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The use of salt in curing and sausage making

Curing in its many facets is becoming the next ‘big thing’ in the world of home self sufficiency. Salt is the cornerstone to curing and sausage making, so we discuss the options.

Curing in its many facets is becoming the next ‘big thing’ in the world of home self sufficiency. Even though these days we do not need to cure simply to keep meat edible for long periods, most curing is about flavour. After all, sliced pork and eggs doesn’t quite do the business when a good slice of bacon certainly does.

 

 

One of the reasons why people have a go at curing is to reproduce some of the products they enjoy from supermarkets and delicatessens. One of the biggest questions we are asked is, “How do I make a Parma ham.” Such questions safe me to death and I always ask how much curing they have done, and usually the reply prompts me to say, ” Let’s start with a bit of bacon and work our way up.”

 

 

Curing is both easy and challenging at the same time. On the one hand it is easy to apply salt to some meat, and yet quite another to know exactly what is happening and if you are going to get a good product. Like everything else it takes experience, but that doesn’t mea you can’t do it!

 

 

You might not have a pig, but you can still make bacon!

 

 

It’s all about salt!

 

 

Salt preserves in many ways. First of all it is poisonous to microbes, but only mildly so. But more importantly salt has an amazing attraction for water. Every school pupil knows about osmosis, how water will travel through a membrane to dilute a strong solution. High concentrations of salt makes a very strong solution indeed and will draw water from muscles so effectively that it will become impossible for microbes to live on it. Consequently, salt preserves meat and fish.

 

 

However, there are some microbes, in particular Clostridium botulinum (the hint is in the name), that can survive in meat even though it has been salted. Other types of salt, namely Potassium nitrate and Potassium nitrite are needed to render meat to be totally safe.

 

 

Potassium narrates and nitrites are kind of lumped together under the name Saltpetre, and this is added to sea salt or Kosher salt in specific amounts. The level of nitrates and nitrites in food is strictly controlled for public health reasons.

 

 

What version of ‘ordinary salt’ should I use for curing?

 

 

You can use any salt, but avoid table salt, which contains anti caking agents which can affect your product. Also avoid flattered salts – the addition of flavours should come as an extra to your basic cure.

 

 

When do I use nitrates and nitrites?

 

 

You use ‘ordinary salt’ when the product is to be cooked and consumed, or frozen, more or less straight away, so fresh sausages use Kosher or sea salt.

 

 

However, all other curing processes require nitrates and / or nitrites to keep them safe. Also, some German and Eastern European sausages, though fresh and cooked use a little nitrites in order to keep the sausage pink.

 

 

Bacon, ham, bresaola, air dried sausages that are to be eaten uncooked, air dried ham, pancetta all have nitrates and / or nitrites in them.

 

 

When do I use nitrates and when do I use nitrites and nitrates and what is Prague Powder?

 

 

Prague Powder is a mixture of ‘ordinary salt’ and nitrates and or nitrites. They are still used in many countries, and are coloured pink so you do not confuse them with table salt.
There are two mixes, #1 for meats that will be cooked and #2 for all the rest. You have to mix them with ‘ordinary salt to make the cure.

 

 

In order to use Prague Powder you need to add it to Kosher salt or Sea salt. Each recipe will vary but to cure 1.5 Kg of meat you will typically need to mix 23 g Kosher salt to 3.8 g Prague Powder.

 

 

Some recipes will vary on this, probably with less nitrates, since this is the treed for modern curing.

 

 

Prague Powder #1
One of the most common curing salts. It is also called Pink curing salt #1. It contains 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% kosher salt. It is recommended for meats that require short cures and will be cooked and eaten relatively quickly. Sodium nitrite provides the characteristic flavour and colour associated with curing.

 

Prague Powder #2
Also called Pink curing salt #2. It contains 6.25% sodium nitrite, 4% sodium nitrate, and 89.75% table salt. It is recommended for meats that require long (weeks to months) cures, like hard salami and country ham.

 

 

Curing Salt

 

 

Curing salts, of which there are many types and brands, has the correct amount of nitrates and / or nitrites added, and on the whole are safe and easy to use. It is easy to make mistakes when adding small amounts of Prague powder to a larger amount of salt. A small discrepancy with the nitrate can render your food over the limit for permissible nitrates!

 

 

Curing salts are therefore easy and safe to use.

 

 

When buying your salt, speak to the dealer and tell them what you want to do, they will advise the best salt to use for that recipe. On the whole, where you see a recipe that calls for X g Kosher salt and Y g Prague Powder #1, simply add them together and use that amount of curing salt.

 

 

What do I need for home curing?

 

 

Actually surprisingly little.

 

 

First of all you need a container in which you actually do your curing. I use a variety of food grade plastic buckets and boxes, but you can use earthenware and stoneware. Avoid metals where you can.

 

 

Your container should have a lid on it which forms a complete seal. It should also be easy to sanitise.

 

 

Scales are important. You need them to be able to measure to an accuracy of 0.1 g if possible. Certainly no more than 1 g. Also you will need to measure the weight of your meat, which could be quite a lot in some cases.

 

 

You need sharp knives, a slicing knife is perfect, but a pairing knife would be useful, but is optional.

 

 

And that’s that! If you want to make sausages, which we will come on to in another article, you need a grinder and a stuffer for sausages.

 

 

If you want to make bacon, you can slice it thinly with a knife, but once you get the bug for making bacon (and I guarantee you will if you try it) you will want to buy a bacon slicer – which is useful for more than just cutting rashers. These machines scare me to death, so do be careful!

 

 

So, what to start curing?

 

I get lots of emails from people who want to make their own version of Parma Ham in their own kitchen, and have never cured anything before. Similarly you get lots of people wanting to air dry chorizo.

 

 

If that is you, please modify your thoughts. Such processes are achievable, but not without a little experience. It is much better to start curing a piece of pork to make some dry cured bacon.

 

So, how to make bacon

Let us assume you have bought a large pork loin of about 2 Kg (Actually that is very large, but you’ll get the idea).

 

 

What you need

 

 

The meat (obviously)

 

 

Curing salt, something like Supacure, which is already mixed with the right amount of nitrite.

 

 

A container with a lid.

 

 

A knife.

 

 

A calendar.

 

 

Sterilise your container, I use baby sanitisation tablets.
Remove any skin from the pork (Though you can leave it on if you really want to – this increases the maturing stage.

 

Weigh out the salt. Now this cure is going to be done twice. Normally Supacure is used at 5% of the weight of meat, but we are going to do it in two lots of 2.5%. 

You need 2.5% of 2 Kg, which is 50 g.

 

Add to this 50 g of any sugar you like and mix well.

 

Rub the cure mix all over the meat, getting into every nook and cranny.

 

Place the meat in your container and put the lid on. Pop it in the warmest part of your fridge for 3 days.

You will see liquid collecting in the container – this is normal.

 

After 3 days, remove the bacon from the container and wash it under a tap, and rinse out the container too.

 

Pat dry with a clean cloth and then repeat steps 3) to 6) leaving the meat in for another 3 days.

 

After this time, runs the meat again, clean out the container and pat dry. Put the meat back into the container and back into the fridge for 2 – 3 days for the salt to permeate all the meat.


Thats’s it! You have made your first bacon.

 

Cut what you need and freeze the rest. I tend to slice the whole bacon and then vacuum seal them as individual meals, and into the freezer they go.

 

 

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