When you talk to most people about cured meat, it is only a matter of time before “coppa” is talked about. Next to prosciutto, I think this certain cut is everyone’s favorite, and it is easy to see why. On a properly raised hog, you get what I consider a perfect fat-to-meat ratio for cured meat. What is more, the fat runs throughout the slice, rather than around the edge, with a few pieces of marbling. No, this fat is in the middle of the meat, providing great textural balance to the meat along with just enough of that fatty mouth feel with every bite.
Most people know coppa as a cured meat, but technically it is a certain cut of pork from the top of the shoulder. The loin of the pig ends, and the coppa begins, and wraps over the shoulder. Coppa is really a bundle of a few muscles, which are heavily used, so have a lot of flavor. Between these muscles is lovely pockets and striations of fat that gives the coppa its unique flavor and texture.
Unfortunately here in the US of A coppa can be hard to find. Throughout Europe this particular muscle bundle is sold in butcher shops all over. There is a reason for this – it makes an absolutely bloody fantastic roast or braise. The fat layers within the meat essentially make it self basting – and with a low-and-slow approach, simple cooking yields a fantastically complex porky flavor, and smooth texture. Butchery here in the US can be a little brutal at times, especially when factory farming is concerned. Time isn’t taken to release the coppa from the shoulder bundle, and instead it is just cut through as the pig gets cut up in to pieces. If you want to find the coppa bundle to try and roast or cure and air dry as I did here, you are going to have to make friends with a butcher who is interested in doing something a little un-USA….
It was actually some work to find the coppa bundle that I cured, which you see here. Thankfully a local farm that can do custom butchery was able to cut out exactly what I needed. A wee bit of trimming here and there, and this hunk of meat was ready to go.
The process is really rather simple. The muscle bundle gets rubbed in salt, herbs and spices and left in a bag in the fridge for about 12 days. From here this meat is stuffed in to a large beef casing (beef bung casing to be precise!), tied up, and put in to the curing chamber. Here, it sits, slowly loosing weight and growing mold for a couple of months.
When the meat has lost about 35% of its weight it is ready to slice. Sliced really REALLY thin. This is a job for a meat slicer. Seriously. Not even that knife that you smuggled back from Japan is going to do the job here. Thankfully I picked up an old Hobart meat slicer few weeks ago, thanks to an absolute deal on Craigslist. It’s a litle shaky, and needs a few new parts, but otherwise she is pretty ship shape. Or is it a he? I haven’t quite worked that one out yet. It will cut ya if you aren’t too careful, and has greased nipples, so I figure it must be a … oh wait, this is just getting silly….
The biggest issue you are going to have with coppa, and almost any whole muscle of this size is case hardening. The diameter of this cut is about 4″, which is pretty big. All it takes is slightly low humidity in your curing chamber, and you end up with the outside drying out too much and forming a crust. This crust prevents moisture from inside the meat escaping, and eventually leads to the problem of rancidity.
The trick here is just to make sure you keep the humidity high for quite a while. By high I am talking 85% or so for the first three weeks. By weighing the meat every few days you can gauge the weight loss pretty well. Keeping an eye on that, and controlling the humidity well, and you are set for some fantastic cured meat after a couple of months.
The recipe I used for this one was from the fantastic “Cured Meats” blog, penned by Jason Molinari. His recipe calls for cinnamon, clove, fennel and juniper berry, along with salt and pepper. Being honest if I was to do this one again I would most likely leave out the cinnamon and clove. Becky Selengut, who tasted this with me one afternoon described its flavor perfectly “hmm, it tastes like Christmas“. That it did. Next time I going to cure with fennel, juniper and rosemary.
Still, it had a great flavor. Certainly unique, and certainly tasty. It got better with age too. A few months later (now) it is even more intense, if just a little too salty.
Home Cured Coppa – recipe from Jason Molinari
NOTES: There are no weights given here, everything is a percentage value of the meat weight – since you will never have a piece of meat that weighs exactly the same as mine – and ratios are important here.
Some books out there call for dicing up the shoulder meat into pieces, and stuffing that in to casings. I hate to argue with the author of said book, but I have never heard of a coppa like that. Spend the time to find a butcher that can cut you out a nice coppa.
The cure #2 here isn’t strictly needed since this is a whole muscle cut, but I do recommend it for color.
1 Coppa muscle bundle from pork shoulder – roughly 2 to 3lbs
Salt – 3.5%
White Pepper – 1.0%
Cloves – 0.1%
Cinnamon – 0.075%
Cure #2 – 0.25%
Juniper Berry – 0.2%
Fennel Seed - 0.35%
1 beef bung casing
bactoferm 600 (optional)
Trim the meat up into a pleasing cylindrical shape. Weigh it. Weigh out all of the salt and spices. Grind these up together in to a powder. Rub this over the meat, making sure it is really well rubbed in. Place it in a zip lock bag, squeeze the air out the best you can, and put this in the fridge. Every couple of days massage the cure in to the meat, through the bag.
Do this for 12-15 days, until the meat feels firmer. Err on the longer side if unsure.
Take the meat out of the fridge, wash the cure off, and pat dry with towel. Soak the beef bung in cold water for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until soft and pliable. Stuff the meat in to the casing, and tie it up using butchers knots and twine.
Hang this at 55F and 85% humidity for about 2.5 to 3 weeks. From here gradually lower the humidity to 75% over the course of the next couple of weeks. Weigh the meat periodically to check weight loss. A weight loss of about 35% means it is good to eat.
You can make up a solution of Bactoferm 600 (solution according to package directions) and spray this on to the coppa after stuffing in to the casing. This will provide good white mold coverage on the meat, helping regulate the moisture loss, and also help combat any nasty mold that might grow on the surface of the salumi.
This is best eaten just as is – however if you wanted to go all fancy, may I suggest slicing a bunch rather thinly, and arranging this on a plate. In the center top it with a little baby arugula, and then drissling the whole thing with good olive oil and a little lemon?