Archive for the ‘curing’ Category

Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved pork chops and store-bought bacon all my life, it’s only been in the last decade that I’ve learned to appreciate other cuts of pork and how they’re prepared.

Over the years, I’ve learned to cure and smoke my own bacon, from heritage breeds like Berkshire. I’ll make my own pork sausage on occasion. But the need to make a classic Italian dish, genuine spaghetti carbonara, required that I learn how to cure an unusual cut of pork I’ve never used before.

 

In the beginning, I could only find huge jowls that required them to be cut and weighed to mix with the right amount of cure.

Looking at carbonara recipes online, everyone said the same thing: “Though the genuine dish uses a cured cut of pork called guanciale, it’s hard to find so use pancetta or bacon.” Although both pancetta and bacon meats are quite tasty (both come from the belly of the pig…bacon is smoked, pancetta is not) the flavor and texture is not the same as a pork cheek, or jowl. That’s what guanciale is made from. So I needed to find a source.
I started with a local restaurant, the Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. Being a buddy of the owner and chef (and bribing them with alcohol), I asked if they’d order me some jowls. They did, and that worked well for a while. But I didn’t want to keep bothering them every time I wanted more, so I eventually found my own source on line that supplied me with massive jowls weighing many pounds each, as in the photo above. They were good, but a pain to work with. Eventually, that company went out of business.
I finally found my go-to pork website: http://www.heritagepork.com. They sell a variety of pork products made from a heritage breed of pig known as Berkshire, also called kurobuta. It’s a delicious breed with wonderful fat that’s healthy and full of flavor. And conveniently, they sell pork jowls in 2-pound packs.
My curing process is simple: sugar, salt, peppercorns, and fresh thyme. I cure the jowls for about 3 weeks. I rinse them once they’ve cured, and pat them dry. Then they’re ready to use for carbonara, ragu bolognese, topping a pizza, or any other delicious recipe that comes my way…and any extra guanciale freezes really well.
Once I made my first batch, there was no turning back!

Pork jowls with a good sprinkling of the cure, ready to be wrapped.

2 lbs. raw pork jowls
1/2 cup basic dry rub (recipe below)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
a handful of fresh thyme sprigs
Combine the dry rub, brown sugar, and peppercorns in a bowl.
On a large work surface, lay down several sheets of plastic wrap, overlapping each other to keep the cure from leaking through to the counter underneath. Sprinkle half of the salt mixture onto the plastic wrap in an area where the jowls will lay. Scatter a half-dozen thyme sprigs on top of the salt mixture. Lay the pieces of pork jowl on top of the salt mix and thyme, then top the jowls with the rest of the salt mix, covering them evenly, and top with more thyme sprigs.
Fold the plastic wrap over the jowls as tightly as you can, pressing the salt mix into the meat. If the wrap is loose, use more wrap to really tighten the salt cure around the meat. Then place the entire pork-wrapped package in a container that will hold the liquid that will ooze out during the curing process. If the plastic wrap still isn’t too tight around the jowls, weigh it down with something heavy to press down on the pork. You really want the salt to make contact with the meat. Place the container in the fridge to cure for 3 weeks.
Every couple of days, remove the weight off the jowls and flip the plastic wrap package over, so that the top is now the bottom. Add the weight and return it to the fridge. You want the cure to get at every part of the pork. Don’t pour off any liquid that forms…it will help the curing process.
In about 3 weeks, the pork jowls will feel firmer. This is a sign they’ve been properly cured. Remove them from the plastic wrap, rinse them thoroughly under cold clean water, then pat them dry with paper towels.

Cured, rinsed and dried guanciale. Cut the jowls into smaller pieces before freezing. A little goes a long way!

At this point, you can cut the jowls (now officially guanciale!) into smaller pieces, wrapping each well and placing them in freezer bags. They will keep in the freezer for a long time.
Many guanciale recipes tell you to hang the meat in the fridge for at least a week after curing, but I haven’t really found the need to do that if I’m keeping them frozen. The drying process keeps the meat from getting moldy, but that’s only if you keep it in warmer temperatures.
The Basic Dry Rub
Every good cure starts with a good dry rub. This one’s extremely simple but requires a special ingredient: pink salt. This is not pink Himalayan salt. This is a very special curing salt that must be used in small amounts. It contains nitrites which will help preserve the meat and give it a good color. Many people get bent out of shape over nitrites these days, so you need to decide whether you want to use pink salt or not. I do, because I don’t eat pounds of guanciale like a lab rat.
1 1/2 cups Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
1/2 cup organic turbinado  sugar
5 teaspoons pink curing salt
Combine these ingredients and mix well. Store it in a tightly sealed plastic bag in your pantry.
Note: the reason I give the brand name for the salt is because all Kosher salt does not weigh the same! A cup-and-a-half of Morton Kosher Salt, for example, will weigh more and will throw off the recipe.
Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved pork chops and store-bought bacon all my life, it’s only been in the last decade that I’ve learned to appreciate other cuts of pork and how they’re prepared.

Over the years, I’ve learned to cure and smoke my own bacon, from heritage breeds like Berkshire. I’ll make my own pork sausage on occasion. But the desire to make a classic Italian dish, genuine spaghetti carbonara, required that I learn how to cure an unusual cut of pork I’ve never used before.

In the beginning, I could only find huge jowls that required them to be cut and weighed to mix with the right amount of cure.

Looking at carbonara recipes online, everyone said the same thing: “Though the genuine dish uses a cured cut of pork called guanciale, it’s hard to find so use pancetta or bacon.” Although both pancetta and bacon meats are quite tasty (both come from the belly of the pig…bacon is smoked, pancetta is not) the flavor and texture is not the same as a pork cheek, or jowl. That’s what guanciale is made from. So I needed to find a source.
I started with a local restaurant, the Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. Being a buddy of the owner and chef (and bribing them with alcohol), I asked if they’d order me some jowls. They did, and that worked well for a while. But I didn’t want to keep bothering them every time I wanted more howls, so I eventually found my own source on line that supplied me with massive jowls weighing many pounds each. (See the photo above.) They were good, but a pain to work with. Eventually, that company went out of business.
I finally found my go-to pork website: http://www.heritagepork.com. They sell a variety of pork products made from the breed of pig known as Berkshire, also called kurobuta. It’s a delicious breed with wonderful fat that’s healthy and full of flavor. And conveniently, they sell pork jowls in 2-pound packs, with 4 1/2-pound jowls in a pack.
My curing process is simple: sugar, salt, peppercorns, and fresh thyme. I cure the jowls for about 3 weeks. I rinse them once they’ve cured, and pat them dry. Then they’re ready to use and any extra guanciale freezes really well.
Once I made my first batch, there was no turning back!

Pork jowls with a good sprinkling of the cure, ready to be wrapped.

 2 lbs. raw pork jowls
1/2 cup basic dry rub (recipe below)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
a handful of fresh thyme sprigs
Combine the dry rub, brown sugar, and peppercorns in a bowl.
On a large work surface, lay down several sheets of plastic wrap, overlapping each other to keep the cure from leaking through to the counter underneath. Sprinkle half of the salt mixture onto the plastic wrap in an area where the jowls will lay. Scatter a half-dozen thyme sprigs on top of the salt mixture. Lay the pieces of pork jowl on top of the salt mix and thyme, then top the jowls with the rest of the salt mix, covering them evenly, and top with more thyme sprigs.
Fold the plastic wrap over the jowls as tightly as you can, pressing the salt mix into the meat. If the wrap is loose, use more wrap to really tighten the salt cure around the meat. Then place the entire pork-wrapped package in a container that will hold the liquid that will ooze out during the curing process. If the plastic wrap still isn’t too tight around the jowls, weigh it down with something heavy to press down on the pork. You really want the salt to make contact with the meat. Place the container in the fridge to cure for 3 weeks.
Every couple of days, remove the weight off the jowls and flip the plastic wrap package over, so that the top is now the bottom. Add the weight and return it to the fridge. You want the cure to get at every part of the pork. Don’t pour off any liquid that forms…it will help the curing process.
In about 3 weeks, the pork jowls will feel firmer. This is a sign they’ve been properly cured. Remove them from the plastic wrap, rinse them thoroughly under cold clean water, then pat them dry with paper towels.

Cured, rinsed and dried guanciale. Cut the jowls into smaller pieces before freezing. A little goes a long way!

At this point, you can cut the jowls (now officially guanciale!) into smaller pieces, wrapping each well and placing them in freezer bags. They will keep in the freezer for a long time.
Many guanciale recipes tell you to hang the meat in the fridge for at least a week after curing, but I haven’t really found the need to do that if I’m keeping them frozen. The drying process keeps the meat from getting moldy, but that’s only if you keep it in warmer temperatures.
Now that you’ve got guanciale, make that spaghetti carbonara you’ve always dreamed about! It’s also great chopped and fried and sprinkled on pizza, and sautéed with vegetables or mixed with scrambled eggs.
The Basic Dry Rub
Every good cure starts with a good dry rub. This one’s extremely simple but requires a special ingredient: pink salt. This is not pink Himalayan salt. This is a very special curing salt that must be used in small amounts. It contains nitrites which will help preserve the meat and give it a good color. Many people get bent out of shape over nitrites these days, so you need to decide whether you want to use pink salt or not. I do, because I don’t eat pounds of guanciale like a lab rat.
1 1/2 cups Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
1/2 cup organic turbinado  sugar
5 teaspoons pink curing salt
Combine these ingredients and mix well. Store it in a tightly sealed plastic bag in your pantry.
Note: the reason I give the brand name for the salt is because all salt does not weigh the same! A cup-and-a-half of Morton Kosher Salt, for example, will weigh more and will throw off the recipe.

I love salmon in all forms but cooked. To me, cooking changes the true flavor of this fantastic fish, so I enjoy it raw (as in sashimi), smoked, and cured.

The best smoked salmon uses the gentle process of cold smoking. It’s something that the average homeowner can’t really do successfully, so I simply buy cold-smoked salmon when I crave it. I’ve made hot-smoked salmon at home with some success, but the fish is so delicate, you really have to keep an eye on it. It takes no time for a juicy, perfectly smoked piece of salmon to turn into a dry, overcooked hockey puck.

Curing, which is how you get Gravlax, is really quite simple. You just need to have enough patience to wait a few days before you can eat it.

There are many gravlax recipes out there.  Some use peppercorns, fennel, caraway, even Aquavit in the curing process.  My opinion is: if you’ve got a beautiful piece of fish, why mask the flavor of it? I go with the simplest recipe possible, featuring just 3 ingredients that cure the salmon: salt, sugar and fresh dill,  and I lean toward the salty versus sweet side.

The first step, of course, is to get the right piece of salmon. What you want is that beautiful, vibrant, almost-orange wild-caught Alaskan or Pacific salmon that costs more than you thought you were going to spend. Wild-caught means the salmon has eaten the foods it loves, a balanced diet consisting of bugs, fish, shrimp, and small invertebrates. A natural diet gives the meat of the fish that beautiful color and incredible flavor. What the salmon eats is very important because you are eating the salmon. Wild-caught salmon is high in Omega-3’s…the good fats.

A beautiful piece of wild-caught salmon laying on a bed of the cure.

 

I avoid Atlantic salmon at all costs. Unfortunately, most restaurants on the east coast serve Atlantic salmon because it’s less expensive. There’s a reason for that. Atlantic salmon is farmed in the USA, Canada and Europe, which means the fish are kept in crowded underwater pens and are fed food pellets that contain a number of nutrients and additives. Often, farmed fish are treated to prevent sea lice, and are given antibiotics to prevent diseases caused by their tight living quarters. When you buy Atlantic salmon in the fish store, you can spot it a mile away, because it’s pale with a tinge of gray, and its flavor is bland and lifeless. Farmed salmon is much lower in Omega-3’s.

If it doesn’t say wild-caught Alaskan or Pacific salmon, it isn’t! Previously frozen vs. fresh fish matters less than where it came from and how it was raised.

2 lbs. wild-caught salmon, skin on, pin bones removed
2/3 cup (100g) Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
1/3 cup (80g) sugar (I use natural beet sugar)
1 large bunch fresh dill, washed

 

If your fish monger hasn’t removed the pin bones from your salmon filet, you’ll need to get a pair of long-nose pliers and remove them. It’s not the worst thing in the world to leave them in there, but you really don’t want to be spitting bones out later.

The reason I mention that I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt is because all Kosher salt does not weigh the same. Morton Kosher salt, for example, is much heavier by volume, so it weighs more even though you’re using the same cup measurement. In the case of Diamond Crystal, 2/3 cup weighs 100g. Same rules apply to the sugar.  This is really important point to keep in mind when you’re curing anything, fish or meat.

Get a non-reactive tray long enough to hold the salmon filet. I prefer glass.

Mix the salt and the sugar together, and sprinkle half of it evenly on the bottom of the glass tray. Lay the piece of salmon down on the cure, skin side down, and cover the top of the salmon with the rest of the cure evenly.

Lay the sprigs of dill on top of the cure, covering the entire piece of fish.

Cover everything with several layers of plastic wrap, pushing it down and tucking it into the corners for a tight fit.

Find a flat board or something similar (I used a clear plastic tray) and lay it on top of the plastic wrap.

Add heavy weights on top to press down evenly on all surfaces. I used cans of tomatoes.

Side view.

Place the tray in the fridge for 48-72 hours.

After 24 hours, remove the plastic wrap and, tilting the tray, baste the dill-covered salmon with the brine juices that have formed. Put clean plastic wrap on top, add the weights, and put it all back in the fridge for another 24 hours. Repeat that process at the 48-hour mark, if needed.

 

You’ll know the fish is fully cured when the thickest part of the filet is firm to the touch.

Unwrap the salmon, discarding the salt and sugar brine and the dill. Rinse the filet under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.

I don’t like a ton of chopped dill imbedded into my gravlax as some do, but if you do, simply chop a bunch of dill, spread it out onto a board, and press the salmon into it flesh-side down.

To serve, place the gravlax skin-side down on a board. With a long, sharp narrow-bladed knife, slice the fish against the grain, on the diagonal, into thin pieces. Serve with mustard-dill sauce, chopped onion, capers, hard-boiled egg, bread, whatever you like.

Refrigerate any remaining gravlax immediately, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 weeks.

 

(My fresh dill bunch came with the roots intact, so I cut them off and placed them into the soil in my herb garden. New dill will sprout up quickly!)

 

 

 

 

 

Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved bacon and pork chops all my life, it’s only recently that I’ve started to appreciate other cuts of pork and how to prepare them. That includes guanciale (pronounced gwan-chee-ah-lay), meat that comes from the cheek (or jowls) of the pig and is cured but not smoked. The process is similar to making pancetta, only pancetta comes from the belly of the beast.
It all started when I wanted to make an authentic spaghetti carbonara, which uses guanciale, not bacon or pancetta as many recipes state. But finding raw pork jowls wasn’t easy at first. Many websites offered smoked jowls. But raw jowls were almost impossible to find, and I just about gave up until I visited my friends Sal and chef Aaron at the Back Eddy restaurant in Westport, Massachusetts. I told them of my dilemma and they said: “Pork jowls? Oh, we can order them for you!” I was psyched!
About a week later, I picked up my jowls, individually wrapped in hermetically sealed ¼ pound packages, and my curing began. The process is simple: salt, pepper, some fresh thyme. Rub it all over the meat, wrap it tightly, and place it in the fridge to cure for a week or two.
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Finding room in my spare fridge to cure the meat was easy…everything fit snugly in a Ziploc bag. But after curing, and once I rinsed the excess salt off the jowl pieces, I had to dry them (all 24 of them since I bought 6 pounds.) So I rigged up a special hanging system that used bungy cords and vinyl cable ties. And three weeks later, I was frying up my guanciale in a saute pan and adding it to vegetables, potatoes, and pizza. I even gave guanciale gifts to my foodie friends.
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Since that first curing effort, many things had changed. I have several excellent sources for pork jowls, and I buy large 3-pound jowls (big pig!) at one time. And I’ve found 1001 uses for guanciale: pizza, ragu Bolognese, adding flavor to broccoli or brussels sprouts, and more. And, oh yes…I finally made the carbonara recipe with it as well. Here’s my recipe for ragu Bolognese using guanciale: http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-Pc
Always good to have a helper.

Always good to have a helper.

There are so many cool things you can get your foodie father (or yourself) this Father’s Day. Here are a couple more gadgets that have become indispensable in my grilling arsenal…

BBQ timer: Even someone that has barbecued all their lives runs the risk of burning or undercooking a roast or a large bird. Opening the grill and jabbing the meat with a thermometer several times causes the juices from the meat to run out, leaving it dry…and every time you open the grill, you lose precious heat. This is the better solution: You stick the needle into the roast or bird and leave it in there the entire time it cooks, so no juices leak out. You plug it into the monitor which then calls you when the meat is ready (from as far as 100 feet away!) You set the time or temperature, and then get to join your guests for the party. Redi-Check Remote Cooking Thermometer: www.target.com

Smoking Gun: This is a fun toy. There are times when you don’t need a full-on smoker. All you want to do is smoke a small piece of fish or a hunk of cheese.  You simply take some of the finely ground wood chip powder (comes with the gun) and place it in the pipe-like bowl. Light it, and the Smoking Gun will blow that smoke through a hose into the Ziploc bag where your piece of fish is waiting for its magical transformation to smoky deliciousness. (Thanks to chef Rizwan Ahmed of the Hourglass Brasserie in Bristol, RI, who introduced me to this very cool device.) You can get it at Williams Sonoma.

smoking gun

Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved bacon and pork chops all my life, it’s only recently that I’ve started to appreciate other cuts of pork and how they’ve been prepared.
No store-bought bacon for me. I have a favorite website where I’ve bought the best quality bacon on line from Missouri for years: http://www.smokehouse.com/.
My Italian pork sausages and larger cuts of pork (like shoulders, bellies, and big fat pork chops) come from Caw Caw Creek, the only certified humane heritage breed pork farm in North Carolina. http://www.cawcawcreek.com/.
My pork ribs and liverwurst come from my friends at Simmons Farm in Middletown, RI, a certified organic farm. http://www.simmonsorganicfarmri.com/
And sometimes, my pork can come from surprising places, like my rafting guide friend Rob, whose family runs Crabapple Whitewater in the Forks, Maine, where I raft on the kennebec and Dead Rivers every year. Rob decided to raise two pigs this past year, and he’s willing to trade pork jowls for a few bottles of my homemade Lithuanian honey liqueur called Krupnikas.
Pork jowls?
Weighing the jowl pieces
It all started when I wanted to make an authentic spaghetti carbonara. Since I worship at the Italian food altar of chef Mario Batali, I went to his website to look up his recipe. It said that although many people use bacon or pancetta (both from the belly of the pig—the bacon is smoked, pancetta is not)…authentic carbonara is made with guanciale (pronounced gwan-chee-ah-lay).
Guanciale is cured (but not smoked) and made from pork jowls…that would be the cheeks of the pig. According to Batali, you take raw jowls, cure them for about a week in sugar, salt, peppercorns and fresh thyme, then hang the meat to dry. The result is a delicious pork product that you slice and fry and use in carbonara or any other recipe that calls for a tasty addition of porky goodness.
The flavor of pork jowls is subtly different than that of pancetta. There is a very special mouth-feel to the fat that makes guanciale so good. And once I made my first batch, there was no turning back!
But finding raw pork jowls was not easy. Many websites offered smoked jowls. But raw jowls were almost impossible to find, and I just about gave up until I visited my friends Sal and chef Aaron at the Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. I told them of my dilemma and they said: “Pork jowls? Oh, we can order them for you!” I was psyched!
About a week later, I picked up my jowls, individually wrapped in hermetically sealed ¼ pound packages, and my curing began, following Batali’s recipe.
Getting the curing ingredients together: picking thyme leaves.
Finding room in my spare fridge to cure the meat was easy…everything fit snugly in a Ziploc bag. But once it was time to dry the jowls (all 24 of them since I bought 6 pounds,) I had to rig up a special hanging system that used bungy cords, vinyl cable ties, and beer cans…don’t ask. But it worked! And three weeks later, I was frying up my guanciale in a sautee pan and adding it to vegetables, potatoes, and pizza. I even gave guanciale gifts to my foodie friends. And before long, it was time to make more.
Since that first curing effort, some things had changed. My source for heritage pork, Caw Caw Creek, now carried pork jowls, too. And I was able to buy a couple of 3-pound jowls at a time. They were big, thick, and what I originally envisioned when I dreamed of the jowl of a pig that weighed 300 pounds or more. I cut the two big jowls into 1/2–pound, 3-inch thick slabs, and cured them using the same recipe.
A big, beautiful jowl in its native habitat.
Jowls with curing spices.
All was fine until one time, I went away on vacation, and a hurricane hit our neighborhood, knocking the power out. Fortunately, my good neighbors came to my rescue and started up my generator, plugged in the fridge, and saved the guanciale! I was back in business.
Curing and hanging completed (I now used a far more sophisticated system of stereo wire instead of bungy cords and beer cans, as seen in the photo,) I’ve been sharing the goodness of this incredible and little-known pork product with anyone who would listen—and taste.
A year ago, I had never heard of guanciale. Now, I can’t imagine not having a slab at the ready in my fridge. I use it just about anywhere I would use bacon, short of a BLT.
And by the way…I’ve yet to make the spaghetti carbonara recipe!