May 21 2007

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.

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