Ok, not so beer related, but that just goes to show that rather than being the preserve of alcoholic geeks alone, brewing has a natural home with baking, cooking generally, curing, salting, smoking etc. All things I love.
This story starts some weeks ago, christmas shopping in Tesco. I noticed that they had enormous legs of ham for only €26, which I believe was half price. The thing weighed over 8KG! The tiny cogs in my brain began to turn. I had been itching to try something from the book “preserved” by Jonny Acton and Nick Sandler, which is quite a funny read. There’s more going on between those two than meets the eye. Anyway they had a super simple looking recipe for cured dried ham, similar method to Prosciutto di Parma, or Jamon Serrano in Spain. I recently read an article about the niceties of Serrano, and there is far more to it than this, but it’s not a bad start. The pigs hang out in beautiful meadows and eat about 7KG of acorns a day, before going to slaughter, or “sacrifice” as the locals call it. Well worth a read.
Anyway that stuff gets salted for only 1 day per kilo, and then dried for up to 3 years! Acton and Sandler recommend 5 days per kilo, and then 3-6 months air drying. Anyway here is a pic of my raw ingredients. After much cajoling with the lady in the wine shop, I managed to procure a wine box. She was none too impressed at my project, “so you mean you’re just going to use this once? Will you have to throw it away then?” She uses these to store stuff and was loathe to indulge my uncertain experiments. I promised her some ham, which seemed to work.
Of course I needed salt. Unfortunately, I attempted this in early january, when Ireland was in deep freeze, well, about the same level of freeze that most other countries get in winter. But we’re just not used to it. Some bozos had bought every grain of cheap salt in the supermarkets to salt their driveways, because the local councils had run out. I eventually got some, because they forgot to look in the local fancy shop which had kilos of fancy italian sea salt for only 1.50 or so. Haha!
The salt mix is a mixture of salt, sugar and saltpeter. Now I had previously only known of saltpeter from playing civilisation (the life destroying computer game) where you have to discover saltpeter before you can build gunpowder units and smite your enemies. Saltpeter (potassium nitrate) is a component in gunpowder, but also a useful food preservative. It is saltpeter that gives cured ham its pleasing red hue. Unfortunately, you can’t really buy it anywhere for obvious reasons. I feared the worst, I live in Ireland, surely I couldn’t just mail order some from the UK? What if I was a terrorist? Anyway it turns out they have bigger fish to fry these days, and I picked some up for next to nothing from these guys, who posted it promptly. So I mixed up all the ingredients , spread a little on the bottom, sat the ham on and spread the rest over it, paying particular attention to where the bones emerge. I popped the lid on and left it. One thing that johnny and nick didn’t mention was that a fair amount of liquid comes out of the ham. and I hadn’t allowed for that. It drips out through the seams of the box, more like ooze, it’s very clear but there’s a lot of the salt dissolved so it’s quite thick. I eventually sat the whole thing on a plastic box to catch the liquid. When it’s had it’s 40 odd days, in about a week, you make a kind of wash involving a red wine reduction, and wash the salt off the ham, smear it with pork fat, wrap it up with muslin and in a paper bag and hang it for 3-6 months. If it works I may splash out on a proper pig leg, perhaps from the super Rigny’s farm down near Limerick. Patience people!