Curing Meat at Home

In her book, "Pure Charcuterie," Meredith Leigh shares tons of information on how you can bring fancy food to your everyday plate by curing meat at home.

| August/Septemeber 2018

  • curing-meat
    An assortment of homemade charcuterie ̶ cured meats ̶ on a serving platter.
    Photo by Getty Images/olgakr
  • mortadella
    Sandwiches made with homemade mortadella, a cured meat similar to bologna.
    Photo by Getty Images/enzodebernardo

  • curing-meat
  • mortadella

Curing meat at home is growing in popularity, and that’s a very good thing. Our modern notion of charcuterie as gourmet has created cultural and culinary blockades against the best representation of cured meats. The truth is, home cooks can cure meat.

Good charcuterie starts with good meat and good fat from an animal that had a good life, a good death, a good butcher, and a good cook. The surest way to find such meat and fat is through direct relationships with farmers. Look for meat that has healthy lean muscle, is deep in color, and is firm but springy in texture. The fat should be creamy and white, and at least somewhat plentiful. As you develop your charcuterie practice, you’ll be able to recognize quality meat and fat almost instantly via texture, scent, and color.

Ground meat has more surface area, which means a bigger playground for bacteria, so safety and sanitation are very important when preparing charcuterie. Be sure to keep your work area, your hands, and your equipment as clean as possible. You’ll also want to keep everything as cold as possible. You may want to take a break in the middle of processing to let the meat chill in the refrigerator to ensure everything stays around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally, store your cured meats in a cool, dark place. You can seal the surfaces of cured meat with fat. Do this by rendering lard and cooling it until it’s whitened but still pliable. Then, combine it with rice flour to produce a soft icing-like consistency. Spread the fat mixture over the exposed surfaces of cured items you want to store for longer periods.

How to Make Mortadella

Mortadella is very similar to bologna, but true bologna doesn’t include whole spice. If you’d rather have bologna, feel free to omit the whole spice in this recipe, and you won’t be disappointed. That being said, bologna has many variations, so you can alter the grind process for coarser textures and tweak the spice mix, and you’ll still end up with bologna.

Producing the finest textured suspension, as in the case of mortadella, usually involves what’s known as the “5-4-3 ratio” of sausage-making. That is, by weight, 5 parts lean meat to 4 parts fat to 3 parts liquid. This ratio will come into play in the following recipe, as will higher ratios of salt and spice; other than that, you’re making a very large sausage. You’ll notice that I’ve included ice as the entire liquid component. This is because I wanted a traditional recipe, but also because mortadella must remain very cold as it’s processed to preserve its texture. You can also use some frozen stock as your liquid component.



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