I love lamb. Absolutely love it. I will take a lamb chop over a steak any day of the week and don’t even get me started talking about legs of lamb. Oh, wait. Gonna have to, since this is a post all about curing them.
I have been wondering about curing lamb for a while now. A year ago I tried some lamb prosciutto from a local Seattle charcuterie company, and found it to be really quiet special indeed. The only bugger is really that you have a limited market for it. You have to LOVE lamb to like lamb prosciutto – the game flavors get condensed, and with curing you notice the quality of lamb very much – precisely the same way you do with curing pork. Crap goes in and crap will surely come out the other side.
I should mention that I am extremely picky about my lamb. I would rather it didn’t travel from an island half way round the world on a plane just so I munch on it. Sure, New Zealand has some decent enough lamb – but so too does the US, if you focus on small family run farms.
When we talk about prosciutto we automatically think about the pig. I say heck to that.. bloody discrimination that is!. Lambs have back legs too, why don’t we have a go at curing those. Turns out apparently it is a really good idea. I know a few people that are very successful at curing it, and they have really loved the condensed lamby goodness that a few months of drying brings.
My original plans for my good ole leg of lamb was to cure it bone in, classic prosicutto style. When I got the joint in the mail (more on that in a minute), from looking at how the leg was cut, it seemed to make more sense to bone the leg out, and roll it, pancetta style, into a neat bundle. When carefully trimming out the bone, you could see three distinct muscle groups that were really just held together by a thin layer of fat and silverskin, and when these were cleaned up with got three very distinct muscle bundles to cure.
This, as it turns out, was a bit of luck. If I had rolled the leg up, it would have been bloody huge, and a little bit of a nightmare to cure – having three smaller pieces made the whole job much easier, and they should dry a little faster too. This is another good thing, since I lack any kind of patience whatsoever.. (is charcuterie really the best hobby for me then?)
Because juvenile meat tying jokes are far better with a friend, and because she is darn skilled at what she does, Becky Sellengut came over to lend a hand tying up these pieces – and to laugh at how slowly I tie up meat (those chef types you know..). I wish I had got a photograph of Becky hitting one of the pieces with a saucepan, trying to flatten it out to tie better.. but alas I didn’t have a camera in my hand, just some string and a piece of lamb.
So these three muscle bundles got tied up, and they are now in the curing chamber, sitting pretty. I reckon they will take a couple of months to dry out enough to slice and eat. Thankfully not having the bone in the meat will also make this much easier to slice.
Now to talk about where the lamb is from. I like to get all my meat from small farms that do a very good job of animal welfare, and stay clear of hormones and antibiotics. This unfortunately raises the cost of making charcuterie a great deal, but it is something I choose to do, so I don’t bitch about it (I just make less charcuterie, but of a higher quality).
I got an email from Lava Lake Lamb a few months ago, thanks to a tip off from the lovely Jen of Use Real Butter. They asked if I wanted to have a go curing some of their lamb. My naturally picky self immediately looked up everything to do with them, because honestly, I don’t like taking freebies, even if it is top shelf lamb.
So it turns out they are an organic lamb farm over in Idaho. I guess my theory that Idaho is just potato fields and white supremacy groups is now out the window – apparently there is a lamb farm too! Not just any lamb farm I must add. From everything I have read about them (and no, not just their website..) I seriously cannot see how I could agree with their principles any more. They move their lambs around almost a million acres of protected ranch land, giving those little gems an extremely varied diet – not to mention a fantastically healthy lifestyle. Further to this the business is totally non-profit – any profit they do make they put back in to habitat conservation in Idaho. In short, I wouldn’t talk about them on my blog if I didn’t completely believe in what they are doing. And I do.
“How does their lamb taste?” you ask No idea.. this leg is curing, I will hopefully find out in a couple of months!
Home cured lamb prosciutto recipe:
Note: no weights are given because you will have a different weight of meat to me – everything is a percentage of the meat weight, after trimming. For example – say the meat weighs 1226g and we want to find out the amount of salt we need in grams – 1126/100 x 3.8 = 46g
1 half leg of lamb
kosher salt: 3.8%
freshly ground black pepper: 1.4%
freshly chopped rosemary: 1%
cure #2: 0.25%
crushed juniper berry: 0.4%
If the leg is bone-in you need to remove the bone. Run your fingers over the meat to work out the direction of the bone. Cut along the line of the bone, where it feels closest to the surface of the meat. Open the meat up with your fingers, and make another cut in to the opening, just to one side of the bone. Keep going all the way round till you trim the bone out.
Trim away anything that doesn’t look too tasty – large pieces of silver skin, large pieces of fat and any glands you see can all go in the trash. If some of the large muscle groups are only held together by a thin piece of silverskin or fat, trim them into separate pieces.
Weigh all the meat.
Mix up your cure ingredients, based on the weight of the meat.
Rub the cure ingredients into the meat, all over. I find this easiest to do in a large zip lock bag – that way you don’t loose any of the cure on the counter top.
Seal up the bag, and bung it in the fridge for 15 days or so.
Rinse off the cure ingredients, and pat dry with paper towels. Let the meat sit on a rack at room temp for 30 minutes to an hour.
If the leg is in separate pieces, deal with each piece separately. Roll the meat into a very tight tube, making sure you have no air gaps in the middle of the meat. Tie this extremely tightly. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure there are no air voids inside the roll, and it is tied tightly. Air pockets will breed bacteria, and spoil the meat.
For information on how to tie up a whole muscle like this – you can watch this video I took of me tying up the recent lonzino. Exactly the same process!
Hang at 50F and about 75% rH for two months, or until the meat feels firm throughout.
Just thought I would post a quick picture showing my setup for the shot at the start of this post. Observe the dumbell holding up a piece of wood, holding up the backdrop. Not sexy, but it works!
Next post I will do a total breakdown of this shot, including the post production work!