Anz_0108                                                                                                           Photo by Donna T. Ruhlman
Cure: 1) To cure means to preserve.  Almost always, it’s salt that cures food, often followed by a secondary treatment, such as cooking (bacon, usually hot smoked) or drying (salt cod, prosciutto).  2): The salt mixture* used to cure meats, which can contain sodium nitrite, sugar, and other seasonings. Cures can be dry (salt and seasonings) or wet (also called a brine).  A “dry cure” should not be confused with dry curing, which indicates that a food has been cured with salt and then hung to dry in order to preserve it.
                                                –  From
The Elements of Cooking

Curing your own meats (which is no more difficult than marinating a steak) is one of the cook’s greatest tools, capable of elevating inexpensive cuts to new levels of flavor and texture.  We don’t need curing know-how in order to stay alive as we once did, but we still use these techniques for the extraordinary flavors and textures they create.  When Heath Putnam generously sent me a sample of mangalista hog belly (above), I immediately wanted to cure it to give it great flavor and to take advantage of it’s extraordinary fat.  Notice the gorgeous layering of fat and meat .  This belly was liberally coated in a basic dry cure (2 parts salt, one part sugar, and some pink salt*), put in a plastic bag with some thyme, smashed garlic, crushed bay leaf, brown sugar, nutmeg, cracked black peppercorns, and refrigerated for a week.  I then cooked it in a 200 degree oven to 150 degrees internal temperature.  The nitrite in curing salt is responsible for keeping the meat pink, gives it its distinctly piquant, bacony flavor (and also prevents botulism, should I have chosen to smoke it, an excellent option; I could also have let it dry cure for a week or two, hanging it from a pot-hook in my food snob kitchen to intensify and enhance  the flavor, but I was too hungry and eager to taste it).

The fat is exquisite, really picks up the flavors of the cure, and is the true pleasure of this amazing cut of the mangalista.  The knees go a bit wobbly from pleasure.

*Pink salt, or curing salt, is a salt containing a small amount of nitrite; it’s generically called pink salt because it’s dyed pink to prevent accidental consumption, and is sold under various brand names.  Potassium nitrate, saltpeter, was used for dry-cured sausages but has been replaced by sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate (the latter is for dry-cured sausages) because of their consistency and reliability.  I buy mine from butcher-packer.com for a buck-fifty, which will last me more than a year.  (See my book Charcuterie for the basic dry-cure and other curing recipes.)

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47 Wonderful responses to “Elements of Cooking: Cure”

  • porxs

    is it necessary to use pink salt if the pancetta stays in the fridge the whole time?

  • ben

    as a followup to my previous comment about my pork belly turning green. It didn’t prevent me from trying again and it was incredible this time.

    I didn’t realize that 9 pounds of bacon would only last me 3 months. To be fair, I did share a lot with people (though that was also very difficult). And can’t wait to do another batch (and another and another…).

    And a few links to the pics of my products as well (’tis always fun to show off and possibly inspire):

    Sliced
    Post-Smoking

  • Coop

    Ruhlman,
    Is there any way I can order some of that pork belly from him? Man you posted that and now I’d dying for some bacon here in LA.

  • Steven H.

    This evening placed my first attempt at pancetta into the wine cellar to finish. Temperature of 53-56 degrees and about 60% humidity. Dark about 98% of the time. I followed instructions in Charcuterie. Some questions from a first-timer for the more experienced.

    I bought a slice of pork belly from a Korean grocery and it weighed about 3.5 pounds. (it was clearly from a commercially-raised pig judging by thickness and amount of fat under the skin) I did not adjust the ingredients for the dry rub, and didn’t end up with leftover. Is there such a thing as using too much of the rub?

    Bought pink salt about two months before use. How long will it last? Can it keep more or less forever? A year? Months?

    Cured the belly for 8 days rather than 7. Didn’t place anything on top of the meat while it was in the fridge. Have seen different views on this. Chow.com says to place something with weight on top of the bag to make sure the meat stays in contact with the brine. Other sites say to keep the meat out of contact with the brine. Charcuterie says keep it in contact but doesn’t mention weights. Be helpful to have someone explain the pros and cons of these methods.

    After 8 days, the belly felt firm all over. It came out of the bag with no discernable smell other than the cure. Fresh smelling, in fact. The piece was small enough, about 7″ by 12-14″ or some such, that rolling it the “long” way meant I would have gotten about a roll-and-half out of it, and would have had trouble keeping the roll tight. So I rolled it the “short” way, leading to a thicker but shorter roll of meat with more turns. Pros and cons to these different methods?

    When the belly was rolled, I realized I had not squared off the meat as well as I should have, and I did a last minute trim. I noticed that some of the interior of the meat was red – not raw meat red, but not the same color as the cured exterior of the meat. Is this a problem? I decided to forge ahead and not worry about it.

    Any tips about how to get as tight a roll as possible? Turning a relatively short piece of belly onto itself say, three times, I now have a new appreciation for how hard it is to avoid air pockets. Ideas?

    Tied off the roll and hung it in the wine cellar. We’ll see what happens. I fried up a piece of the trimmings. Delicious. The juniper and bay and pepper all came through wonderfully. Great stuff. Color, even fried, had the kind of reddish tone that suggested that the cure had indeed done what it was supposed to.

    Thanks in advance for tips and feedback.

  • Cameron S

    I made 4 terrines out of the charcuterie book today. I added morel mushrooms and a few pistachios. They are now cooling in the fridge. Anyways, I live close to Washington State and plan to go to the market and buy some mangalitsa sometime soon. I actually have an exceptional source of pork from a polish butcher I go to. God bless that man.

    I also wish salumi in Seattle was open on the weekends!

  • luis

    Mal I agree with you. This is such an exciting culinary time in America that I think we should all rejoice. I understand that some things will work out and some things will not. This morning I made really kick ass eggrolls. Not a bit greasy. Textbook stuff. Later on the ones I threw in my backpack for dinner at work seemed greasier.
    Same process same eggrolls… different taste. I mean all this stuff is freaking finicky that even though we live in a time the ingredients are not an object and the kitchen is a fair git around.. there is still a world of experience for us to live through.
    I mean the stuff is exquisite..tasty if you will and that just drives some of us on. What if you do this or you do that? a pinch of this or that… and you love it each and every step of the way.

  • Mal Carne

    Luis – I, too, would expect a chef to make their own sausage.

    I used to buy sausage from a boutique meat market years ago. Then, I started playing with sausages as a way to utilize my copious amounts of meat scraps. (scraps + fatback = great sausage, or simply use a pork butt, which has the proper fat/meat proportions built in – either way, it’s a simple process) From customer reaction, there was no turning back. From there, it spread to proscuittos, pancettas, salamis, bresaolas, mortadellas – my walk-in and basement looked like something out of Texas Chainsaw massacre.

    Now, I live in the hot and humid south and have some reservations about trying such things here. Glad to see that this is gaining momentum with home cooks. It’s long over due.

  • luis

    Oh Joy! Charcuterie tha book is in the house….. next thing is probably to get after the Kitchen Aid attachements…. but first things first. I got to read this puppy and see if it’s something I can do in my home safely. For now my cast iron wok stir fry program is keeping me mighty busy. Hardly have time to brine. Although I have a small brining program running as well.

  • online pharmacy

    Pancetta making must be in the air. I have one hanging in my basement, in the middle of the partly-finished family room, the only place my cats can’t reach it.

  • ntsc

    I’ve never frozen casings, however casings will keep for up to a year, I’m told, in the refrigerator if completely covered in Kosher salt each time some are used.

    To my personal knowledge they will keep for at least nine months that way as that is as long as I’ve ever had a hank last.

  • bob

    J.T.
    That’s a great question, does cure…um..er cure?
    To add, how long do casings hold in the freezer? I have an unopened hank, that have been in for about three months.

  • J.T.

    Oh, wow. Wow wow wow. That looks really lovely. Just lovely. I think I can smell it.

    Say, does pink salt “go bad,” or just lose it’s potency? We have a supply that’s about two years old, and I wonder if I should get some fresh before I do some curing I have on the calendar. Thanks!

  • iron stef

    french laundry at home…sorry, but I totally had to look that up on youtube…and that is PERFECT. So now, everytime I am perfecting an element, I will don a spikey mullet and dance a little. it totally works!

    man, do i need to make more bacon. and the next step…pancetta!

  • luis

    Interesting..Top Chef on Bravo seemed to chastize one of their chefs for using store bought sausage in a tail gating challenge in Chicago. They made it seem like she should have made her own sausage overnight.
    Their argument was that she was a chef and a chef does not serve store bought sausage to folks in Chicago. Probably not!. (I am not crazy about Chicago style pizza either, even though I realize the extra dough is not authentic…its extra ingredients…another blog for another day)
    On another unimportant note… I have read Joyce Chen’s book and Ellen Chens her daughter and came across a book on wok cooking by Ceil Dyers published in 1977. Estate Sale o’course.
    Well Ceil Dyer’s book is a gem. Not so Chinese but who amongst us doesn’t want to make a kick ass Pork fried rice.
    Every recipe on Ceil’s book is a treasure of taste, gourmaid and something I actually want to cook.
    Long story short I made 6 eggrolls last night (my own thing no help from anyone…) and this morning I woke up with you guessed it… nothing but eggrolls on my mind…imagine that.
    Later on this morning I stopped by the gourmaid grocery shop in the hood (Gardners) and paid thrugh my..a..ss for Apple Pecan tuna to find it is oversalted a bunch…and umpleasant to my taste. Just goes to show ya…you really can not buy good prepared food..(Oh yes the turkey sandwich I bought to take to work wasn’t that great either) you just need to learn how to make it yourself.
    Now! if Subway hadn’t put its foot down and made me the footlong five buck 1/2 tuna 1/2 veggie sandwich I wanted none of this would have taken place. Cheap Bastards!

  • iron stef

    french laundry at home…sorry, but I totally had to look that up on youtube…and that is PERFECT. So now, everytime I am perfecting an element, I will don a spikey mullet and dance a little. it totally works!

    man, do i need to make more bacon. and the next step…pancetta!

  • ntsc

    My wife thinks that Charcuterie may be the best present she has ever gotten me.

    She essentially has an unlimited supply of different bacons, sausage, pancetta, proscuitto and the like. At no cost to her food budget. It’s my hobby, she has no objection to my paying for it.

  • Mike

    I’ve never cured my own meat, but I keep seeing it popping up here and there on the food blogs and the results sure look a hell of a lot better than the crap the grocery store, whether it be the ambiguously labeled “sausage” or the slimy and disappointing deli counter prosciutto. I foresee my wife not being pleased with the projects I want to pursue from Charcuterie, lol…

  • French Laundry at Home

    Whenever I see the title “Elements of Cooking” I start hearing the music to “Politics of Dancing” and then I can’t get that dang song out of my head for hours. I’m sure I’m not the only person this happens to, right? RIGHT?!?!!? >slinks off to the corner to rock back and forth for a bit<

  • luis

    Ben, I just ordered the book so I am not one to give advice on curing. But your misadventure reminds me of Ruhlman’s brining post. Long story short I am enjoying the brining process now but I did a lot of hard work to get to this point. This is why I shudder to think what will happen when the Charcuterie book arrives. Cut your loses like I did and cure small amounts of pork less than a lb weight until you start getting it right. All these things tend to be very finicky. Anyway I learned that lesson from the brining. OBTW The devil is in “THE PROPORTIONS”. But that is a diffferent blog.

  • Kate in the NW

    Now when I’m angry and call my poor dear husband a big fat hairy pig, it’s a genuine compliment of the highest order. Maybe even foreplay.

    A chef acquaintance here in Seattle tells me that Heath has trouble selling all the fat from the pigs, and it’s to be had (at understandably exorbitant prices, though still a bargain in terms of pure pleasure per $$) at the local farmer’s market. It’s sold unrendered in big plastic buckets, I guess. I couldn’t get there this week but will try again.

    One would think that it would make the world’s very best pie crust, not to mention whatever else you can think of. I’m tempted to just spread it on bread and open a beer to watch the Mariners game…

    Anyway – I thought you or some of your pastry chef friends might be able to correct this travesty of unloved lard, if it’s still the case that it’s homeless.

  • ruhlman

    ben, have been making bacon for years and have never had this problem. meat will turn dark, but fat should not turn green. nothing should be able to grow on the meat under refrigeration with all that salt.

  • Ben

    I followed the fresh bacon recipe a couple weeks ago from Charcuterie and it seemed to work very well until I pulled it from the bags and rinsed off the cure. The meat had darkened on the outside and the fat had a very noticable green color to it almost all the way through.

    There was no smell other than delicious pork but I didn’t want to take any chances. Anyone know what happened? I followed the recipe exactly and had gotten the pork belly from a butcher I know who had butchered the pig 3 days before I started the curing.

    I’m ready to try again but would like to get a better answer of what went wrong so I don’t reproduce it.

  • ruhlman

    txgrrl, michel is right. cured meats should be safer for you. no worry of botulism when curing whole muscle anyway. and yes salt and pink salt take care of a most baddies, as you put it.

    adam: it should keep for a month but better to freeze if you’re not going to eat for four weeks.

    sarah, ask your grocer to special order (be sure to specify fresh belly) or better, order from niman ranch.

  • Christine in the 'Nati

    Sweet Jesus, that looks freakin’ amazing. I have never wanted bacon worse in my life than right now. My “lunch” of oatmeal just became weepingly pathetic when good meat like that exists in the world.

    Does the spice rub from the spicy smoked pork recipe in Charcuterie count as a “cure?” I used that rub on a supermarket sale pork loin (terrible, I know), and served the finished product cold, sliced thin for sandwiches (as alternately recommended in the book), and it was the best cheap-ass pork I’ve ever had. Everyone raved about it, and it couldn’t have been easier. I put rub on on a Thursday, left it in the fridge until Saturday, and it was like magic. Un-freakin’-believable. Thanks for adding another “go-to” dish to my arsenal!!

  • NYCook

    On a recent trip to Ireland I bought a beautiful pork belly at The English Market in County Cork which I cured with actually more or less exactly what Ruhlman used, ground up the belly with some short rib scrap my friend had saved from the previous nights meal and made the best damn ravioli filling ever. I believe I am not out of line when using the word ethereal to describe the experience.

  • Tim

    “Charcuterie” is a wonderful book and one that served as the catalyst to an ongoing negotiation with my wife to convert a small room in our basement to place where we can cure meats.

    I found that a good “pilot” recipe in the book is the one for duck prosciutto. Nummers!

  • chadzilla

    I know the pleasure of what you have eaten, as I have experienced the bliss that comes only from Mr. Putnam’s mangalitsas and berkshires on several occasions. While most will salivate with envy, I can only nod in acknowledgement of your baptism in the best pork fat known to man. I actually just ate some of Wooly Pig’s Notorious C. U. T. (which contains part of the rib chop and belly) last night seared and braised with shoyu and mirin.
    I’m beginning to think that the year of the golden pig never ended.

  • White On Rice Couple

    Oh little pork belly, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways… Grilled, braised, smoked, simmered, roasted, and of course, cured. Donna’s photo is making us drool.

  • Txgrrl

    For Michel – thanks for the info. Just a smidge of pred (transplant in 12/06), but not enough to cause me to think twice about inhaling copious amounts of sodium. I was on a low-sodium diet for years so I appreciate every milligram.

    Controlling the quality of the meat is crucial. I think cured meat might be next on the list. I see you like climbing (from blog)- we’re planning on 14ers this summer. Thanks again.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Yet there are some meats that are awful when they are cured with nitrate:duck, chicken and goose taste awful after being cured with nitrate. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had fish and shellfish that has been treated with nitrate salt, but I’ll bet that would taste awful too.

  • luis

    Ok, already….I am down for a copy of charcuterie…jeeeeeeeejzjzzzzzzzzzzz as if I have time to do this stuff!!!!!!!!

  • Adam

    How long will the cured pork belly keep? I’m assuming at least 1 month, yes?

    Thanks for the post and the inspiration.

  • Claudia

    There is no scientific data available on how long cured pork belly will keep, since no belly lover has made it to the end of the week without repeatedly raiding his/her cache of belly meat (!)

  • Michel

    Sorry to jump in again, but this is a note to Txgrrl:
    I’m in the same boat, transplanted in 95, aortic stenosis. (Hence the name of my blog.)
    I avoid raw fish as well (though I’ll cheat on salmon tartar), but I haven’t had any problems with the cured food. The only drawback might be from the sodium intake, especially if you’re on Prednisone, and the inherent side effects you get from that.
    Also, if you cure at home, you have more control over your meat source, so it’s a bit of a win-win situation.

  • Darcie

    Pancetta making must be in the air. I have one hanging in my basement, in the middle of the partly-finished family room, the only place my cats can’t reach it. Curing meats in a house with six cats is a challenge.

    In addition to the pancetta I have a pork loin getting ready for Canadian bacon round two. I want to branch out into sausages next.

  • luis

    Oh you sonof…… a Mangalitza pork belly….. get the hell out…. you were after it all along…do not deny it.

    Damm that looks good. well on a better note “Helen Chens” book is in tha house. Folks at 2 bucks and change..this is a no brainer. My guess is Helen (Joyce’s daugther)completed what Joyce had set out to do. Can’t wait to read through it. So long you Mangalitza deprived folks….. Hey Michael how about putting Heath’s web link up again for us dementos…..that didn’t copy it down while we had a chance.

  • Txgrrl

    I’ve been a fan of food preservation and “from scratch” forever (especially home canning) but haven’t ventured yet into the world of home meat curing.

    Your parenthetical “and also prevents botulism” is what has stopped me from attempting said cures. I’m immuno-suppressed (heart transplant) so certain raw foods are off my list – raw unpasteurized eggs, raw oysters, sushi…so I’m particularly aware of the risks that can be sometimes be present in uncooked food.

    Does the pink salt and salt combo effectively prevent the growth of the baddies even in dry curing applications?

    Love the blog,

    Sarah

  • Claudia

    Past drooling – now foaming at the mouth. BTW, love your Food Snob Kitchen break down. But now Breck Boy Knowlton will know all about your green tea shampoo secrets and will start trying to out-Etonian flip you. Them’s the breaks, Michael (!)

  • Michel

    I tend to not be a fanboy, but I must admit, “Charcuterie” introduced me to a whole new world (not to mention a slapdown from MR on a post of mine).
    I’m already on my fourth batch of pancetta, there’s some air-dried salted ham that should be ready in June (just in time for the birth of my first kid), there’s some bresaola curing in the fridge, guanciale from a jowl that set me back a whole $2, merguez to be made tomorrow, etc.
    All this in a condo and the basements of friends. To think I didn’t eat pork for nearly 20 years.

  • Ulla

    If there is a heaven there is definitely a lot of pork fat involved, and most likely pork belly. My goodness does this post inspire me, I am also drooling—-goodness.

  • ntsc

    Well I’m about to do my second ‘pancetta’, cure goes on tonight, and I’ve two more slabs of pork belly in the freezer. What kind of temperature range can one hang cured meat at?

    Currently I’ve a once fresh ham hanging in the basement (since New Year’s) per the instructions in Charcuterie and I would like to leave it to hang until my wife needs it, but the temperature will get above 60 I’m fairly sure.

  • HappyHoarfrost

    NOT that I would ever skim one of your posts, but nothing brings a girl to a skidding halt faster than the casual, Etonian flip of a truth–PARENTHETICALLY, no less:
    “(and also prevents botulism…)”
    If I was gently scolded & scalded on the hazards inherent to at-home butterscotch sauce tutorials, curing meat will NOT be the time for “multi-tasking” (being distracted by toddlers). As much as it galls me to follow a recipe, you have my full attention. Also, as a woman I simply can’t help but listen to any man who is willing to rhapsodize publicly on fat.