Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pancetta - Again!

I don't know if this is even worth posting, as i've discussed pancetta previously,but since I'm trying a new formula, and I haven't posted in a while, i might as well detail it.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My ultrasonic humidifier is broken!

Well, it lasted a good 2-3 years, so i can't complain, but it seems that the humidifier just crapped out. I'd love to hear what everyone here is using for humidification.

Let me know guys (and girls?)!


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sorry folks, i'm on a mini hiatus

As you can see, the last post was quite a while ago. Sorry about that. I also wanted to let readers know that for at least another couple of months I most likely won't be doing much of any curing.

Certain events have taken over all my weekend time, and let's face it, cured meats are pretty low on the priority list of life events.

thanks, and i hope you keep an eye on the blog. Hope to be back to posting soon enough.


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.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Natural or Artificial Casings?

I've often wondered if using natural casings when making salami really makes a difference. Let's face it, artificial casings have numerous advantages: they're clean, they're evenly shaped and sized, they are shelf stable, they come in just about any size, and I'm sure I could think of a few other good reasons why artificial collagen casings are advantageous. The disadvantages are that they are more expensive, and they aren't "traditional".

Since I'm a very practical person (well, as practical as anyone who cures his own meats in his basement can be!), unless there is good, documented evidence for using something (natural casings) over an easier substitute (collagen casings), I won't use more difficult product. I like to explore these things myself; see my Farmer Vs. Commercial Pork Battle 1, and Battle 2 . So during the last batch of salame I made, which was the Sant'Olcese, I decided to take the opportunity to do a head to head of salame cased in natural beef middles and 60mm diameter collagen casings.

So, the product came out a few weeks ago from the curing chamber. What was interesting was that the product in the collagen casings took about 5 or 6 days longer to lose the same amount of weight by %. The 2 salami stared off pretty close in weight, but for whatever reason the collagen casing took a little bit longer. This may be cause by a couple of things:

  1. The salami were in different places in the curing chamber, and therefore their exposure to air and humidity currents was different. Possible but unlikely. They were pretty close to each other.
  2. The collagen casing slows the moisture loss of the meat mixture more than the natural casing.
I don't see this difference as a huge deal, but I do see if as a slight advantage for the collagen casing. The slower curing/drying theoretically would allow more flavors to develop.

In cutting the 2 products they looked identical (I would post a picture but i've vacuum packed the collagen salame already). They were indistinguishable visually, both cut, and uncut. Both had a nice mold bloom.

More did they taste? They were indistinguishable. The same, delicious, and equivalent.

So, as far as using beef middles, well, i'll use up what I have, which is about 56 miles of casings, and then i'll move to using 60mm collagen casings. I do have 1 more test of collagen vs. natural casings and that's with a hog bung. Since the hog bung is a very fatty, thick casing, this may slow the drying to be even slower than the collagen one, so it may in fact be better. Only a trial will tell. I will note that the hog bung casings are MUCH more expensive than a collagen one; about 10 times the cost!

So this time, modernity has beat out tradition I'm afraid.

Sorry traditionalists.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chorizo - Tasting Notes

The chorizo is ready! Well, it was ready last week, but I'm just getting around to writing about it now. This is the 1st one I've taken out. It's the one that was cased in an artificial round, 43mm casing. It lost about 43% of it's weight. I've left the others in the curing chamber to lose more weight. I think chorizo needs to be pretty hard. This one was a touch too soft really.

As you can see, the fat is nice and distinct. There is the correct amount of it, and it is well dispersed.

The flavor is good, but not great. It is a bit too strong on one or more of the flavorings. I'm still trying to work out which. I think it might be too much garlic, and possibly too much smoked paprika.

The black pepper is right. A friend of mine, who knows Spanish chorizo better than I do, says the black pepper is too prominent, and the garlic is correct. Maybe I'm just used to more Italian salami. Either way, I do like it, and would make it again, but reducing the garlic by about 20%, and maybe reducing the smoked paprika by about 15%, and replace that with a hot paprika. It does need some more heat, the cayenne wasn't enough.

The salt is correct, it's nice and

I'm looking forward to trying the ones that i've left in the curing chamber. I think they'll be nicer with some "heavier" chew to them, and with the added time in the chamber, maybe the overly strong notes will mellow out.

The mold as you can see did its job. The salame is nicely covered.

I would grade this a C+ for my tastes. Good, but needs work. Not that it's surprising. I've never made this before, and just took a number of recipes that sounded good, and mashed them together:)


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Salame di Sant'Olcese - Tasting Notes

It may not seem like long enough has passed from the posting of the recipe for the salame di Sant'Olcese for it to be ready, but that's only because i've been sitting on the recipe for a couple of weeks!'s ready. Or at least, i've taken one of the 3 that I made out of the curing chamber out.

I took one out pretty early, as I wanted to keep this salame pretty soft. By weight, it "claims" to have lost about 43% of it's weight, over 20 days. I say "claims", because it feels rather soft, and i'm wondering if I mis-weighed them when i put them into the curing chamber...all other salami that i've made before felt considerably harder, at less water weight loss. Either way, I felt like eating one.

As i've said, it is quite soft. Maybe a tiny bit too soft, it probably could have used another 4-7 days, good thing I have 2 or 3 more in the curing chamber. If i were to compare it to something in softness, the first thing that comes to mind is a marshmallow, maybe a little bit harder.

As far as the tasting goes, it's excellent. Really is. The pepper is quite pronounced, it's nicely salty, and the garlic is there in the background. It is not sour at all, which is nice, as I don't care for the San Francisco style of cured meats that are prounouncedly sour. I think it's because of the starter culture i used, and becuase i ferment at a low temperature (70F).

The fat is distinct, and is in perfect proportion to the meat. The salame so far does not present any air pockets. Overall I'm really pleased.

Of course, there are some improvements that can be made, there always are. In slicing the salame, one can see, and feel while chewing, about a 1/8" ring on the outer edge which is slightly drier. I attribute this to my humidity not being high enough in the chamber. As such, for the stuff that's still in there, i bumped up the humitiy from about 70% to about 75%. This should also slow down the curing/drying time, which I believe will lead to better flavor as well.

I'd give this salame a solid B+. It's a touch soft, and the dry ring around the edge keeps it from an A :).


Monday, February 9, 2009

Salame di Sant'Olcese

I didn't know much about the salame from Sant'Olcese until i read about it in an Italian cured meats blog. Sant'Olcese is a small town outside Genova. This salame is characterized by a 50/50 mix of beef and pork for the lean portion, and pork fat. It is also traditionally very lightly smoked. Unfortunately I don't have the ability to smoke the salame, so mine will be a Sant'Olcese style salame. This is true for all my salami. None of them can be the real thing, since that requires me to actually be there. They are all "in the style of" the place or region. Anyhow, let's get to the recipe and method.

Salame Sant'Olcese
IngredientQuantity(g)% of Meat+Fat
Pork ham meat
Beef chuck meat
Pork belly (70/30 fat/lean)
Cure #2
Black pepper (whole)
Black pepper (ground)
Garlic powder

F-LC starter culture

You'll recognize a number of the pictures from the chorizo post. I didn't see a point of taking different pictures for the exact same step. I'm reposting them in case people end up in this post through a link from somewhere, so they can see the whole process.

The usual suspect. A ham steak. This is cubed up nicely.

Pork belly strips waiting to be cubed up as the fat component of the salame. Hmmmm pork belly.......

This shows the beef chuck, which was also cubed, the ham meat, and the pork belly. I forgot to take a picture of the piece of beef chuck, but i think you might have seen one before at a grocery! Buy one, remove fat and sinew and cube it up.
This is mixed with the cure and spices shown below, and put in a freezer to get nice and firm for 45 minutes or so.

This is the spice mixtures and cure that went into the salame. It's very simple. Not a lot of flavors to get in the way of porky beefyness.

The meat was ground on the large kitchen aid plate. Which i think is 1/4"...i don't recall, and i keep forgetting to measure it. I don't know what is wrong with this picture, i couldn't get the white balance on the camera right, and the picture looks blue...anyhow...the meats and fat are ground.

The starter culture was diluted with about 30g of distilled water, and the poured over the ground meat mixture.

The mixture is then mixed for about 2 minutes with the Kitchen Aid or about 3-4 minutes by hand until a nice bind is achieved. I forgot to take a picture of the mixed product. Sorry.

The salame was cased into 3 natural casings, and 1 collagen 60mm casing. I figured I'd take the opportunity to to a scientific taste test of salame cured in natural casings and one cured in artificial. Will it make a difference? I don't know! We'll see. I must admit, using the artificial ones is MUCH more convenient. They are shelf stable, even, don't smell, don't require washing, but they do lose the natural appeal and old world look.

The M-EK4 mold mold is mixed with 30 or so grams of distilled water and allowed to bloom for a couple of hours.

The mold "concentrate" is then diluted with about 300g of distilled water in a spray bottle.

The salami were placed in the fermentation box at 70 deg. F. for 48 hours. I was actually able to keep my basement room right around 70 or 71 F, no need to run the lightbulb in the fermentation box.

After the 48 hours, the salami had a nice coating of mold already.

The salami were fermented for 48 hours, and then put into the curing chamber at 54 deg. F and about 70% RH.

Looking forward to trying them in about a month or so.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Spanish Chorizo

I'm an equal opportunity cured meat eater. The product doesn't have to be Italian, it just has to taste GOOD. Case in point, Spanish Chorizo. Chorizo is a salame like cured product redolent of smoked paprika, garlic and oregano. This is the 1st time I've made it, and since it isn't ready yet, I won't know if this formula is any good until I try it. Try at your own risk!

Spanish Chorizo
IngredientQuantity(g)% of Meat+Fat
Pork ham meat
Pork belly (about 75/25 fat/lean)
Cure #2
Black pepper (ground)
Smoked paprika (sweet)
Oregano (dry)
F-LC starter culture
Cayenne pepper
Garlic (fresh)

I started with my usual ham steak. As I've said previously, I prefer the ham steak to the shoulder/boston butt because there is less sinew and intramuscular fat that has to be trimmed out.

The ham steak was cubed up into about 1" cubes

For the fat component I used pork belly. I tried to choose pieces that were particularly fatty. I'd say they were about 70-80:20 fat to lean.

The belly is cubed up and combined with the ham cubes.

The spice mixture is carefully mixed to get good distribution of everything, and the garlic cloves are mashed through a garlic pressed, in preparation to be put into the meat.

I mixed the spice mixture and the crushed garlic into the meat and fat cubes and massaged it for a while to make sure everything was nice and evenly mixed together.

The mixture then goes to the freezer to get really cold before grinding. I let the meat get to at least 33 or 34 deg. F, before grinding.

I ground the meat and fat through the large Kitchenaid plate, which if i remember correctly is 1/4". Since i kept everything cold, the fat and meat are nice and distinct.

The starter culture was mixed with a pinch of dextrose and a splash of distilled water, and let stand for 15 or so minutes to allow the bacteria to wake up, and then poured over the meat.

I mixed the meat with the Kitchenaid paddle attachment for about 1.5 minutes on low speed. This is done to make sure everything is mixed together, the starter culture is dispersed, and to allow the proteins to form a good bind.

Don't mix too much or you'll smear the fat...not good...not good at all. You want the fat to stay in distinct blobs.

I stuffed the chorizo into 1 43mm collagen round casing, and 2 60mm natural beef middle casings. As usual, I tried to avoid any air pockets in the meat mixture by massaging it meat once it was cased, and popping and pricking the casing where there were air pockets on the surface.

Earlier that afternoon i had mixed up about 1.5g of M-EK-4 mold with about 30g of distilled water.

This was left for about 3-4 hours to "bloom".

I then diluted that mold mixture with an additional 300g of distilled water in a spray bottle. Shook it up real well, and let it sit another 15-30 minutes. (Really i don't know if these sitting periods are necessary..but i guess they can't really hurt).

The salami were sprayed and put into the fermentation box at 70 deg F. for 48 hours.

They were sprayed again with the mold 12 hours after being put into the box. The lid on the box was closed for the whole 48 hours to keep it nice and humid. As you can see on the left, the mold after 48 hours was already developing very nicely.

Here are the chorizos and a few other salami i made that day (write up coming soon) in the curing chamber.
The chamber is set at 54 deg F. and 70% RH.

I expect the 43mm chorizo to be ready in about 2 weeks, and the larger ones in about a month. Looking forward to trying something new!


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cotechino - Results

Last week when my brother was in town I cooked up one of the cotechini. I left it in it's vacuum bag, put it in a large pot of water, and slowly brought the temperature of the water up to 190-195 deg.

I then put the pot in the oven set at about 225, so that the heat would be even from all sides. The water stayed right around 200 deg. I let it cook about 2 hours, took the pot out of the oven, and then let it sit another 20-30 minutes.

The bag had blown up like a baloon, i assume from the air in the sausage expanding. It had quite of bit of fat in it that was released from the cotechino. I opened the bag, got rid of the fat, and removed the casing. The cotechino was served over lentils.

It was AWESOME. It was slightly salty, and slightly too cinnamony. I think this is likely because the salt and spices weren't diluted by direct contact with the water. Next time i'll reduce the salt by about 10-15%, and the cinnamon by about 10%.

The flavor was really good. The spices in it were pretty distinct and very tasty. The texture was great, with nice gelatin from the cooked skin, and a good quantity of fat.

Next year I may also try grinding the meat using the fine plate instead of the KA coarse one. I'm worried it might make it too much of a fine ground sausage paste, but i guess it's worth a try!

So..i'm sold. I'll be cooking my cotechini in vac bags from now on!