Curing meat is not the same thing as cooking it. While both rely on salt, sugar, and nitrates to help preserve and flavor the meat, there are some crucial differences in how they go about doing so. Curing involves a two-step process that takes place over some time between the salting and then the drying stages. The salt will not only add flavor but also prevent bacterial growth, while sugar will add sweetness after it has been cooked out during the drying stage.
If you want to cure meat yourself, without buying processed ingredients, let’s see what you can do.
Its Highness – Salt
The first step of curing meat is to sprinkle it with large amounts of salt – up to 1 cup per pound. There are different ratios and recipes that people use, but this one tends to be the most popular out there. It provides more than just flavor: salt is what protects you from harmful bacteria while curing meats and creates an environment where the meat does not spoil.
The salt penetrates the meat and then bonds with all of its proteins – primarily myosin and actin which make up muscle fibers. The result of a successful curing process is a chunk of meat that will stay fresh without going bad for up to a year.
Another simple way to make use of salt is by using it as a preservative: place your meats directly on a bed of rock salt and then cover with a cloth or some other porous material until they are ready to be cooked. This works particularly well when making jerky because the salinity levels have been measured just right so that the meat does not become too tough to chew.
Types of Salt
When curing meats, you don’t want to use table salt as kosher and sea salts are far preferable because they contain more minerals than table salt ever could (this means they add additional flavor as well). The only downfall is that once you cure meat with these types of salt, you cannot use table salt anymore without affecting the taste.
If you don’t like other types of salt but table one is all you can find, try to mix it with some other type of salt that is not iodized. It won’t be the same as using proper curing salt, but at least your meat will taste better than if you used table salt alone.
Another common ingredient used in curing meats is sugar because all of the moisture from the meat is going to be dried out. Therefore, if you add sugar or fruit juice in between the salting and drying process, the result will have a richer taste.
You can also add juniper berries or bay leaves.
Sodium nitrate is added if you’re curing meat in large quantities. Because it is extremely potent, you should use no more than 2 tablespoons per 5 pounds of meat.
Poking Holes in Meat
It might sound a little strange at first but there is a good reason behind this: wounding your meat before you place it in a bag full of salt draws out some of the blood that may still clump up inside your selected cut of beef or pork. The holes also help air circulate your meat while curing it – just make sure that you don’t go overboard with this step since too many holes may cause the meat to lose its natural juices.
Once you have stuffed your meat with salt and sugar, it is safe to store it in a place that is dry and cool. If you don’t happen to have a refrigerator or a cellar, then a basement will do as long as the temperature stays below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C). This area has to be dark also, as you don’t want the light to come anywhere near your meat since this can make them spoil more quickly – especially if they are still red in the middle.
You can keep meats like this for eight to ten days, but if you plan on keeping your cured pieces of meat for over six months, there is one thing you should do before placing them inside your fridge or freezer: vacuum seal them first. From there, store the meat either in the fridge at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit or else in the freezer where it stays at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Curing meats is a two-step process that includes salting and then drying. Salt not only adds flavor but also prevents bacterial growth and puts meat in an environment where it does not spoil for up to a year.