About a year ago and in a pinning frenzy, I came across this post about curing meat at home by chef Nini (who is delightful) and was instantly transported back to backyard hangouts at the wacky homes of my Italian import step-fam who all lived in tiny war time bungalos on tiny postage stamp lots in the thick of Toronto where they grew unbelievably prolific grapevines along fences and trellises and inconceivable amounts of fruits and vegetables and sometimes even kept rabbits in big pens that lined the fence way at the backs of their properties and who constantly offered up incredible amounts of food, home-cured charcuterie among them.
I don’t believe we ever cured meat at home, but over the years, I came across others who did and always thought it would be a fun thing to try, but never really occurred to me to do until I found that recipe on pinterest.
Thank you, The Internet, for providing a service one previously only got if one had ancient zias or matantes to go to for such knowledge.
Of course, after daydreaming about home-cured meats for the better part of an afternoon while documenting tech stuff, I promptly forgot about the notion until pork tenderloins went on sale hella cheap a few weeks ago.
And then I couldn’t find the damned recipe.
I posted this rant on the facespace about it:
And seriously, WTF, Anglo-foodies? I did searches for “home-cured meat”, “fridge-cured tenderloin”, “cure meat at home” and more, both in pinterest and google, and the closest I got to easy instructions for curing meat in one’s fridge at home was a bunch of complicated designs for building curing chambers.
Search in French for “seché maison” and the French, Spanish, and Italian blogospheres deliver hit after hit about how to do this.
Obviously, we Anglos are a bunch of scaredy-cat prudes.
Or I’m a terrible Anglo-searcher.
Either way, I bought some tenderloins, had my hissy fit and got to reading and developing a plan because obviously, the hits from the French, Spanish, and Italian delivered simple procedures and recipes, but also a lot of opinions, as those from cultures that are notoriously passionate about their food are wont to be.
This is one of the few situations in which I will urge you to read the comments because they are both informative and hilariously delivered with all of the strength of conviction.
My big takeaways were:
- A cool dry place is essential
- The bigger the meat, the more salting time/drying time needed
- I probably don’t need as much salt as some would imply
- There are no exact measurements
- Consistency is key
- Document, document, document
- Summoning the patience for this is gonna suck
Here is the process I followed:
- Size. I Cut two pork tenderloins down so they are roughly even in size all the way along. These guys are about 600 grams of meat altogether and I cut the “tails” off which were probably a little more than that amount.
2. Sugar. I tossed each loin in a bag of brown sugar (about 1/2 cup) to coat.
3. Pack in salt. I laid a bed of coarse sea salt in the bottom of a seal-able, glass container, then placed the loins on that, then covered those with more sea salt until they disappeared. This required about 1/2 a kilo of sea salt, as opposed to the full kilo Nini says to use.
4. Let sit. I meant for this to be 18 hours, but it ended up being 22 because I was caught up in a work project. One of most conflicting opinions I read was how long in the salt was too long. Some say loins this size would get far too salty if left for 24 hours, others say it doesn’t hurt them at all and may decrease overall drying time. I wasn’t too fussed about the extended stay in the salt, but I like salty things and now I can say it didn’t hurt them at all.
These are the loins, still in their salt bed after 22 hours:
The salt is about 50% dissolved and there is a LOT of moisture in the container.
5. Rinse. This is pretty self-explanatory.
6. Dry. You want to rid them of excess water, but leave them moist enough to pickup the herb and spice coating that comes next.
Here are the little dudes after rinsing and patting dry:
You can see that their size and texture have changed, but the change to the one on the right is pretty dramatic compared to the one on the left. I have a feeling this is down to fat content and will test that theory more in the future.
7. Coat. Most of the recipes I came across recommended a combination of tri-coloured peppercorns and herbes de provence, but I didn’t have either of those. Instead, I used black peppercorns and French tarragon because I really love the flavour combination of the almost licorice-like, carvone of the tarragon with cured meats. I used about 1/4 cup of each and gave them a good mashing together with my mortar and pestle:
8. Wrap. Once each loin was nicely coated in seasoning, I wrapped each in half of a clean tea towel and bound the ends with elastics.
9. Dry. Lots of contributors to home-curing discussions air dry and will turn their nose up at drying in the fridge, but I don’t have a root cellar or other cool, dry place to do this, so the fridge it was. I placed mine on a plate and elevated them with chopsticks for air flow:
This worked really well, but is not ideal for a fridge like mine that is traffic-heavy and often very, very full. The footprint gets pretty big. Many will hang them from the shelves at the back of the fridge, but my fridge has glass shelves, so that was not an option. Next time, I am going to get some of those hangers on suction cups to hang them from because all of my best ideas come to me in hindsight.
10. Forget about them. This is the really hard part. Nini’s method says to dry for two weeks and that three is better. I couldn’t resist taking a peek at mine after one and this is how the smaller one looked:
I justified this cheat by telling myself that I would want to know if they were going gross before they got really gross and because the whole two of you who read this blog would benefit from seeing the progress. So, thanks for that because it was incredibly gratifying unwrapping them to find that they were not at all gross, but drying nicely with that cured fragrance accented by the pepper and tarragon AND that I could then justify getting into the small one, at least, after two weeks.
11. Eat! Here is the little guy after two weeks of drying:
It came out exactly as I’d expected: a little sweet, a little salty, full of meaty flavour punctuated by its herb and spice coating. I haven’t done anything more with it than cut off thin slices for nibbling, but I can see it going really well in a green olive stuffing for tomatoes or on a toasted sandwich with Havarti and sprouts.
All in all, this was a fun and gratifying experience and I will definitely be tweaking herb/spice combos and doing more in the future (I actually already have two more loins cut down to size in the freezer).
How about you? Have you? Would you, could you cure meat at home? I would love to hear about your opinions and experiences.