This week our Urban chefs got together to expand their knowledge of smoking and curing with the wonderful Steven Lamb, from River Cottage. We thought we’d share some of our experiences and new ideas, plus it was too exciting to not shout about!
Back in the Japan Edo era, in a small village, something incredible happened – food time travel. Yes, we can’t believe it either, but one villager made the brave decision to not eat their skipjack tuna straight away but to salt, smoke and hang it in a tree – not just for a couple of days or weeks but an entire year. He had curated Katsuobushi, the first ever cured and matured meat, now known as bonito flakes. It was as if he was a food time traveller!
But how can we prove this? Well, this individual had also created a culinary instrument to deal with the tuna, similar to a truffle shaver, which allowed the villagers to take shavings and add it as a condiment to their miso broth and it was then that they’d discovered a whole new flavour.
So what is curing & smoking and how can you do it?
One way to wet cure is to create a salty brine, with whatever seasoning you fancy – you can be creative with this.
You simply need 2 litres of water, 3% salt to the weight of the meat, and a big bowl. You can then place the meat into the liquid, along with your chosen seasoning. The salt will draw the liquid out of the fresh meat, in slightly more scientific terms, osmosis relaxes the muscle filaments in the meat and the brine then sits within the muscles.
The result, after just four hours, was a deliciously succulent breast of chicken with a crisp seasoned coating.
Steven brought some of his delicious home cured bacon for tasting, whilst explaining a few truths behind commercial bacon - which are far from tasty. We heard examples of water & salt being injected into pork, flavoured with bacon and made safe by adding nitrates, which just goes to show that you aren’t always getting what you expect when buying meat on a large scale.
Anyhow, let’s not dwell on the truth of commercial bacon but shine the light on how you can make your own bacon instead... once again you need 3% salt to the weight of the meat, along with the traditional seasonings of juniper, pepper, bay leaves and demerara sugar. It then needs to be left for 3 days per 500g, or you could leave it for over a year and it would still be fantastic bacon for your Saturday morning sarnie.
Not only did the chefs get to prepare the bacon for curing but also chorizo, another delicious dry cured meat from Boston butts, which even involved using a sausage maker. It proved to be a little tricky to get the hold of tying the sections off though.
At below 30°C, with the help of a clever cardboard box (Add link), you can flavour and preserve using just smoke. There are lots of different options of hard woods to use ranging from beech to cherry. We smoked the already delicious Black Cow Vodka cheese, for four hours. However, this clever box can burn up to 16 hours.
You shall have a fishy on a little dishy...but first it needs smoking. What’s really important here is that you want to agitate the flesh of the mackerel rather than curing it. You do this by sprinkling salt on both sides of the mackerel, and leave it for a few minutes until you can see it look a bit sweaty – the salt can then be rinsed off under cold water and be patted down.
Now, for the fun bit, simply put a small amount of wood dust underneath tin foil, with the mackerel on top creating and then another layer of tin foil to create a steaming atmosphere – resulting in a deliciously smoked mackerel.
Wait, so what’s aging?
Bresaola, made with beef, dark sugar, black pepper, garlic, chilli, coriander seeds, bay leaves and citrus flavourings throughout. It is then dry cured for 3 days per 500g. Now the bit you want to know, after the correct number of curing days it will need to be patted dry and then aged. This is when the meat has lost 30% of its original weight.
Now, we don’t know about you but we’re super excited for you to try them out and bring the bacon home. Keep your eyes peeled for what our chefs will be curating for you too.
Warm Hugs x