Dry Cured Country Ham

As I mentioned previously, I really like dry cured ham.  Prosciutto & Speck are great.  However, I am still taunted by my family for the “salt ham” episode where I ordered a “virginia ham” off the internet.  It was not popular.

So, with that lesson and others, I have settled on making my dry cured meats with “by weight” proportions rather than salt box or “cover it with salt” for x days recipes.   The concept is that there is an ideal salt & seasoning to meat weight ratio. This give you lots of latitude  on the curing time vs . immersing the meat in salt and pulling it at “just the right time”.  From the research I have done, the immerse it in salt method seems to be optimized for production curing on an ongoing basis with tons of meat per day. However, at home we are not doing “production curing” we are doing a few pounds per month at most on an erratic “schedule” (try not to run out before the next batch is done) .  So, I want small batch repeatability and the “by weight” salting / curing method wins.

This recipe is for a dry cured, deboned and smoked front leg ham. Yes it is a mouthful. In Italy and Austria it would be referred to as Speck. However the recipe here is not authentic to the region, but is sort of  based on the “Blackstrap Molasses  Country Ham” recipe in “Charcuterie” by Ruhlman and Polcyn . However, I have modified this to my taste (I hope). As I write this the hams are in the dry box. So for all intents and purposes this is an untried recipe as no one has tasted the results so far. That will come in a future blog post.  So for the daring, here is what I did:

Take one fresh picnic ham (front leg) and carefully debone it.  Care must be taken that you are not creating cuts / scars that will harbor bacteria or molds.  The goal is to have a couple of piece of meat with a clean, unscarred surface for curing.  The bone and attached scraps are saved for future goodies whether soups or plain old baked beans. Next, we must cure the meat.  The slat and cure are by weight percentages. The spices assume approximately 1 KG pieces. You should scale up or down accordingly for what you have.

Cure:

  • 3% by weight kosher salt
  • 0.25% by weight cure #2  “pink salt”
  • 2 tsp Juniper berries crushed
  • 2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp ground Coriander
  • 1 Tb grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2c cup dark molasses
  • 1/2 cup rum -decent rum

Mix the above ingredients and set aside.

I started with a 8.5 lb picnic ham – skin on and bone in.  The resulting pieces are:

Meat Salt Cure #2
1245g 37.4g 3.1g
1760g 53.6g 4.4g

The boned out picnic ham should yields 2 approximately equal sized pieces (skin on) .  Take 2 large zip lock bags and place the “halves” of the ham in them. Now pour in proportional amounts of the cure in each bag.  Place in the fridge.  Turn every few days (2-5).

After 2 weeks of cold curing in the fridge, the meat should have evenly distributed the cure. Next  the meat is removed from the bags, dried with paper towels and then set on racks in the refrigerator to dry and form a pellicle (thin tacky skin). Now is the time for cold smoking.

With cold smoking, it is important to understand that we are not trying to cook the meat at this point. The goal is to add smoke for flavor and reduce, if not prevent mold growth during the drying phase.     The meat is cold smoked for 10+ hours. The  Big Green Egg was the smoke chamber, with an A-Maze-N  pellet smoker grate providing the smoke.

After smoking the upper edges of the meat were pierced for butcher’s twine to hang in the dry box (smoke aroma is good but a bit harsh about now). I used Traeger Signature Blend pellets.

The meat is then hung in the “high tech” dry curing chamber and now we wait. The white pieces are the dry cured pork loins.

Weighing after 2 weeks in the dry box

Weights of the pieces

Date small lg
01/03/19 1245g 1760g start -wet
02/10/19 1107g 1655g post smoke
2/23/19 1006 1517
747 1056 Target 40% weight loss