Charcuterie

Home cured Bresaola

December 2, 2008

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Yep, that is right folks. I am attempting to attract every rodent in the greater Seattle area to my basement.

Just kidding.

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.

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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.

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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.

RODENTS.

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.

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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.

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That leaves one question – what meats have people cured at home? I would love to hear your about your charcuterie experiments.

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  • We Are Never Full December 2, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    beautiful! i’m impressed. that book is wonderful. we just used it to make homemade brats. you’ve inspired me!

  • matt December 2, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    WOW Matt, you really are amazing! This is so very cool and I cannot wait to see how it turns out. Or taste it :)

  • Colloquial Cook December 2, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    I am very jealous :-) my American roommate would go berserk if she found mouldy bits of meat hanging from the ceiling. She has no idea what good things are. I will try that when I’m back in France. Charcuterie making is one of the most fun things in the kitchen! We want to see more!

  • sue bette December 2, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Way to go!! I can’t wait to hear about the outcome & I love the nifty screen/rodent protection device. I’ve been wanting to try some of the terrines in the Charcuterie book so your experiment is giving me a bit of a kick in the a** to get going!
    Good luck!

  • Judy December 2, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    I cannot wait to see how this turns out! I need to get this book!

  • tracy December 2, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    I tried pork tenderloin to make proscuitto from a Jaques Pepin recipe. I went the salt route and it didn’t turn out that well–really salty. My curing method was rigging up a place to hang the cheesecloth-wrapped pork in the refrigerator. I hope your garage method works…let us know the outcome.

  • SeattleTallPoppy December 2, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    That shot of your suspended wooden cage cracks me up! Love it. Definitely need to give aged meat a try. My friend has made duck prosciutto and I had a chance to sample that on Sunday. Delish!

    Have you seen the Charcuterie thread over on eGullet? Lots of great info here:
    http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=79195

  • nina December 2, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Wait! I see it…….chunks of sweet melon, rocket, thin slices of cured beef and torn pieces of buffalo mozzarella!!! Mmmm!!!

  • mike December 2, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Of the cured meats in Charcuterie, we’ve done pancetta (easy, and came out great!) and the duck prosciutto (easy, and came out less great).

    I second the charcuterie thread on egullet. It is a great resource.

  • Gavin December 2, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    My wife and I have been craving Bresaola ever since we got back from Italy last year. I haven’t been able to find it anywhere around where we live (I can’t even find anyone who’s heard of it). Thanks so much for posting this article! Now I have to find some place in my house to hang meat…

  • Nick December 2, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    I myself am almost 2 weeks into the drying stage of this recipe. Mine also developed the characteristic powdery white mold that cured meats sometimes have. I also tried the cured duck breast a couple of times, substituting goose breast, but I never could get it to dry properly without growing nasty blue-green mold. And I currently have a (rapidly disappearing) hunk of homemade bacon, as well as guincale (which I now consider a necessary ingredient in all future tomato sauces), both in my freezer.

    I also did a dry cured pork tenderloin a few times. Not a recipe from Charcuterie, but the smaller size means that it is much easier and faster. Higher surface to mass ratio means it dries faster, so it is possible to use a smaller amount of salt and no nitrates. Since the tenderloin is a lean cut, the texture is actually pretty similar to bresaola.

  • mattwright December 2, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks for all the great comments guys! I will certainly post again when the whole thing is said and done, and I get to taste it. I am saving most of this for a party in Jan, it is going to be murder seeing it sitting in the fridge, and not being able to touch it.

    I forgot to mention actually – if you don’t have hanging space, then an old fridge set to around 60 degrees is a good bet. Placing a bowl of water in there too would help the humidity I am sure. Personally, I would open the door a couple of times a day, and blow a fan into it – just to get some air movement, but a lot of people cure meat at home this way.

    WaNF: It is a great book isn’t it!
    Matt: that is high praise, thank you, but you are the awesome one!
    CC: it is a sorry state of affairs that that is the case these days – a lot of people see it as unhygenic for some reason.
    SB: The terrines in that book do look amazing! I am really into making terrines right now too.
    Judy: it is one of my top 5 cookbooks
    Tracy: it might be a delicate balance of salt with such a small piece of meat
    STP: I will have to go checkout that thread – thanks for the URL!
    Nina: you aren’t helping me wait here!!!!
    Mike: I might have to give the pancetta a go. I think the problem with the duck is trying to find a really good duck.
    Gavin: My recommendations are not to suggest hanging meat in the bathroom where you wife gets ready in the morning.
    Nick: You seriously have to let me know how this comes out mate! I wonder what was going on with the goose breast. I really want to try doing a guincale. You should be able to do most muscle cuts without nitrates (or so I read).

  • Jen (Modern Beet) December 2, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    I had a go at making Bresoala from the River Cottage Meat Book, and it turned out so-so. I think it was because the meat I used was oddly cut (looked more like a tri-tip) and only about 3 lbs instead of 10… But you’re inspiring me to give it another try, perhaps with Ruhlman’s recipe. I am also a big fan of making fresh sausage at home, which is actually super simple, but I’ve yet to tackle anything like salami or other dried sausages. Great post!

  • Nick December 2, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    I will let you know how my bresaola turns out, though yours may be done before I end up cutting into mine – I’m saving it for my families traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Since we usually go all out on the day itself with some enormous piece of meat and other feasting fare, the previous night we traditionally just have a bunch of small things like cured meats, cheeses, olives, pickles, crudite, etc., consumed with generous amounts of wine, and followed by sweets.

    As for the goose, I suspect the problem was two-fold: poor air circulation and inaccurate temperature readings. I’ve since refined my drying process, and may try it again.

  • Y December 3, 2008 at 12:36 am

    How exciting! I look forward to hearing about the end result! I have that book but have yet to cure my own meat. Have always wanted to try making my own mojama though.

    I love your meat cage by the way – what does Drake make of it? :D I’ve seen someone else do something similar, for some kind of ham. He hung it from a tree on his estate. This was from an episode of Marco Pierre White’s Great British Feast, I think.

  • Hungry Gal December 3, 2008 at 1:35 am

    Matt – I wish we were friends and we lived in the same town so that you could make me my one these bad boys. I have been buying brescola at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto for about $8 for about 10 papery thin slices. Now that’s spendy!
    As much as I would like, I can’t make this at home – no garage and our basement smells musty. Good luck!

  • Giff (Constables Larder) December 3, 2008 at 2:27 am

    Matt, I’ve been dying to do this for a while. I’ve been fended off by my wife who is worried that it will smell up our cellar to no end. So what’s the word on scent?!

  • Joy the Baker December 3, 2008 at 2:46 am

    wow! what an adventure! i absolutely love bresaola, but never thought of tackling my own. bravo. i’ll be back to see how it turns out. i love your pictures too!

  • mattwright December 3, 2008 at 5:04 am

    Hungry Gal – If you really want to give it a go, I would suggest buying a cheap old fridge off Craigslist, and using that to cure meat in – a ton of people do that.

    Giff – The scent. It is a deep, rich herby meaty scent. Personally I quite like it. I have to be within about 4ft of it to even get a faint wiff of it. I am guessing that as it cures that smell will drop off. It certainly isn’t a bad smell by any stretch of the imagination, but I wouldn’t make cologne out of it!

  • Donald December 3, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Great job!

    I bought the book as well and I managed to do two slabs of bacon. That was how I go my feet wet.

    How do you plan on slicing it?

  • matt wright December 3, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    Donald – as regards slicing – I was hoping to call on a friend who works in a restaurant.. Hopefully they have a slicer I can use! I certainly don’t want to hack at it with a knife.. this calls for really thin slices! Either that, or talk to a mate who seems to have just about every kitchen gadget under the sun.. hopefully they might have a slicer too.

  • Jos December 3, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Hey Matt,

    I’m excited to hear about how your project turns out. I actually copied you when and we decieded to cure the other eye of round, so I’ll let you know how that turns out. Let’s see, I haven’t done any meat curing at home, but at work I’ve cured tons of hams, bacon, pepperoni, and landjagers. Right now we are working on: proscuitto (which is really just a type of ham), duck proscuitto, and of course bresola.

    Cheers!
    Jos, Butcher @ Sea Breeze Farm

  • gaga December 4, 2008 at 3:58 am

    Wow, that’s really impressive. It looks great and it must be wonderful to finally enjoy all that hard work and patience. It looks fantastic!

  • dp December 4, 2008 at 8:18 am

    I love Charcuterie! Mostly I’ve done fresh sausages, Canandian bacon, the maple-cured bacon and pancetta. Easy to follow instructions and everything has worked out great.

    I’m very interested to see how this recipe works out, as it’s been near the top of my list for a while.

  • Leah December 4, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Wow, Matt – you’re own Bresaola, that’s ambitious. I thought I was a crazy, scratch girl. I like the mesh contraption you’ve got it in, too. Quite crafty. Let me know how turns out. Better yet, send me some ;-) I may just have to follow your lead.

  • Hank December 5, 2008 at 5:49 am

    Nice job. Bresaola is pretty easy because you’ve got one solid piece of meat — harder to rot. When you move on to thick salume in beef bung caps or middles you will need to be a bit more careful. Love the rodent box, BTW.

    I am in the process of curing pork liver and making guanciale from a Mangalista pig, and since ’tis the season, I am planning on snow goose prosciutto and some wild duck soppressata.

    Have fun with this – you are limited solely by your imagination, patience and space. Oh, and do use nitrates; the earthy-crunchy set loves to hate them, but in small amounts such as in Ruhlman’s book they are fine. Incidentally, the “nitrate-free” cured meat you often see have so much celery extract in them that they have higher levels of nitrates than regular salami. Ye. Celery is a natural source of nitrates. Nice, huh?

  • White On Rice Couple December 6, 2008 at 7:49 am

    *wiping our eyes, a million times here*…Are you friggin serious?! Sweeeeet!
    This is just too, crazy, amazing!! LOL, the cage is just bloody brilliant Matt. The cage is fantastic and the perfect solution for the rodent prob. Again, LOL!
    Some call this ambitious, but coming from you, it’s gotta be in your perfectionist blood. We’re not surprised that your skills would lead to this. If only we had colder weather, we ….might, try to make this, but that would be “ambitious” for us. And dammit, we wanna taste it too! Gonna have to find a way up to you when it’s ready…

  • Kairu December 6, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    That looks amazing. I would almost be tempted to try making my own bresaola or prosciutto, but I lack space for an extra fridge. Maybe I should convert the sauna into a combination wine cellar/hanging room.

  • Brooke December 6, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    After getting your email describing the process and reading your post, I think you’re missing one key element: that the cured meat hangs just inches away from the treadmill…Only a foodie would continue his jogs on the treadmill with the vision of cured meat to keep him going. Amazing. You are an inspiration to all of us closet-fanatic home cooks. You make me proud!

  • matt wright December 7, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Kairu – Sauna’s are a waste – meet hanging rooms aren’t! You have a great environment there for hanging meat – even a good way to control the humidity!!! Go do it :D Heck, you can still sit there!

    Brooke – Blimey, yes, I forgot to add that. I jog along just staring away at the hanging beef. It is great. The weight bench is even closer, so I get faint wafts of curing beef there too. It is awesome, but torture at the same time!

  • Alex December 8, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Awesome, can’t wait to see how this turns out. I’ve made pate, rillettes and smoked a few things but curing is definitely on the list.

  • shayne January 17, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    I always dream of curing a pork loin in the fall but when fall gets here I never get it done…maybe some day I will. yours looks…well odd in that cage to tell the truth but in the end it is how it tastes that counts.

  • kdstevens July 11, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Hi,

    Great story. I have the same book and I’ve made bresaola following the recipe — it was excellent. I have another batch in the refrigerator to which I added hot pepper. I’ve also made and cured peperone, tuscan salami, spanish chorizo, and saucisson sec all following the recipes in the book and all turned out great. I have a chunk of pork belly hanging in the shed that will be ready in about a week. Of the uncured meats I’ve made the hot dogs, andoulle, jaegerwurst, and spicy roasted polano sausage, all of which were great, and the sweet italian which wasn’t so great.

    Ken

  • Thomas Walsh April 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Alrighty then, I’m currently curing some Peppered Lonzino, Spicy Soppresata, Hot Coppa and some Duck Prosciutto. I have been in the culinary field for some years and always wanted to learn how to preserve meats properly. I started with Bacon then moved onto curing Duck, and now i cant stop. Luckily i have two restaurants at my disposal which makes thing easier on the production level. My next adventure in curing is going to be Bresaola, and Please keep posting….. Also i have an exstensive library of recipes at my disposal if you would like i can post some here as long as you dont mindor you can email me for them if you would rather….. Thanks Again…

  • mark October 27, 2010 at 6:55 am

    Thank you for your efforts, and support here on your site. I am making one, telling friends and family about my big hunk of raw meat hanging. Enough of that, sorry. I just noticed the couple spots of white mold, and was starting to worry. That’s the initial reason for me finding your blog. Yeeeee Haaaaaaaaa, things are going good. I’m planning on making an incredible antipasto tray for the holiday season, displaying my sausage and the such to all.