Friday, April 24, 2009

Critical Ingredient - Cure #1 and #2

All my recipes I've posted thus far have called for "cure #2". I've been asked a number of times by email what exactly this ingredient is. I figured I'd write a short post about it to clarify.

Cure #2, also called "Prague Powder #2", is a mixture of salt, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. Cure #2 is used on items that are dry cured over an extended period of time, like salumi or cured meats. The sodium nitrate in the cure breaks down over time to sodium nitrite and that is then broken down to nitric oxide, which acts as an oxidizing agent keeping the meat safe from our most evil of enemies, botulism. It's therefore CRITICAL to making safe cured meats. At least in my mind it is.

Cure #1 consists of salt and sodium nitrite only. The nitrite keeps the meat safe for a short period of time, and keeps the meat a nice red color as well as give it that "cured" taste. This is used in products that are made and then cooked and eaten quickly like fresh sausages. Don't confuse cure #1 with cure #2 they are NOT interchangeable.

You can buy both of these items very cheaply ($4 for 16 oz, which is enough for many years of sausage making) from many online sources. Just google the name of the cure you're looking for, you should find it very easily.

I don't feel like writing a scientific explanation, suffice to say that if you're not a risk taker and value your life, you should use cure #2 in your cured meats. Can you do without, maybe. I guess you could. Would I? Hell no.

Please don't email me telling me nitrates are bad for you. I don't feel like arguing, and it'll just prove you haven't done your research because there are more nitrates in a bowl of spinach than in a WHOLE salame.

Hope this helps.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Salame di Brianza - Production and Tasting Notes

Salame di Brianza is a salame produced in the region of Milan, Lecco and Como. It is actually a DOP product which means in order to use the name it has to follow certain strict guidelines and come from a specific area. Clearly mine wouldn't meet the DOP requirements. It's a very simple salame with just salt, pepper, garlic and wine for flavoring. This is by far the biggest cased product I've made. I made it to use for sandwiches, so I wanted it large to be able to slice it thin and use in a nice ciabatta bread.

Salame di Brianza
IngredientQuantity(g)% of Meat+Fat
Pork ham meat
Pork belly (70/30 fat/lean)
Cure #2
White pepper (whole)
White pepper (ground)
Garlic powder

F-LC starter culture

I basically forgot to take pictures of each step, so you should refer back to any of the other salami, such as the latest one : Salame di Sant'Olcese.

I ground the meat using the large kitchenaid grinder plate, which is 3/16". I used the same method as the other salami I've previously made: cube meat, cube belly, mix with spices, chill way down, grind, then add starter culture diluted in distilled water, and mix until a good bind is formed.

This is the spice mix I used in the salame. Nothing too exciting, just looking for a nice porky, tasty salame.

This is the mixture cased. It's a 100mm collagen casing. It's huge, and this "chub" held all of the mixture; 4 lbs of meat! Packed it in as tightly as possible, but I could tell this was going to be a challenge to get in there without air pockets.

Just like for other salami such as the Chorizo, this one was sprayed with M-EK-4 mold. It was incubated for 72 hours at 70 deg. F. I incubated about 24 hrs longer than other salami because of it's size.

This picture shows the salame after 24hrs in the fermentation box.

Nice mold!

It was then put into the curing chamber at 54 deg. F and 70-75% RH.
It was at 70% at the beginning, then I raised it to about 75% to try and slow the drying.

Here is the salame, cured and ready to eat. It cured just about 2 months, and lost 38.7% of it's weight. It could easily have gone longer, but I wanted a salame that's pretty soft, it makes for better sandwiches since it feels moister.

Here is the salame sliced. It's got a great texture, and fat distribution, but you can see exactly what I was concerned about above regarding the pockets of air. You can see them in the picture pretty clearly. This is a concern because it can cause problems in the aging, oxidation on the inside and potentially spoilage.
Fortunately there was no spoilage, just some oxidation flavor, so i'm still going to eat it. The oxidation is, luckily, limited and the flavor isn't impacted much at all, especially if you eat this with a nice piece of bread.

Just another picture from a little further away. I figured you can't have too many pictures of cured meats.

Overall i really like this. It's REALLY convenient for sandwiches, the taste is great, just porky and meaty. It has a nice flavor without it being tangy. I'm really liking this lower temperature, slower fermentation. It could probably use more pepper, and a little more garlic, and I also realized i forgot to add wine. Oops!

As far as the air pockets, I think next time i'll grind the meat finer. It seems that the larger cased salami always have a finer texture. I'll also mix it more and try to get a better bind. Other than that, i'm not sure what else I could do. I tried to be careful when casing it, and packed it in as I went, but i guess I didn't do a very good job at it!

So, overall this salame is a winner. Good flavor, good texture, needs a little more pepper, a solid B.