Category Archives: Pork

Prosciutto, Parma, Serrano, Iberico, Bayonne: A dry cured ham by any other name hopefully tastes as sweet.

Last fall, along with three other people, I bought a Red Wattle pig. I was actually part of a larger group of 12 people who bought three little piggies. We bought them when they were not yet ready for market and still happily being fattened by the farmer. Of course, when we took delivery, our pig came to us all nicely packaged according to our specifications and ready for eating. This was the second time we did this and we learned a great deal our first time. Namely, we learned that 4 people is just the right number for pig sharing. We also learned something about each other.

First time around, Our Fearless Leader  and organizer broke us up into teams based on our preference regarding the form in which we wanted to receive our pig. To figure this out he asked us to answer these questions:

(A) Am I a “Just gimme my Pork” type of person? 
 
OR
 
(B) Am I a “Just gimme my Pig” type of person?
 
Brilliant! And, obviously, NO, I am not a wuss. The “just gimme my pork” folks had their bacon cured, their hams cured and their sausage made for them by the processor which the farmer hired. They were not interested in offal, either. Me, on the other hand, I definitely want my pig unground, uncured and butchered in a way that leaves me plenty of options.

From those first pigs, I cured a whole mess of bacon and guanciale (pork jowl) for my team and a few other folks. It came out fabulous and we ate gourmet BLT’s with micro greens and homegrown tomatoes all the late summer long. We were blown away by how good bacon could be.

Wanting to learn about charcuterie, I took the liver and I made homemade braunschweiger. The first batch ended up in Sadie’s dish but the second batch came out really good – we ate it all up. Then I tried my hand making boudin blanc – a wonderful, mild white sausage made from a mix of chicken, pork and cream. What could be bad. My family at that up in a hurry! After we got the Red Wattle, I invited a group of guys from the buying group over to my house and we had a sausage making party. You can read all about it here. We made all sorts of wonderful things including two kinds of salami, chorizo and bratwurst. Even after that, I still had a little sausage meat left so I combined it with some humanely raised, pastured veal to make bockwurst. We have been dining on that for a while and it is delicious!

With that first pig, even though we were the only group who said “gimme my pig” it was decided (not by me) that the hams would be cured at the processor. I didn’t really care because I don’t eat ham…unless it is dry cured, prosciutto type ham. The other ham is just yucky to me. I find it to be watery, salty, squishy and generally unappealing. Even our super pure, all natural, ham that came from our happy pig was not something I wanted to eat. I ended up trading mine to another team member for some other pig parts.  I must admit, I regretted not having been able to convince my teammates to let me make the ham into prosciutto.

With my Red Wattle team, however, it was different. Folks were happy to let me take control of one entire leg for dry curing. How exciting to me that I was going to be able to push my charcuterie skills further. I did my reading and my studying and I contacted my friend Josh Galliano, an incredibly talented, generous, kind and very cute local chef. Josh agreed that he would show me the ropes with the ham. Being the really lucky one, I got to spend an afternoon in the kitchen at Monarch restaurant, an experience that energizes and inspires me. While I was waiting for instruction and because I am not one who can hack standing around doing nothing, Josh willingly set me to work cleaning and chopping vegetables for a broth that he was going to use in one of the evening’s offerings. In between doing the myriad of things an executive chef has to do, he showed me how to remove the aitch bone from the meat without destroying the whole joint. Josh coached me in the proper way to trim up the meat and skin to make it ready to look like a prociutto.  Finally, he gave me lessons on how to apply the cure to the meat to make the ham ready to be transformed into a dry cured delicacy. This is a process that will, when all is said and done, take at least 9 months.

The first stage of the process is one in which the meat, coated with a cure made of kosher salt and a little bit of a chemical called instacure #2, is weighted and refrigerated. The length of the refrigeration is based on the weight of the fresh ham. Our 20 pound clod calculated out to 40 days during which time I drained the box in which the weighted ham sat of all liquid that appeared over the 40 days.  This amounted to quite a bit! I also continually moved things around to make sure that the weights I had place on the ham (6 saran wrapped bricks) were evenly doing their work. The purpose of this is to compress the flesh so as to help the liquid to leave the meat and, in the meantime, to achieve that nice square, compact prociutto-like shape. When I took the meat out of the fridge at last, it had lost nearly 2 pounds.

After that 40 days, the second stage began. For this stage, I had been monitoring the temperature of a closet that is located just inside of my garage where there is no heat. I ascertained that the temperature ranged between 45F and 55 F. This I learned was an excellent environment for the drying of a ham. So, I took the ham and hung it up in that very cold closet. I checked on the ham regularly just to make sure nothing bad was happening. I photographed the ham and sent the photo to Josh to get his reassurance. Everything was going well. The ham needed to stay there for three months. Here is what the ham looks like right now.

Pretty gross looking, eh? On the other hand, it smells really nice and I have a really good feeling about the quality of dry cured meat we are going to be eating in a few months. For now, the second stage is over (i.e. three months have now elapsed) and the ham must go into its third and final stage of curing.

Here is how it works. A towel moistened with salt water is used to rub the ham down and to take off the stuff that has accumulated on the outside of the meat. A mixture of lard and rice flour is prepared. This “sugna,” as it is called, is rubbed on the exposed part of the meat – that part not covered with skin. Some people recommend putting cracked peppercorns on the outside of the lard, believing that this keeps away bugs. My mentor Josh has not recommended this. The whole thing is then wrapped with cheese cloth (to keep the lard in place, more or less. Then, the ham is again going to be hung to age further – but this time, due to the change of seasons, the temperature will be rising as high as 55-65F in the closet.

Here are a few photos of me getting ready to hang the ham up for its third and final stage:

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Filed under Cooking, Dry Cured Ham, Lard, Pork, Preserving, Prociutto

Oh Lard, its Pi Day

It being 3/14 today, there is lots of twitter (@fabfoodfanatic) on the internet about PI Day. So, in honor of this special occasion, which only comes around once a year, I thought that I would tell you my political views about pie crust.

I make it with lard, the old fashioned way.

WHAT’S THAT YOU SAID? I said lard!

No, I don’t buy that stuff in the store – feh! never. I make said lard by rendering pure pork back fat in my kitchen. This is very easy to do. Pork back fat is the solid, snowy white fat that comes off of the back of the pig.

I get that fat whenever I buy a mess of pig, which I do every now and then. I am lucky enough to be part of a group of fellow food fanatics who, like me, only want to eat locally grown and processed, organic, small farm/pasture raised, no chemical or drugs administered, pig. Just like the lamb I talked about in a previous post you get all sorts of interesting things when you buy your food this way. Though, I have to admit, I know to ask for the back fat because I had read about so many delicious things you can do with it! If you don’t have a hankering to buy a pig, you can ask your friendly butcher (hopefully an organic, pasture raised supplier of meat, that is) to get you some.

So, back on the topic of PIE and lard, there are a couple of ways to do it, both pretty simple. The back fat may come to you with or without the pig skin. This is fantastic stuff in its own right but, because you want to keep your lard as pure white as newly fallen snow, you don’t want to leave it on for the rendering. So just take a big ol’ very sharp french knife  and scrape that fat off of the skin. Save the skin for some craklins or other goodies. The first way is to chop up the fat in relatively equal sized small chunks (1 inch dice is good) and the second way is to run the fat through a meat grinder using the large die. Which every you choose, put the fat in a nice sturdy pot. A cast iron dutch oven is good, if you have it, but anything will do so long as you regulate your heat carefully.

For a couple of pounds of back fat – which is the least you want to bother with – put two cups of water in there with it. Heat the fat and water up to just below boiling and then lower the flame until it is barely simmering. You want to watch to make sure the heat is not too high because you must keep the protein and other stuff, which will separate out from the fat, from turning brown. This will discolor your final product and, most important, will make it so your lard tastes just a little too porky. (Porky tasting lard is only good for savory stuff, but not good for sweets like pie.) As the water simmers, the good fat will melt and the water will evaporate. When you have a pot full of just melted fat, with just a small amount of leftover solid matter, you are done. This might take 4-8 hours, so make sure you are available to keep an eye on it. Strain it off into a container that won’t melt so you can store it when it cools down. I use mason jars.

You can freeze your lard and it will keep indefinitely. In the fridge, it will keep up to a year. I also use it to fry eggs, chops, potatoes and so forth. A little bit goes a long way, as my mother used to say.

If you want to know how to make a pie crust with lard, make it like you usually do (from scratch, silly) but just substitute 1/2 to all of the butter you normally use with the lard. Add a teaspoon of white vinegar to your water, too. The more Lard you use, the softer your dough so you have to chill the dough well before you roll it out. It is worth it.

Happy Pi day.

Edit: This morning I received an email from Steve Atkinson who left a comment here too. He reminded me of something that I think is important to pass on to you. Specifically what he said is that “free-range pork lard is the food with the largest amount of Vit. D after cod liver oil—important during the winter months.” Thanks again Steve! You can find more great information on what Steve does by clicking on his name above.

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Filed under Cooking, Lard, Pie, Pork