Yep, that is right folks. I am attempting to attract every rodent in the greater Seattle area to my basement.
I have been wanting to try something new for a while. I cook fish. I cook meat. I cook a ton of vegetables every week. The one thing I have never ever done is tried curing my own meat. The closest I have come is with bringing pork and turkey.
A few months ago now I picked up a copy of Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman. I am sure many people reading this have the same book. It is a really great introduction to curing your own meat and fish at home. Well, in honesty it is far more than an introduction – it is a pretty darn comprehensive book on the matter – far more than I am sure I will ever need.
So obviously that got me thinking about curing my own meat. Reading through it, it seemed like the fastest and easiest thing to do would be to make some duck prosciutto. It takes about a week, and just needs a duck breast and salt. That would be almost impossible to screw up.
Sod that for a game of soliders though!!
Why not jump in, right around the middle ground with a hunk of beef that sits in salt and herbs for two weeks in the fridge, then has to hang for at least 3 weeks. I like a little room for error. Easy isn’t rewarding.
So I start some research. It seems like you have two options – 1) a ton of salt. 2) not much salt, but use some nitrates.
Now, I am not a keen fan of the N word. We all know that too much nitrates/nitrites aren’t exactly tip top for you, not one bit. However a ton of salt isn’t either. Most people I spoke to about Bresaola prefer the second option. The general opinion out there is that the ton of salt method yields a rather salty piece of meat.
The only recipe I could find for option 1 was in a book “Leaves from the Walnut Tree” (which was copied somewhat in Hugh-Fernley Wittingstall’s Meat Book). This calls for 2.5lb (yes lb) of salt. It also calls for a 10lb top round of beef. That is both a lot of salt, and a lot of beef. Because I prefer to go the local/natural/organic/grass fed route – that is also one expensive hunk of meat. One expensive waste of time if I fuck it up. I would also never use that much meat.
So. Option 2 was looking more likely. The recipe from Ruhlman’s book calls for a 3lb piece of eye of round. That is much more affordable, and much more manageable. The curing times are shorter too. Yes it has nitrates in it – but small, properly measured amounts. Interestingly enough, I think they are just there to enhance the pink color of the meat. The risk of botulism (generally why nitrates are used) is really low when using a full muscle, rather than ground meat.
So what is Bresaola? Well, it is a lean cut of a beef that has cured in some herbs, spices and salt, and then left to hang for a month. This is sliced very thinly, and served normally as an appetizer. The result is a strongly flavored, melt in the mouth tender slice of beef.
The first thing to consider is the quality of beef. In my mind if you are going to cure any meat (pork, beef, whatever) you want to start with the very best product you can get your hands on. Ruhlman’s recipe calls for 3lb of eye of round – a relatively cheap cut of beef (also relatively bland if you ask me.. there is hardly any fat in it) that really gets transformed by the long, slow curing process.
For this meat I turned to non other than my favorite farm of the moment – Sea Breeze (shit, shock, horror). As most people that read this blog know by now, I love their products. Not cheap, but you get what you pay for. This cut is from a grass fed, pasture raised, beyond organic cow – meat that has been dry aged (hung) to perfection.
This meat then gets rubbed with a mixture of herbs and spices (rosemary, thyme and juniper are in there), and left alone in the fridge for a week. You then rub it with more spice, and leave it again (all-be-it for turning it every couple of days) for another week. So, two weeks in the fridge, over Thanksgiving time.. that was an interesting exercise in fridge space planning.
Then it gets washed of all spices, dried, tied up, and hung – perferably at about 60 degrees, with a humidity between 60-70%.
Wanting to do this properly I bought myself a rather swanky little digital thermometer and humidity sensor. Not too bad for 20 bucks I have to say – I am sure there are cheaper ones out there though.
It turns out the best place for me to hang this sucker is in the garage. That has a perfect temperature and humidity range at this time of year. Brilliant. Thankfully we don’t park our car in there, nor do we keep anything in there that might taint the flavor of the beef (petrol etc).
There is now just one thing left to consider.
Not exactly the topic of a polite dinner party, however it should be considered. I live on the side of a very large wooded park. A wooded park which I am sure is home to more than just one rat/mouse/(enter names of other nasties here).
I am also sure that a nice piece of hanging meat to rat is much like a schoolboy to Michael Jackson – just too tempting not to touch.
The only thing to do was to secure the meat somehow. Thankfully Danika’s Dad is rather handy with a drill and hammer, so we set about building a strong mesh container that would keep out any potential bresaola predator. I am hoping that our well fitted garage door, and this cage should hold back anything that might want an early lunch.
It is now day 3, and nothing has got into the garage, let alone had a go at the meat. Not bad.. only 27 more to go. From what I hear, it is the first week that you have to worry about – that is when the meat smells the strongest of fresh meat.
So. Wish me luck. This is exciting for me to be honest. Every day I go down to check on its progress. Every day slightly more lovely white mold has developed on the surface of the meat (that is a good thing). This whole thing is really testing the patience of one rather impatient Englishman though. God knows how I am going to be able to wait a month before tasting it.
That leaves one question – what meats have people cured at home? I would love to hear your about your charcuterie experiments.