What with all this pork around and having to do something with it or lose it—eat it or preserve it (either with salt or by freezing)—I got out my buckled warped stained imperfect first edition of Charcuterie and opened to this page. 
I haven’t looked at the book in a while but, and please forgive the hubris, I found this page so fresh and engaging that I asked Donna to scan it.  My editor I’m sure is scratching her head at why this book continues to sell so well (for a book that encourages you to eat voluminous quantities of animal fat and salt and contains recipes that take days or even months, some of which will kill you if you don’t do them right!)—I have to think it’s because the book is, in the end, so sensible.  It’s a history of eating in a way.  I have quibbles, 3 years later, about the prose on this page, but the simplicity of the idea, the boldness of the title, the audacious subtitle, and the concise paragraph below it, combined with the wonderful design (by some unknown denizen of WWNorton, thanks whoever you are!) that places the recipes immediately below this brazen cry to embrace the miracle of salt, simple proofs of the claim above them—I don't know…I felt like I was reading someone else's book who felt exactly the same way I did.  Pancetta.  Pickles.  Lemon confit.  Cured salmon.   This page is what I love about this book and this craft.  And I had no idea at the time.

So, you, home cooks, even you home cooks with access only to a Safeway or Kroger, a 5-by-4-foot kitchen in a fifth floor walk up and an hour’s spare time between work, sleep, errands, kids, laundry and bill paying:  Buy a duck breast and pack it in kosher salt and refrigerate it for a day and then rinse it off and enfold it in cheesecloth (or anything that can breath, a clean handkerchief will do in a pinch) and let it dry for a week on a rack on the counter or dangling from a string—then, slice it and taste.  Suddenly you will see.  Buy a side of salmon—no, buy a piece of salmon—pack it in an equal mixture of salt and sugar and some citrus zest or fennel, wrap it in foil for 24 hours, rinse it and taste a paper thin slice.  A cooking miracle.

All the food on this page can be made at home with nothing more than some kosher salt and common seasonings.  We make the most wonderful food preparations seem so exotic and beyond reach.  Why?  They’re not.  They’re right before us.  And they require no special ingredient and no skill beyond common sense.


64 Wonderful responses to “Salt!”

  • Neal L.

    Thanks for the tips. My weekend is now going to involve duck breast and salmon.

  • Frank M

    ‘Charcuterie’ still sells well because it’s a damn good book! I got it for a birthday present-started making bacon, pickles, etc. I gave some to a couple friends who are now doing the same. I think that most folks maybe did not realize that it was so easy to do confit, bacon, hams and such, not to mention the historic factor. Now if I can only find some jowels…..

  • Andy Coan

    “I felt like I was reading someone else’s book who felt exactly the same way I did.”

    That, I think, is one of the highest pleasures of writing. Reminds me of a time I wrote to the opinion column of a magazine: by the time it was printed, I had forgotten I’d submitted it. So when I read it, I was thumping my fist on the table, agreeing out loud with this brilliant soul…I only felt a little silly when I read my own own name under the piece!

    I don’t think I ever commented on the whole pig post, but after my puzzlement about the whole sous vide thing, butchering a whole hog was just the kind of hands-dirty stuff I was craving! Kudos for the juxtaposition, intended or no.

  • Andy Coan

    Also, is it possible to praise salt too much? Probably not. Thanks to your ‘Elements,’ and I must add, Alton Brown, I’m finally beginning to appreciate it. (‘Charcuterie’ added to Amazon wish list…)

  • John-Patrick

    Great post and a reminder of powerful simplicity. I was expecting a reminder of proper seasoning, but instead found a post regarding “cooking” with salt; I love it.

  • Dan B.

    Regarding drying…

    In my house, counter space is generally more precious than fridge space (one of the random oddities of a house from 1952 and how my wife and I live) – and 2 very curious cats. You mention drying the duck breast on the counter. When I made bacon last, after the week-long brine/cure/whatever, I dried it on a rack on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Is there a particular reason you recommend the countertop, or would the fridge work just as well?

  • cwolfe

    Michael, I am a simple “home cook” with an adventurous palate, a can-do attitude, and a growing appreciation for your work. I’d like to offer a little background:

    I have happily begun divesting myself from Food Network — although I still love Alton Brown, respect for Mike Simon and love to watch you and Knowlton go at it on ICA. These three factors (plus an already-present admiration for Bourdain’s writing and No Rez) led me to find your blog.

    I am admittedly late to the party, but over the last few months, I have been lurking and learning here from you and your readers/posters. I have already let everyone in my life know that I want all of your books for Christmas. (And I can’t wait for Ratios!) Your passion for all things food and your gift for writing, combined with Donna’s wonderful photography have touched me.

    Now, due to religious beliefs, I don’t eat pork. I know, I know. Having said that, your Pig Day post was nonetheless inspiring. I hope to find a local organic purveyor of lamb so that I can try my hand at a similar project. Fresh off of that post you link to Kristof’s op-ed and allowed my brain to put words (albeit not my own!) to some of the thoughts that have been fomenting there for some time. For these two posts alone I say “thank you!”

    But now, SALT. Yes, I said above that I’ve asked for all of your books, but Charcuterie was not in the top 5. You know, pork and all…

    I’ve suddenly changed that.

    I forgot (!) about the intriguing idea of duck prosciutto or the wonderful pleasure that is cured salmon. I can’t wait to add these to my Christmas menu, and regret that I won’t be able to give these treats for gifts this year.

    As I can attest, beyond common ingredients and common sense, MEMORY would help this home cook keep such things within reach! Thank you for putting an ever-changing cornucopia of inspiration just a mouse-click away!

  • lisaiscooking

    Yes, now I’m excited to finally make my own cured salmon and duck. Thanks!
    And, speaking of salt, beyond the usefulness in curing, there are also all those wonderful varieties of it.

  • Emily

    This blog posting embodies everything I love about Ruhlman’s work- concise, passionate, sensible.

    I’m so happy to read that Ruhlman enjoys his own writing. It’s good to know he can share in the pleasure he gives the rest of us.

    I see kosher salt and salmon in my immediate future… even though I have practically no counter space.

    Thanks, Mr Ruhlman, and keep up the good work!

  • milo

    “And they require no special ingredient and no skill beyond common sense.”

    That’s great, but seems to contradict “some of which will kill you if you don’t do them right”.

    Is that raw duck breast or cooked? How safe is trying that, what is the risk of it going wrong?

  • kayenne

    i’m not so sure if i could easily find kosher salt here. would rock salt or fine table salt do? would it matter if it’s iodized or if it contains anti-caking agents?

    re: hanging to dry, i live in the philippines. 30C is common avarage temperature here… would the meat spoil?

  • Stefania Pomponi Butler/CityMama

    I love reading your blog (and any of your food writing) because you have such a sensible approach to food, whether it be fine or fancy. Thanks for being a constant source of inspiration. I make gravlax every year for the holidays and it is, in a word, sublime. The salt-sugar combo is magical and practical…People, don’t be afraid of salt!

    PS As a long time fan, I am getting a kick out of seeing my post in your ad sidebar. (At the top of your Estee Lauder ad.) 🙂

  • Elmer

    Just portioned out the pancetta I finished this week, and should be hanging some jowels this weekend to dry. They have been curing for about 2 1/2 weeks. Also just ordered another copy of Charcuterie for my pork suppliers. Time for them to take the plunge.

    Michael, thank you for showing that something I had been wanting to learn about for a long time is far more accessible than I had first thought.

  • Tags

    You’re forgiven. That page made my hub rise, too.

    I don’t even know what that means, but it sounded too good not to mention.

  • Jennifer Hess

    I cured my first piece of salmon earlier this week using the method in this book (substituting my own blend of aromatics), and it turned out beautifully. My husband took on the pate de campagne earlier this year and it was also a hit. We can’t wait to tackle more of these preparations in the coming months. Thank you so much.

  • Joe Fling

    I made the bacon from the book and now my wife will not buy bacon.

    I look forward to trying more, starting the the duck breast…

  • FoodPuta

    Although I’ve had the book for awhile now, I just finally did my first bacon recently.
    Damn you Ruhlman, now I don’t want to buy from the store anymore!

  • Mark Swain

    Page 41 – Fresh Bacon.

    If you have not tried fresh bacon your in for a treat! I have made the bacon on page 41 several times and it really is great. If you have a smoker or a stove top smoker it’s even better.

    If your into Sous Vide you can remove the curing salt and just use kosher salt and proceed using the same bacon making method. Again if you have a smoker do that process as well. Then place the pork belly in a vacuum bag and cook Sous Vide at 67C for at least 24 hours. Some cook it for 48 hours but I’ve found the 24 and a bit works fine. Remove from bag and sear before serving. The full process takes about 4-5 days but wow it’s good!


  • matt wright

    I am half way through the hanging of a Bresaola from your Charcuterie book. I couldn’t be more excited. Every day my son and I go down and check it out. OK, he is only two, but he giggles at it as he sees my eyes light up.

    Having to wait is killing me though.

    Duck proscuitto is next.

    It almost feels guilty in a way. How can some ridiculously simple ideas make cuts of meat/fish taste so different, and so darn good? I feel like I should be slaving over the bresaola, or at least doing a dance whilst it cures..

  • cherylk

    Perhaps it comes from living in Cleveland “where it’s always winter but never Christmas”, but I just picked my copy off the shelf this morning and set it out to pour over tonight to find a project. This post has come at just the right moment!

  • Allison

    Ahh, *that’s* what I should buy Dad for Christmas. He’ll really get into making his own charcuterie. Thanks for the subtle hint. 🙂

  • milo

    I just ordered this book for my brother for xmas as well, along with Alinea.

    I hope they both live up to the hype.

  • Andrew Martin

    The pancetta recipe alone makes this books one of the best presents I’ve ever received (thanks sis!). There are few dishes that cannot benefit from the wonderful porkiness offered by just a bit of pancetta. Every winter I make a large pot of minestrone, and I’m always amazed by how much flavore can be had from so little meat.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I echo Dan B…why am I so afraid to let the duck breast sit or be stringed without refrigeration? It seems that I have been bred to believe meat or fowl should never sit outside the fridge for fear it will ‘go bad’…

  • Natalie Sztern

    with or without an answer i am throwing caution to the wind and doing 3 duck breasts for xmas day….i will keep u posted on my results !!!

  • Shelley

    Yes, count me among the Ruhlman loyalists who have this book and made my own bacon. (What Ruhlman book don’t I have?) I think what surprised me the most was the difference in texture from grocery-store bacon! It was great. I need to do it again soon.

    And, Swain, I used my cast-iron stovetop smoker for the bacon… I’m in love with it, as you can see from my gushing review on Amazon.

  • Greg Turner

    Such a great post, and I love the simple recipes you’ve included. I point to learning how to salt as the singular most important thing I’ve accomplished in the kitchen, and I’m still not even close to expert.

    It’s become so important that it made first post at my new blog, even before my post on what the blog’s about: salt.

  • Kevin

    Well just to pad your ego a bit: today, I spent my time on page 55. Even posted about it. Oh. And the chicken in my fridge required page 60 last night. And page 39 is a staple pantry item in our house. Shortly, I will be moving to a new chapter in my life, page 193.

  • Michelle

    Ruhlman, that “is” a good page.
    Beef jerky, home cured sauerkraut and dill pickles get my attention.
    And you’ve inspired me, again.
    It makes me think of that book, ‘Below The Salt’, by Thomas B. Costain, and what a medieval history teacher once taught me in college about the origin of that phrase – and how the nobility sat at the ‘high table’ and had access to the salt – while the poor sat at the lower table ‘below the salt’ with no access to it. I couldn’t imagine a worse existence.
    I’ll be looking for some duck breast this weekend.

    PS. I am that home cook you described with the 5 foot kitchen, the errands, kids, bills and laundry.

  • luis

    Page 29 of Charcuterie, I am in culinary technique overload. Michael, you are firing off all these techniques without the minimum amount of discussion in most cases. Other than the usual wiseacres that quip they have been at it for months and years….
    What’s the point of just shoveling this stuff out with minimum or Zero discussion?
    It’s like sipiting out fine wine bro.

  • Brian

    To tell you the truth I dont remember how I originally ended up thinking “I must buy this book”, but I can tell you that it’s a coffee table stable now..it’s pure inspiration for me and I thank you for that.

    The interest for me rests in the “old worldness” of what you wrote about. That and it truly appealed to my DYI nature. So again, thanks!


  • Kate in the NW

    I am a longtime salt fiend (and thank goodness, have the blessed genetics that seem to enable me to eat buckets of it without any adverse effects other than thirst), so I look forward to trying some of these. Especially the salmon!

    Several years ago hubby and I were part of a very large crowd at a charity event with local chefs hawking wares (steam tables, no matter how well-intentioned, are the enemy of flavor, I think) – the one absolute standout was some licorice-maple syrup-cured salmon from Vancouver BC. Sweet/salty/salmony goodness.

    Any idea how to get the maple syrup flavor in there without compromising the curing process? Could I swap half the sugar for maple syrup? Is it okay to add that moisture to the salt coating/curing the fish, or would we die of food poisoning (which would put a damper on Christmas this year)?

    I would love to learn to make that stuff.

  • sailing chef

    I made bacon a few weeks ago, you should have seen the enthrawlled (sp?) look on the butchers face when I asked for a slab of pork belly. Great experience and well worth the time. Also, the Nov/Dec issue of Plate Magazine is all about bacon! Yum!

  • Jeff R.

    “Charcuterie” is a kitchen essential. That reminds me, I have some pork belly to cure. Oh, the joy.

  • Steve O.

    Any recommendations for temperature ranges on curing the duck? I live in a hundred year old apartment that can range anywhere from 60 to 80 degrees throughout the day, sometimes changing relatively quickly. Somebody else mentioned the refrigerator. Is this a viable option? I’ve wanted to get into charcuterie for a long time but never had the time or space, but I can definitely handle a few duck breasts, and just in time for the holidays.

  • Jon in Albany

    I love the fact that a cook’s preferences even find their way into kosher salt selection. In Charcuterie, Ruhlman uses Morton’s while Polcyn uses Diamond Crystal. The two salts are noticeably different in coarseness and weight per volume which absolutely justifies a cook to like one more than the other. Even if they were identical, people would probably still pick one over the other.

    Personally, I’m a Diamond Crystal salt guy myself. It’s what my grandmother and mother always had. Isn’t that where a cook’s preferences begin?

  • Natashya

    Hmmm, I might have to take a look at this book, I suddenly have a craving to salt things and leave them on my counter.

  • Eilish

    I’m in the middle of curing my first hams. My hubby shot a pig on Tuesday and we were inspired by Charcuterie to try butchering and curing it ourselves for the first time this winter. I’m so excited to taste the results. It’s also very cost effective, as butchering a whole pig costs quite a bit at our local butcher. (We’re just happy we still have a local place that does it if we need to.) I’ll be sure to post back the results.

  • S. Woody

    Charcuterie is the book I’ve most often loaned, to the entire meat department at the supermarket. They all love it, and now have their own copies (except for the department manager, but he’s a jerk).

  • Lamar

    Just a quick question about salt-curing:

    Is there any increased danger of bacterial-growth in a high-humidity environment? I live in one of the rainiest places on earth (over 180 inches annually), and don’t want to kill anyone when I try this. 😉

  • Michele Niesen

    Is it possible that I don’t own this book? Shame on me—to Amazon! I salt “cook” with smoked salt on my fish and even though it is expensive, it’s worth it for the wow factor!

  • kanani

    I remember my relatives in Hawaii preserving the fresh fish in salt, then hanging them in nets in the back. When they wanted to cook fish later on –I mean months, they’d take the fish and soak it in water.
    I love to make gravlax! It’s so easy and it’s seen as something really special. Delicious any time of the year, but for some reason –especially at Christmas.

  • CG

    Fans/addicts of salt should consider reading Mark Kurlansky’s “Salt: A World History” http://tinyurl.com/kurlanskysalt while nibbling on Charcuterrific snacks you’ve made.

    If you get into reading up on the backstories of key ingredients, Kurlansky has a book about Cod too.


  • Loyd Blankenship

    How synchronous. One hour ago, I pulled my first cured, smoked pork belly out of my smoker. Mmmmmm.

    Every friend I have that is serious about cooking (at least four I know of) have picked up _Charcuterie_ after drooling over my copy. It’s not only a fantastic book, it isn’t competing with 50 others on the same subject. I’m not surprised it continues to sell well.

  • Caput Mundi Cibus

    I just realized that you wrote THAT book – one of the books I have really wanted to have a while ago, but didnt find it within reasonable range at that time. I´m myself a charcuterie lunatic – maybe one of the reasons I moved to Italy? …hm, never thought about it that way. But the Hams and salamis here are excellent, wonderful, divine!
    Anyway,maybe I´ll try to get a copy off Ebay now for christmas…

    Merry christmas!

    / john

  • carri

    Ruhlman and Kanani, thanks for reminding me of gravlax…I’m going to make some for Christmas morning Eggs Benedict…!

  • Campusfork

    Great blog. In the Asian culinary, salt has been used to preserve vegetables from kim chi to lemons. Salt also has medicinal uses. Preserved lemons with salt are used to cure sore throats.

    keep writing

  • JP Fridy

    This post makes me even gladder that I have a 10 lb. pork belly waiting for me at the butcher shop.

    This will be my second curing effort. Last time, I made some delicious bacon, but from another recipe not involving pink salt. Since then, I’ve bought and read/reread Charcuterie, and I’ll be following its instructions today. I’m looking forward to seeing the variation between the two bacons.

  • Randy Shore

    I love my copy of Charcuterie and have been working a lot with pork belly and pork shoulder (mmm, tasso).
    I notice that you wrapped your fish with salt in foil. I had understood that salt and potentially reactive metals should not be used together. Am I wrong?

  • HappyHoarfrost

    “And the duck breasts were hung by the chimney with care..”

    Thank you for salty gift ideas all around! What do you get the family that were deer in a former life?…Charcuterie.

    Master Ruhlman, it is never hubris to note sensibility in senseless times.
    Your books stand up because they’re damn good, and though you may cringe & quibble with a word or two in hindsight–you’re a plain, great writer.
    Salty Holidays.

  • Eilish

    Just tried both your holiday kielbasa and spicy roasted poblano sausage recipes from Charcuterie. (p. 118, 131) Both are absolutely great with wild pig. The poblano, particularly, was my favorite. Wonderful as a breakfast sausage with eggs. For my first sausage-making experience, I could not have had better recipes. Thanks!

  • Erik

    Has anyone heard back regarding spoilage concerns with letting Mr. Duck hang out on the counter for a week? Obviously I trust Ruhlman, I’m just yearning for the knowledge that tells me why this is OK.

  • thehungryengineer (april)

    I did a duck prosciutto a few weeks ago – my first experience curing. The recipe I followed had you hanging it in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks (after the initial salting) instead of leaving it out on the counter (which works well for me since the feline contingent in our house wouldn’t have left the duck alone).
    It turned out well and my husband and I lived to tell the tale 😉
    The experience definitely makes me want to try more – Charcuterie made it onto my holiday wish list, in fact.
    That salmon may have to be my next trial.

  • John P

    The “Salt!” link at the top of the blog pages is off a bit. salt.html needs to read Salt.html (uppercase S) in the URL. Salt! is correct. Salt! is not.

  • John P

    Ok, now both links load the page. I do not understand this. Ignore the previous comment.

  • Louise

    I am intrigued by the duck prosciutto as my boyfriend does not eat pork and misses out on most charcuterie treats. I’d like to try rolling the raw breast in to a round with the fat on the outside, for presentation more than anything, but I worry that this would not leave enough of the flesh exposed and it might not dry out properly. I don’t want the meat to spoil in a case of style over substance!