Sep 24 2005

Salting Meat

The meat and fish are preserved in a dry cure of flavoured salt and saltpetre. Saltpetre is sodium nitrite and in these health conscious days regarded as unsuitable for human consumption. Its dubious origins and old stories of its early collection certainly make one wonder! However it is a good preservative and turns the meat pink. If you are not using it refrigerate the meat during curing. Sea salt is considered the best for curing and preserving but rock salt is quite acceptable. Modern fine table salt contains chemicals to stop lumps forming so is therefore not suitable for curing.


 For 3kg of meat, I suggest belly of pork to start with, mix 500 gms of sea salt with 15 gms sugar, 1 teaspoon of crushed peppercorns, 15 gms juniper berries, 2 dry bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, 2 crushed cloves. Herbs and spices can of course be varied according to taste.


Rub some of the salt mixture well into the pork skin then, turning it over, rub more into the meat making sure no part is missed. Put a handful of salt into an earthenware or plastic bowl or bucket and place the meat on top. Pour over the remaining salt covering it completely.


Cover with a piece of close fitting, boiled wood or a scrupulously clean plate and a heavy weight. Leave in a cool, dark place for four days and up to several weeks if you have used saltpetre. Do check in regularly in these modern days of central heating and double glazing. The longer you leave it the more moisture will be drawn from the meat gradually turning the salt to brine. At first the salt draws the liquid from the meat then the procedure reverses and the salt solution begins to penetrate the meat.


Rinse the meat well before cooking, soaking for a couple of hours. Bring it up to the boil, drain and then simmer gently with herbs etc for about forty minutes for a piece of pork belly, longer for a larger cut. Serve hot with traditional choucroute or crisp savoy cabbage or press it under a heavy weight, slice finely and eat cold with all those pickles, chutneys and preserves.



Chicken Liver Pate



Clean and finely slice the chicken livers discarding sinews. Chop shallot and crush a clove of garlic. Melt a knob of butter in a heavy pan with a splash of olive oil. This will stop the butter burning. Soften the shallot, don’t let it colour, add the garlic and livers and turn quickly in the hot pan for two or three minutes. The livers should be sealed but still pink. Add a good pinch of fresh dried herbs, not the packet that has been sitting on the shelf for years and turned to grey dust! Stir again and flame with brandy or stir in a little red wine. Take off the heat and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whiz everything up briefly in a food processor and scrape with a spatula into a small terrine. Melt plenty of butter in a clean pan and, strictly speaking clarify it, once melted, through muslin. Pour it over the pate making sure there is enough to make a perfect seal. Refrigerate. Leave for at least three days to mature. It will keep for several weeks. Once the seal is broken eat within a couple of days. Serve it with crisp plain biscuits or toast and a glass of red wine. 


Fruit Leathers


Peel about 2kg of apples, pears or quince etc. Save peel and pips and tie in muslin cloth. Put everything in a heavy pan with 300ml water and cook till soft.. When soft remove the bag of peel etc, weigh the cooked fruit, place in a rinsed pan with an equal amount of sugar. Boil again stirring all the time till stiff and almost sticking to the pan. It will bubble and spit so cover your hand with a cloth. Pour a very thin layer onto a baking tray, which you have lined with greaseproof paper, and leave to dry. The airing cupboard is a good place for this! Turn regularly. After several weeks a crystal crust will appear on the surface and it is said to keep for up to two years! But you can cut into squares, sprinkle with sugar and eat it all after about 12 hours, it’s so delicious. Or, if you’re more restrained, store it in a plastic box covered in granulated sugar. That way you have wonderful flavoured sugar as well.



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