As spring comes in, and we head for the garden, we can't miss the collection of rapidly curing bacon, hams and salamis as we pass through the back kitchen. They've been hanging there for the past three months, a tribute to Chris' winter work. Here he explains how he does it.
The process is all about the cold weather and fine sea salt. We dry cure the pork bellies by laying them on a bed of salt and then pour more of it all over the meat like snow. As time passes, the salt draws out the juices and hardens the meat and fat turning it into streaky bacon.
A few years ago, one of our guests from Wales gave us the recipe for air-dried ham and at first it seemed impossibly exotic. But it is surprisingly easy to make this prosciutto style ham. The whole ham is placed in a large box or tub and completely covered in salt for two weeks. When you pull it out the salt has crusted and hardened like ice. The red meat has turned purple and the fat feels hard to the touch. Then you hang the ham in a cold place. I always like it to be close by so I can watch it slowly curing and drying over the months. The first thin slices are ready to sample in early summer and the taste is strong, sweet and smoky.
Then there is the salami. They always say ‘use the pork to make what you like to eat.’ And my favourite is the French saucisson sec with its cubes of fat and its deep red colour. I picked up a very simple recipe in France and it is a wonderful process. I mix the minced shoulder with tiny pieces of cured fat. Then I add salt, lots of garlic, pepper and red wine and leave the mixture overnight so that the smell of wine and garlic fills the cold room. If you hang the salamis in the same place this smell never really goes away. Two months later you can start eating your sausages.
Tasting all of this charcuterie is fine reward but it is almost more enjoyable to watch the slow process or the curing throughout the cold months of winter and into Spring.