Project Porker: The Curing

packaged pork 1

I bought a pig from a local farm for a few reasons:  I want to support local agriculture, I love the versatility of pork, and I enjoy learning how to cure my own foods.  Another reason I wanted to try a local pig was freshness.  I’ve never bought pork that didn’t come in a plastic bag or under plastic wrap.  That freshness could work against me, though, so for a couple days last week I spent my time trimming and curing.

The easiest to start with was the guanciale. Guanciale is made from the cheeks and jowls of hog, a part that I never would have known to ask for were it not for the recipe provided in Charcuterie.  The cuts are about the size of a  beef steak, but they need to be trimmed of the lymph glands.  Having never sought out lymph glands before, I had to learn what to look for.  My first surprise was their abundance, and the second was their distribution.  It took some effort to track them all down.

The cure consists of salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorns and thyme.  I was pleased to use garlic and thyme out of the garden.  I rubbed the cure generously over both of the jowls and put everything into a plastic zip-top bag which went into the fridge, and have been flipping the bags every couple of days, making sure the meat stays in contact with the cure.  After almost a week, they are ready to be hung for drying.

The next cuts to get the business were the tenderloins.  They were smaller by about half than what you might buy at the grocery store, so I adjusted the recipes accordingly.  One loin was to be dinner and the other Canadian bacon.

packaged porkFor the spice rub, I used ground pepper, cayenne, chili powder, ground coriander, dark brown sugar, oregano, paprika and salt.  I rubbed the spices thoroughly into the tenderloin and tossed it into a bag to refrigerate and marinate for a couple of days.  I cooked it outside on the grill over indirect low heat to bring it slowly up to temperature.  The loin recipe called for hot smoking the loin to cook it, but I didn’t have the patience to set up the smoker, and the pan of chips I put on the grill didn’t put out much smoke while the loin was on.  The finished dish was tasty, but didn’t have the smoked flavor I hoped for.

The other loin was brined in a solution of water, salt, sugar, sage, thyme and garlic.  The recipe also called for pink salt (nitrites) which I decided to leave out.  I was stoked again to use our own sage, thyme and garlic in this brine.

The loin was submerged in the brine for about three days before I removed it and placed it on an open rack in the fridge.  It now has a nice pellicle and is ready to be hot smoked.

I had two bellies to work with, again about half the size of what you’d get from the store.  One belly was dedicated to pancetta, which is cured, rolled and dried.  The other belly I cut in half so I could do a “plain” bacon and a savory bacon, both of which will be smoked.

I veered pretty far away from the original recipe for the bacon, which called for salt, sugar and pink salt.  Last time I made bacon I used salt, dextrose and pink salt.  The dextrose is really meant for dried cures, like salami, which bacon isn’t.  I think it made the bacon sweeter but it also seemed to brown and blacken (caramelize) faster when cooked, which I didn’t like.

This time I intentionally left out the pink salt and dextrose, but I simply neglected to include granulated sugar.  Essentially, I dredged both belly halves in salt, put one into a zip-top bag as “plain”, then added garlic (from the garden!), bay leaves and peppercorns to the another and called it “savory”.  I put them in the fridge and flip them every couple of days  They’ll be ready to be smoked very soon.

PancettaPancetta is basically rolled and dried bacon that’s seasoned but unsmoked, so its treatment was similar to the bacon, but also included garlic and thyme (from the garden!), dark brown sugar, ground pepper, bay leaves, nutmeg and juniper berries.  I added about half the amount of pink salt suggested.  I’m a little concerned because pancetta is rolled before it is dried, which seems to me would increase the chance of a cure going bad.  I decided to use a little bit of nitrite just to hedge my bets, perhaps for no good reason.  I’ve been flipping the pancetta in its zip-top bag to keep the cure in contact with the meat.  Soon it will be ready to be rolled and tied up, then hung to dry.

Most of the cuts required little to no trimming, but the hams needed some work:  Both needed to have the hip bone removed (the “aitch” bone).  It took a few minutes per ham, but it wasn’t too difficult to trim off the meat around the bones to expose the hip joint, which was then severed.  I took both of these bones and the spine and turned them into pork stock.

The two hams received the usual treatment:  Liberally salted and rubbed, stuffed into a kitchen garbage bag and refrigerated with pressure applied (in this case, all of the other curing meats were stacked on top).  I’ve been rotating them like everything else.  They’ll probably need another application of salt and another week in the cold before I’ll hang them.  The country ham will be smoked and dried, but the pancetta will simply be dried, both for nine months or more.

Finally, the hocks.  Lacking any sense of creativity, I simply applied a liberal amount of salt, put them into a zip-top bag and refrigerated them, rotating the bag every couple of days.  Sound familiar?  I think these might need another dose of salt, too, before they’re hot smoked and ready for use in beans, soups, stews, etc.

Though I wanted to Q them fresh, I ran out of time and chose to freeze the baby back ribs.  I also froze the Boston butts, but they’ll all get what’s comin’ to them soon enough.  Just as soon as I get us some applesauce, we’ll try the chops.

“Yeah, right, Lisa, a wonderful, ‘magical’ animal… hehehe”

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