Friday, December 26, 2014

Tis the season — for curing meat! (The 2014 Lonzino Report)

I’ve got a break from Christmas dinner prep and wanted to get this out to everyone.

With the cold months now firmly entrenched, we’ve been busy with some home curing of meat. So far it’s only involved pork, but we’re also looking forward to making a bit of bresaola (cured dried beef) and possibly some duck prosciutto. Those latter two will have to wait until the new year.

Beginning the drying stage
Our lonzino has been a huge hit with everyone who’s tasted it. I thought we’d run out by August before discovering two vacuum-sealed packages that had somehow migrated to the wrong shelf in our freezer, so rather than having to disappoint some friends who’d asked if we were serving it before a meal in September, I could at least bring out a small sample.

(Sidebar: We’ve had our sealer for a year now (it was my big Christmas gift in 2013) and it has certainly earned its keep. If those two packages of lonzino hadn’t been vacuum packed, they would have been inedible due to ice crystals and freezer burn. I’ll be doing an update on the sealer soon, but I will say now that if you’re seriously into home curing, you’ve got to have one of these. It makes a huge difference – unless you’re going to consume everything fresh.)

If you’re not familiar with exactly what lonzino is, I’ve already written about it: Making your own lonzino. I tend to think of it as “poor man’s proscuitto” but that’s not quite fair. It is a wonderful (and easy!) thing to make, and if you don’t want to have a pig’s hind leg hanging in your basement for a few months, a very good alternative to making your own proscuitto at home.

Dried and ready for slicing
As for our recipe (it’s included in the post linked above), we’ve gotten it to the point where we’re not fooling around with it anymore. We may try something completely different. I was recently talking to another avid home-curer and his recipe doesn’t include any fennel seed but does feature a lot of lemon zest and sounds quite intriguing. We may try it in a second batch scheduled for sometime in early February.

Now that our lonzino is finished, all that remains is to slice it thinly and then vacuum seal it in manageable portions. For the moment it’s “resting” in the fridge. You’ll notice in the photo to the left that one piece picked up a bit of white mold while drying – a good thing since this actually adds to the flavor of dried meat. You do not want green or black mold on drying meat. If you find it, wipe it off immediately with a cloth soaked in vinegar. If it persists, throw your meat or sausage away. Sadly, it’s beyond salvaging.

We’ve learned a couple of things about making superb lonzino along the way in the past year which I’d like to share with you all:
  • Toasting is definitely the way to go to bring out the full flavor of not only the fennel seeds but also the juniper berries. We’ve gotten a small grinder which we use only for herbs (it’s original function was to grind coffee beans) and it does a much more uniform – and quicker – job than a traditional mortar and pestle.
  • If you’ve got a vacuum sealer, you can make perfect use of it in curing meat. I use it to make sealed (but not vacuum sealed!) bags to hold the meat while the salt and spices do their thing. Simply plunk the meat in a vacuum bag along with the cure, suck out a big of the air and then seal it. You won’t have to worry about unintentional leaks while the meat is curing in your fridge and overhauling (rubbing the cure in additionally every other day while the meat is curing) is simplicity itself. I’ve just bought a couple of rolls of vacuum sealer bags so that I will now be able to custom-cut bags of a perfect size to hold the meat.
  • I’ve tried using cheesecloth to wrap lonzino to slow down the drying of the outside layer and not had great results. To my mind, beef bungs (as a natural product) or synthetic salami casings (punctured to admit a bit more air) gives the best results for even drying. You don’t want the outside of the lonzino to get too dry and hard before the inside dries out enough. Even drying throughout is the goal and I feel beef bungs (click HERE for an explanation: the info is partway down the page) give the best result.
  • I’m probably a bit too anal about the way I tie the supporting string (using four strings instead of two), but it looks really pro, doesn’t it? Once you’ve strung up a half dozen or so, you can do a good job pretty quickly. Your finished product (especially if you’re generous to give away a whole one) will look very impressive. One project for the new year is to shoot a video explaining how to do it. Stay tuned for that.
  • If you’re going to go to the trouble of making something like lonzino, you really need a deli slicer. Trying to slice thinly enough is just too difficult manually even with a razor sharp knife. If you don’t own a slicer, maybe your butcher or a deli where you’re a good customer would slice if for you.
  • While lonzino is cured, it will still eventually spoil if it sits around long enough. That means you’re probably going to need to freeze at least some of it. If you can’t vacuum seal it first, don’t bother sealing. Your packages will form ice crystals in a short time, and when you get around to thawing the frozen lonzino for serving, you’ll be very disappointed in the results. Again, try asking your butcher to do a bit of vacuum sealing for you if you don’t have your own unit.
I know there’s a lot of information above, but I do not want you to think that making your own fantastic lonzino is difficult and requires all kinds of specialized gear and expensive gadgets. It doesn’t. Even beef bungs are easy to source and can be ordered online or going to visit a butcher supply outfit. You may have to buy a half-dozen at a time, but the ones I just used have been sitting at the back of the fridge for over a year. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer to custom make a bag for holding the meat while it cures, simply make use of a large freezer bag or even a ceramic baking dish covered with plastic wrap. Hanging the meat only requires a cool place (60°F or lower) and reasonable humidity (around 75%) for effective drying. Our basement is that cool if I close all the furnace ducts. If you have a cantina in your house, you’ve got a perfect spot. Don’t have either? Ask friends. I’m going to be playing host to some salamis in the new year since a butcher friend lives in an apartment and wants to make some. (I may charge a “fee” of a bit of his finished product in return…)

Next up on the curing front: this year’s first batch of guanciale, and boy, have we sourced some fantastic hog jowls this time out!


Jerrold Cavasin said...

Just a note. If you vac-seal the Lonzino you don't have to put it in the freezer to keep it. It will keep at fridge temps very well for 3-5 years, getting better with time. We have pulled them out of the fridge 8 months later and they were just as good or better than when they went in at the perfect time. Freezing a salt cured product could brake down the meat cells and degrade the quality.
Just saying not a criticism just a suggestion. In fact we have done this to our salami's and had them 8+ months in the fridge with perfect results.
Thanks for your great site.
In Christ
Jerry & Elise.
As soon as you get me a way to ship some pics I will show you our process and products.
I have an open fb page for anyone to view. Lots of meats in the pics section.

Rick Blechta said...

There's a simple answer to my suggestion to freeze the lonzino: litigation. Yes, what you're saying is true and cured meat will last for a long time in the fridge, but suggesting that in a public forum like this is fraught with danger. That's why you hear chefs on TV saying to cook poultry to 180 degrees. That's the temperature at which it's completely safe. White meat will be dry and nearly inedible (in my opinion, but people won't get sick from it.

I'm just not willing to stick my neck out.

Stephen K. Stewart said...

Excellent, this tip very helpful for me, thanks for sharing!

Rick Blechta said...

My pleasure, Stephen. Glad to help! Hope your lonzino turns out well.

Margaret Brown said...

I have bought a Foodsaver V2244 but I don't exactly know how to use it. Thanks for your helpful tips!

Tracy said...

Your instruction is very detail. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great blog, keeping me from working. All the Best  
salad bar equipment

Unknown said...

I wanted to thank you for this great blog! I really enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
caravan wheel clamp