Sunday, 20 May 2012

Spicy Lonzino

(The casing of the Leviathan)

Before I take the plunge and cure a full-on pork leg (which is always the dream), I thought I'd try something a bit less demanding. The charcuterie equivalent of the shallow end if you will. Lonzino – cured pork loin – seemed like the perfect choice. So I had a go and it worked well, it was porky and junipery, slightly salty, and extremely delicious. I wanted to make some more. As luck would have it, I was in Waitrose at the weekend and I picked up a two kilogram pork loin on offer for half price. Challenge accepted!

I thought I'd aim for a slightly spicy lonzino this time. Not 'makes grown men cry and destroys all life within a 2-mile radius' spicy, but something with a little bit of fire in its belly. A Google search turned up a few recipes, the authors of which all concluded, "it's not really as spicy as I wanted". Most of these recipes involved rolling the loin in chili powder or cayenne before casing in a beef cap. In his blog, Jason at Cured Meats suggested adding the chilli powder to the cure to infuse some heat, in addition to coating before hanging. That sounded like it was worth a try. As I don't have a smoker yet (though Adam over at The Sausage Jockey has found a good bit of kit), I also thought I'd add some smoked paprika to add an extra dimension. Here is the recipe I came up with (the ingredients are given as a percentage weight of the pork loin).

Spicy Lonzino

Ingredient Weight (%)
Pork loin
Cure #2
Black pepper
Smoked paprika (hot)
Cayenne pepper

All the ingredients were mixed together and pressed onto the loin to cover it. The coated loin and any cure that didn't stick were put into a zip-lock bag, sealed, and put into the fridge to cure for 10 days. Every other day I flipped the bag over to allow the extracted liquid to move around and massaged the cure through the bag.

After 10 days I removed the loin from the bag. I washed the majority of the cure off, dried it off with paper towels and set on a rack to dry for 2–3 hours. I also took my beef cap out and cut it to about 4" longer than the loin. The cap was then rinsed to remove the salt, and left it to soak in a bowl of water while the pork was drying.

Timmy wasn't too keen on
his new football socks 

When the pork was dry I dredged it all over with cayenne pepper so that it was completely covered. I then added some chili flakes for good measure (about 2 teaspoons). Next came the hardest part: stuffing a 2.5 kg pork loin into the beef cap. The beef cap is shown on the right. They're pretty stretchy, but even so, it was a mighty struggle. I took some photos during the process, but they honestly look like scenes from a slasher movie. Keep at it, you'll get there eventually. I think it took me a good 10–15 min before victory was mine.
The cased Leviathan

The last thing to do was to tie the loin up. Both ends were tied off with bubble knots, and the loin tied along its length, as you would with a roast. This has to be done as tightly as you can. The final step was to prick any air bubbles in the casing with a sterilised needle (heat a needle until red hot; it should sizzle the first time you poke it into the meat). The loin was then hung at room temperature for 36 hours. The casing begins to dry and shrinks tightly around the meat; you can see than the casing has turned translucent. The loin was then weighed and hung in the curing chamber. It should be ready when it's lost around 30% of its starting weight.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Say hello to my little friend!

Imagine my surprise when a large package arrived on my desk today. What could it be? A gift from a well wisher? That box of a certain female celebrity's undergarments that I'd seen advertised on the internet? Perhaps that Nigerian prince had decided to send my the money in cash after I kindly furnished him with my bank details? No, it was far more exciting than all of the above - my new food slicer had arrived! I'd decided to buy a proper one after almost hacking off a finger slicing my home-made bacon. That, and to overcome my endemic laziness.

Behold the Slicer of Champions with Ham Blade
As soon as I got home I unpacked it and set it up in the kitchen. After plugging it in I stood back to admire it. A sunbeam actually shone through the window and illuminated the counter top. I also thought I heard some heavenly singing, as if from far away. It was then that I discovered two of the greatest words of the English language written onto a smaller package: 'Ham Blade'. We'll move on now before someone brings up the alternative name of 'Pork Sword'.

"It's only wafer thin"

I set the slicer to 1mm and tried it out on some of my lonzino. I have to say that it works amazingly well. The lonzino tasted pretty good before, but slicing it thinly takes it to a whole new level. It's much more melt-in-the-mouth; it almost dissolves away. Clearly, buying a meat slicer was a Good Thing.

The window to success...

I then spent a happy half hour finding other foods that could be sliced before the novelty wore off. Best. Half hour. Ever.

Monday, 14 May 2012

My curing chamber

Update: My curing chamber is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet it's maker etc. I'm in the process of assembling a new one from a fridge, rather than a wine cooler. You can read about the various problems I've had on the blog. The original post and update are still below.

When I first announced that I wanted to try my hand at Charcuterie - and that I thought the spare room would make the perfect location for curing meat - I was met with stony silence by my girlfriend. In my mind I thought it would lend a pleasant, rustic feel to the place. My girlfriend thought it would lend a "meaty, slightly corpsey feel to the place" and pointed out that visitors might not really want to go to sleep with hams hanging above the bed or from the wardrobe. I did briefly toy with the response of "Well... I would quite like that.", but decided better of it.

Of course, this discussion took place before I'd properly read up on the conditions actually needed to safely cure meats; namely, somewhere reasonably dark (light turns fats rancid), with a temperature of 10-13 degrees Celsius, relative humidity of 60-70% and a good flow of air. The final product you end up with is apparently highly dependent on these conditions. If the temperature or humidity are too high for extended periods your meat may spoil. If the humidity is too low you run the risk of case hardening, where the outside of the meat dries too fast, preventing the centre of the meat from losing moisture, and again your meat will spoil. Your cured meats also need to be protected from any pests or animals that might also want to chow down on the fruits of your labours. So not the spare room then.

Now, traditionally folks across Europe that were curing meat had dark, damp cellars which provided perfect conditions. If you're lucky enough to have a cellar with the appropriate conditions, great, you're all set. The rest of us however need a curing chamber to provide the correct conditions. I found numerous guides on the intertubes giving instructions on how to build a curing chamber. Good guides can be found here and here. I take no responsibility for the consequences if you do decide to pimp/convert an entire fridge-freezer unit.

My curing chamber is an old wine fridge. I bought it on eBay for half the price of a new one. It maintains a constant temperature of 12 degrees Celcius. Here you can see a lone lonzino hanging in the chamber, along with my digital thermometer/hygrometer, and humidity control beads in trays at the bottom.
     As luck would have it the humidity under the stairs in my flat (where the chamber is located) varies between 55 and 60%, so the humidity only needs to be raised a little to be in the 'butter zone' (as the Mythbusters would say). As you'd expect, once meat is hanging in there the humidity increases, coupled with the beads this gives pretty good humidity of 65-70%. The beads are meant for use in cigar humidors; I bought mine here.
     I should add that the fridge is connected to a timer and is turned off three times a day for 15 min. The fridge has no defrost cycle (not being designed to store meat), so the heat exchanger and fan are prone to icing up; the timer stops this happening by letting them warm slightly.

So far I've hung lonzino, pancetta, and duck prosciutto in here to cure, with reasonable success. I tend to check on the contents every day to make sure everything is ok (mould spots or the like).

Update: I've had some problems with case hardening using this setup; see the post here for details.

I have changed things somewhat, and it's still in a state of flux really. I've looped two length of muslin over the rack at the back and use them like curtains, pulling them across to shield everything from the direct flow of the fan (basically they act as air diffusers). In addition, I initially had the 'curtains' with their ends in a container of saturated salt solution. They acted as wicks, sucking moisture up, which was then evaporated by the fan.

This had mixed success. I found the interior was too moist (if it's not one thing it's another...). Also, the salt crystallises out on the muslin, forming a stiff, salty sheet (no jokes please). I have reverted to just having the muslin hanging in the back, but keeping the saturated salt solution in the bottom. I check the chamber in the morning and when I get back from work. It seems to be hovering between 70-75% at the moment. If the RH falls I wet the muslin a bit.

It's far from ideal but I'll persevere with it for the moment.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The beginning

I have been dabbling in charcuterie for a few months now and have been inspired to blog about my experience, mainly by others doing the the same (see the links on the right).

As a guide in this honourable endevour I have the obligatory "Charcuterie" by Ruhlman and Polcyn. If you're even slightly interested in curing meat, go get it - it's pretty much essential reading as far as charcuterie goes. I've also got "Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery" by Jane Grigson which has a plethora of recipes, as does Maynard Davies' "Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer", albeit on an industrial scale.