) chopped fresh thyme
5 juniper berries
1 beef bung casing
Trim the meat of all silverskin and external fat.
Grind up all the cure ingredients (from salt to juniper berries) in a spice grinder until a fine powder is achieved.
Rub half of the cure mixture in to the eye of round, making sure to cover all of the meat, including the ends. Put in a zip-lock bag and refridgerate for 7 days.
Turn the meat every couple of days, and rub through the bag.
Drain any liquid that might be present and rub in the remaining spice cure. Refrigerate for another 7 days.
Soak the beef bung casing in coolish water, with a little white vinegar added. Let this soak for about 2 hours, changing the water a couple of times through the soaking process.
Take the meat from its bag, and rinse all the cure off thoroughly. Let it sit at room temperature for a couple of hours on a rack.
Rinse the casing out under running water. Squeeze as much water from the casing as possible.
Stuff the meat in to the casing, tying the open end with a bubble knot (watch the video below to see how to do that).
Tie the whole thing up using butchers knots, leaving a loop at one end to hang it from.
Hang at 55F and 80% humidity for at least a month – until it has lost 40% of its original weight.
NOTE: I find it prudent to spray the bresaola with a little water every couple of days during the first few weeks of hanging, if it feels like the casing is drying out too much. The casing whilst drying should still feel pretty subtle, and not dry. If the casing feels slimey then your humidity is too high, and your airflow too low. Fix that
If you are wondering how to stuff and tie up a whole muscle cut like bresaola, here is an unedited video of me tying up a lonzino I recently cured. The procedure is exactly the same for the bresaola (some all bresaola the beef version of lonzino in fact!).