I will try and get through this whole post without making ridiculous (and incredibly British) jokes about stuffing sausage.
My little dry curing chamber for charctuerie has been empty since I completed the bresaola last month. I actually didn’t have any plans to do any more dry curing for a little while – what with this being holiday season and all that. The fact that I have four salami hanging in there right now, gathering some nice mold is completely down to one person.
Chef, teacher, writer forager Becky. Some might know her as Chef Reinvented.
We have been long time Twitter buddies, often talking about seafood when I should really be working. Well, it turns out that we have another mutual interest – charcuterie. I don’t remember how we started talking about moldy meat, but it turns out that she loves coppa and guanciale – two of my favorite cured meats. So I harp up over twitter “lets make some meat” or something along those lines, and the rest as they say is history.
The salami is actually a byproduct. A rather tasty (hopefully) and long lived byproduct. Coppa is a certain group of muscles from the shoulder of a pig. This muscle bundle gets cured in salt and spices/herbs, stuffed into a ridiculously large casing, and air dried. In order to get the right section of shoulder for a decent cured coppa you end up having to buy quite a chunk of shoulder – unless you are lucky enough to find a butcher that knows how to harvest the coppa muscle. This of course meant that we had some shoulder meat left over, that we just couldn’t go to waste.
Sure, we could have slow cooked it, and it would have been great. But heck, if we are going to spend a day making some dried cured meats, why not put the rest of that shoulder to good use and make salami?
Neither Becky or I had ever made salami before. I am still pretty new to sausage stuffing (snigger) to be honest. Thankfully there are a lot of people out there that aren’t, and help comes in the way of amazing books (Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, and Marianski’s Art of Making Fermented Sausages) and also a long time blogger pal Hank Shaw (of the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook). Research is key when doing any kind of charcuterie, but especially when it comes to dry cured sausages. The potential for screw-ups is higher. The potential to get it wrong, and make moldy meat is higher. These are three resources that I highly recommend if anyone is interested at getting into dry curing meats at home.
The next decision was really what recipe to follow. Hank Shaw has a great looking salami recipe which he developed on his blog. Talking to Hank, he suggested it as a great recipe to make, especially for it being our first ever salami. Right on.
The basic route of making a salami looks like:
Dice the meat and fat
Season the meat
Grind the meat (and fat if you want)
Add a starter culture and flavorings (more on that later..)
Mix it all up
Stuff it into the casing of your choice – for us it was beef intestines – or “beef middles” as they are known. About a 3″ diameter piece of gut.
Tie it up
Fermentation (more on that in a minute too..)
The first half of this is really nothing new if you have ever made fresh sausage. The thing to be careful with is both sanitation and temperature of meat. If you make fresh sausage, sanitation isn’t so important since you are going to cook it within a couple of days. A dry cured sausage on the other hand never gets cooked, and even worse gets held at temperatures that potential nasties can grow in the meat for some time. As for temperature – the same thing goes for making a good fresh sausage – keep everything very cold to avoid fat smearing, and making a sausage with rather bad texture.
(Becky washing out the beef intestines)
This all gets stuffed into a rather stinky section of beef intestine. Called in the trade: beef middles. These get cut and tied off (using a special knot.. how boy-scoutish) into roughly 8″ sausages.
The flavorings for this one are a mix of bay, sage, white port and fennel seed. The recipe called for garlic but we left it out since of an allergy Becky has. The starter culture is a specific strand of bacteria that you deliberately mix into the meat. The idea of this is that the bacteria feed on the sugars added, lower the PH of the sausage (because they release lactic acid – acid being a low PH), which in turn makes it difficult for any bacteria to grow inside the sausage. This is really a pretty critical step in the safety of the sausage.
A byproduct of this culture step is that the lactic acid gives that little tang that is so enjoyable in salami.
For this bacteria to rapidly multiply, and prevent bad bacteria growing, it is necessary to ferment the sausage. In practical terms this means holding the sausage at temperature that is desirable for the good bacteria to rapidly multiply. This temperature varies depending on what starter culture you use, as does the length of time that you need to hold the sausage at that temperature.
In this case, these four salami’s went into my rather Heath-Robinson fermentation chamber for 26hours, at a temperature between 75F and 80F and a really high humidity to stop the sausages drying out. This fermentation chamber is just an old fridge in my garage. Into it a wired a light-bulb socket that holds a 60W bulb (to provide heat), and an ultrasonic humidifier to keep the humidity really high during these critical hours. You can use a temperature controller to turn the light bulb on and off to accurately keep the temperature right. Me, I just got the fridge to turn on and off to keep the right temperature, because that was the only temp controller I had. Thankfully the humidifier was able to counteract the dry air from the fridge turning on (fridges are very dry environments when running).
Yes, that sure sounds nasty doesn’t it. Keeping a sausage at 80F for 24hours sounds like a recipe for listeria, salmonella and god knows what else. That is where the starter culture comes in. Add enough, and it competes against the dodgy bacteria, and if all goes well, it wins the fight hands down.
From here, the sausages go into the dry curing chamber, where they hang at about 55F and 75% relative humidity, until they are done – that is lost about 35% of their weight. That first shot on this post is them hanging in the chamber.
So, wish us luck. And if in a month’s time you don’t see any blog posts from either of us, you know the salami wasn’t good.
Oh, and I would like to say that beef-middles smell like arse. Which is of course what they are, but they honk none-the-less. I have worked with pork casings a lot (pork intestines) and they don’t compete in smell. Thankfully the smell goes away fast.
And finally, thanks Hank. Thanks for answering a rather silly phone call from Becky and I (when I know you were preparing for a huge culinary day), about these rather stinky beef intestines.