Friday, February 15, 2013

More home curing: making your own lonzino

The finished product, sliced thinly.
A few times since starting up A Man for All Seasonings nearly a year ago now (has it been that long?), I’ve mentioned a cured, air-dried pork specialty known as lonzino. You can certainly guess quite easily from the name that it’s of Italian origin, but you probably can’t guess how easy it is to make, and most importantly how good it is to eat!

I first discovered this on Matt Wright’s engaging food blog (Wrightfood), which, if you haven’t looked at it, is delightfully quirky and interesting, all about Matt’s experiments with different of food-related things (a lot of solid charcuterie information and recipes), with a side benefit being his excellent food photography. I’d suggest checking it out. He has a lot of skill and a good writing style.

Anyway, Matt’s lonzino recipe looked very intriguing, so I gave it a try late last winter. Since we only dry-age meat in the colder months because our basement is pretty ideal at that time, I was a bit worried that it would get too warm as spring came on fast (it was early) and the lonzino would spoil before it had finished drying. What I should have had my eye on was the humidity, which had dropped over the course of the month I had it hanging.

Front piece ready for the cure. Back piece with the cure.
The resulting lonzino was delicious, thanks to Matt’s recipe, but the low humidity had led to it getting a bit too dried out for our taste. For a first attempt, I was impressed, but I was also disappointed that I’d let it hang too long. The key is to weigh the lonzino once it’s cured, wrapped and ready to hang. Then throw it on your kitchen scale every few days until it’s lost 30-35% of its weight. I didn’t remember that, stupid me. By this time you’d think I’d have a concept as important as carefully following directions lasered into my cranium.

As soon as the temperature in the basement reached the ideal meat drying range this past November, I got busy with another pork loin to try my hand again – this time paying attention to everything. The results were gratifying. Everyone who tried our lonzino loved it. It disappeared in a flash.

We’re just reaching the end with our third batch, so I feel confident I’ve got enough experience to share my new-found skill with you.

Both pieces ready for 10 days in the fridge.
First of all, what is lonzino? Take a whole pork loin, trim it nicely, cure it in salt and spices, then wrap and hang it in a cool (55°), not too dry (70%) spot for a few weeks, and viola! (as we musicians say), you have what I’ve come to think of as “poor man’s prosciutto”, or more accurately, pork bresaola (bresaola is cured and air-dried beef). What caught my eye when I originally saw the recipe on Wrightfood was the inclusion of fennel in the cure. Vicki and I love fennel.

Through research, we found there are all kinds of additions that can be put in the cure: garlic, thyme, oregano, basically anything that strikes your fancy. The only constant is salt which is what drives the curing process. The yummy tasting and fragrant ingredients are along for the ride, but will shine when you pop the finished product in your mouth.

Since this post is getting rather long-winded, I’m going to divide things up. This first one will end with the recipe and instructions for curing your lonzino, and the second will deal with wrapping, drying, slicing and serving your creation. If you’re into home-curing or interested in trying your hand, I’d suggest lonzino as a good place to start. The only thing easier that I’ve found is guanciale, and if you’re a follower of AMFAS, I’ve made it pretty clear how I feel about that Italian delicacy!

Lonzino: cured and air-dried pork loin
How much it serves depends on the size of the loin, but the finished product 
will weigh about 40% less than what you start out with.

The cure ingredients are given as a percentage of the total meat weight, after trimming. Since every piece of meat is a different weight, it’s far more accurate to give them this way. In the case of the critical ingredients (kosher salt and curing salt), it’s absolutely necessary to deal in weight percentages if you don’t want a major kitchen disaster. Done in this manner, you are assured that this part of your endeavor will work out just fine. With this in mind, you will need an accurate kitchen scale, something every serious cook should not be without. For home-curing, they’re indispensible.

INGREDIENTS (all percentages are derived from the weight of the meat)
1 trimmed pork loin (a thin layer of fat on the outside is fine if you like a bit of fat)
3.3% (per meat weight) kosher salt
.25% curing salt*
1% black pepper
.15% juniper berries
.27% fennel seeds
2 dried bay leaves

Note: if your pork loin weighs, say, 1 kilo (1000 grams), you’ll be using for your cure 33gr of kosher salt, 2.5gr of curing salt, 10gr of black pepper, 1.5gr juniper berries, and 2.7gr fennel seeds. That should give you a rough idea of how the weight calculations should come out. Be careful to get the curing salt measurement correct! You will not be using very much. If your calculations show a lot of curing salt needed, do your calculations again. In this example, 2.5 grams is under a half teaspoon. Using weight to figure out curing recipes is far more accurate than using volume measurements.

1. Trim away any nasty looking stuff from the meat – blood spots and so on as well as most of the fat (if there is any). Wash gently, dry thoroughly.

2. Finely grind all the cure ingredients in a spice grinder or food processor. I’d suggest first flattening the juniper berries with the side of a knife. I also like to then pulverize them along with the fennel seeds using a mortar and pestle, then adding them to the rest of the ingredients to make sure I get uniform sizes of everything. Put the trimmed loin in a large zip lock bag, dump in the cure and rub it thoroughly into the meat. Seal the bag, and put it in the fridge for 8 to 10 days, depending on the weight of the meat.

3. Every other day, rub the meat throughly in the bag, helping to redistribute the cure well. Flip it over. It will throw off some liquid which is a help as the curing goes on.

4. When the cure has done its work, take the lonzino out of the bag, thoroughly rinse off the cure and pat it dry. Now you’re ready to get it into a casing and the drying underway. We’ll deal with that in the next post.

The longer you cure the meat, the saltier it will get, so for us, it’s a matter of getting the meat safely cured, but not allowing it to go a moment longer. It’s a fine line, but if you’ve cured things before, you’ll be familiar with what a completely cured piece of meat feels like. If you’re new to this, it will feel firmer, more “compact” somehow. Does that help? If you’re in doubt, let it go longer – and keep notes so you can correct things when you try again.

*Curing salt, also known as Prague powder, Instacure, Cure #2, pink salt, etc. is a mixture of finely ground salt with nitrate and/or nitrite added (6% by weight). For more information: click HERE. It is not too hard to source curing salt. Any butcher supply store will have it or you can order online. We found some at a local Bass Pro outlet. Many stores that cater to hunters will have it. Remember: it can be dangerous if eaten in large amounts, so be careful! Store it safely, well-labeled, and always double check your calculations when using it to cure meat. The amount needed for any recipe will be less than 10% of the regular salt needed for that recipe.

See you next post for the rest of the lonzino story!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ice cream-making in the 21st century

I wanted to get a post up today, but it’s proving to take longer to finish than I was hoping. It’s going to be a good one so stay tuned. My goal is to finish it up by Friday.

As a replacement, I want to share this video clip with all of you:
Ice cream shop makes custom ice cream flavors in 55 seconds.

“Instant ice cream” at iCream’s store in Chicago.
I think this is a very cool (pun intended) and clever use of emerging technologies that iCream is using, and according to most reviews I’ve seen online, their creations do not disappoint.

The fact that the ice cream is frozen quickly at such low temperatures is said to give it a delicately fine texture because the ice crystals are much smaller than in normal ice cream.

This technology is now being franchised and could soon be coming to a place near you. On my next trip to Chicago, I would certainly like to check iCream out.

How about you?

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