Curing Update II

Right, where are we at with all the cures I started? Well, as can be seen from the previous post, the Ventrèche is done, but what of the other things that were put to cure at the same time?

The Hunt Beef's sitting in the fridge hopefully soaking up all the wonderful flavours from the spices and garlic that I added in my last Curing Update.

The lomo has been taken from it's cure, washed and then left to dry for 24 hours in the fridge:

Lomo after rinsing

It was meant to go into a natural ox casing, but the blasted casing was only about 40mm wide:

Lomo and ox casing

So it's plan B - a collagen casing:

Lomo, cased and tied

It's been strung tightly and any air pockets pricked with a needle.

That was 6 days ago. I've weighed it today and it's lost over 13% of it's weight, more than I'd expected, or for that matter, wanted. The fridge temperature and humidity's fine, so I'll just keep my eye on it for the time being.

The pancetta's been drying now for 12 days and is progressing steadily having lost 18% of its initial weight. I'm only going to dry this one to about 23 - 25% as it's for cooking rather than eating raw.

That just leaves the Ham in the cider cure - I've rinsed it today, it was a really sludgy old cure:

Cider Ham

It's sat in the fridge now drying out and 'equalising' - that is, I'm leaving it so that the cure, that's at present mainly in the outer parts of the meat, can spread evenly throughout the whole joint.

Ventrèche - Bacon by another name

Ventreche bacon from Gasconny

I've written here and here about the Gascon salted pork called Ventrèche, a bacon that, at it's most traditional seems to be cured with just salt as a curing agent, however commercially produced varieties seem to contain nitrite curing salts. This article infers that it's a fresh product used after a day's salting - however this by an attendee at their cookery school explains: "After salting the belly and adding pepper to taste, we tie it up... ...then suspend the roll to smoke it in the giant kitchen hearth overnight before hanging it in Camont’s ancient pantry for use throughout the season". That goes some way to showing that it is a cured product (albeit that this one's without nitrite), but then introduces smoking into the equation... Doh! Other sources refer to it as an unsmoked product and use nitrite or nitrated curing salts; what all varieties have in common is a noticeable swirl of black pepper between the rolled layers of meat, although it can also be sold 'flat'. It would appear that it can also contain garlic.

Right, so that's a salted or cured, rolled or flat, smoked or unsmoked, salt-pork or bacon, with or without nitrite/nitrate curing salts, used fresh or hung to dry, with or without garlic, as long as it's got a layer of black pepper over the meat. Phew! Well, that's nice and clear then!

In the end I decided to make a bacon that I fancied using in cassoulet and other dishes requiring lardons. Something with a bit more oomph than my normal bacon, but less than a fully dried pancetta. It's quite salty at 3½% salt with only 1% sugar.

My wife calls it Ventress bacon after PC Alf Ventress from the TV series Heartbeat! Here's the recipe:

Ventrèche or Heartbeat Bacon

To each 1 kg of Pork belly or pro rata:
Salt 30 gm
Demerara Sugar 10gm
Saltpetre 0.18gm
Cure #1 - 2.5gm
Fresh Garlic finely chopped 1 clove (optional)

After curing: Ground Black Pepper

See below for a cure calculator.

Mix the ingredients together and rub well into the meat. Place in a food grade bag or vac-pack and put into a fridge, preferably at 6°C to 8°C, for 7 - 10 days turning the bag over and giving the meat a good rub (through the bag) every couple of days. Rinse the meat under cold water, rub dry, and leave to dry further for 24 - 48 hours in a fridge. Dust the meat side with a good layer of ground black pepper:

Ventreche after putting pepper on it

And then roll it up as tight as you can - knowing the Packer's knot is a great help when doing this.

The rolled Ventreche bacon

You now want to put it somewhere cool to dry - a temperature of 12°C to 15°C with a relative humidity around 70 to 75% is ideal. If this isn't possible go for cooler rather than warmer.

Click here, there's more to read...

Pork Scratchings

Mmm... what can be more 'pork-ilicious' than pork scratchings? I can't remember when exactly it was that I first came across these little delights, the mid 70's I guess, but I recall that it was in the Black Country their traditional home in the UK. They were the hard scratchings that you need good teeth for and were made by the family firm, and scratching royalty, KVE - short for the founders of the business - K(en),V(ic) and E(va).

Much later on I became familiar with the 'Puffed Pork' style of scratching, also known as pork crunch or, in S. America, chicharones. It's that type that I decided to make having seen Saucisson MAC's recipe.

The ideal opportunity presented itself whilst making Pancetta recently. There's not much point in leaving the skin on as it dries like a board, so it was the ideal thing to use.

I boiled it until it was soft, then scraped the excess fat from it:

Preparing Scratchings

Then I put it on racks to dry in an oven set on a very low temperature:

Drying Scratchings

Finally, I fried them in hot oil and gave them a sprinkling of salt. The result is these little beauties:

Pork Crunch Scratchings

Mmm... I can almost feel my arteries hardening just by looking at them!

Curing Update

The meat from The Weekend's Curing a couple of weeks ago, is coming along fine. They've been in a fridge at around 6 - 7°C, a little higher than you'd normally run a domestic fridge but ideal for the saltpetre in the curing mix. The Cider Ham brine cure's got a little while yet before it will be ready and I'm going to leave the Lomo Curado until the weekend before I start drying it, just to make sure that it's cured throughout.

The Hunt Beef's now in the second stage of curing. The aromatic ingredients have been added and it will now have a further 20 days to absorb all the lovely flavours from them:

The Hunt Beef

The cure's been rinsed off the pancetta and after drying overnight, it's been rubbed lightly with 'red wine and balsamic vinegar' and had a dusting of black pepper. I would have preferred to use a true balsamic vinegar, but hadn't realised that we'd run out:


The French version of Pancetta, Ventrèche has had a heavier dusting of black pepper and has been rolled and tied:

Rolled Pork

The drying fridge in which they've been curing has now been put back to it's proper use and they'll hang at 12°C and about 75% relative humidity. You can see from the red lights on the left of the read-outs in this photo that the fridge (right hand control) is working to get down to temperature, and that the humidifier inside the fridge is doing the same to increase the humidity (left hand control):

The fridge controls

Murphy's law

You buy one of these:

Magimix Ice Cream maker

...and this happens:


The Weekend's Curing

When a trip to the abattoir, some 18 miles away, isn't called for, we sometimes buy meat from the local wholesalers. The prices are similar, but it's very much caveat emptor - Buyer beware!

I particularly wanted to make some cider cured ham with the cider that Mark from Rockingham Forest Cider gave me. I've started this project twice before. The first time the use of powdered allspice rather than whole coloured the meat black and the second time a fridge failure led to me having to throw the meat away. It's going to work this time - it had better do 'cos I'm beginning to look like a fool! I also wanted to give another go to the hunt beef that had to be thrown away when the fridge failed. It'll be a luxury version this time as rump beef was cheaper than silverside! Don't ask! I didn't!

The cider ham only uses half its weight in brine-cure so I've put it into a vacuum bag and sealed it with no vacuum - that way the meat will be covered with the brine.

Cider ham in cure

I cut the rump through the vac-pac that it came in forgetting that its's two lateral muscles. I'd have been better to split it horizontally rather than vertically. Oh well, I'll know next time!

Rump beef for curing

It will have a two part dry cure, the salt and curing salts have been added. The herbs and spices will follow in 7 days.

Hunt Beef curing

Pauline's a great lover of air-dried meats, so seeing that 2kg skinless loin of pork pieces were going for a song, I bought a piece to make some Lomo - Spanish air-dried eye of the loin. Obviously, this type of meat would normally call for the very best, but I've justified using this cheap meat in my own mind by virtue of the fact that this is a trial recipe. In reality it just smacks of me being a cheapskate! Only the best meat of the eye-of-the-loin is used, all fat and silverskin is removed:

The eye of the loin of pork

The meat is dry cured with smoked paprika:

The lomo in cure

I've also put a small piece of belly of pork to cure as Pancetta, air dried Italian bacon. Really it's just a spiced version of what good UK bacon would be if the industry hadn't chased profit rather than quality!


The next stop's in France with a bacon based loosely on the Gascon cured pork called Ventrèche. When I say loosely, read that as very loosely. Given that Mrs Young wants to know what PC Ventress from the programme Heartbeat has got to do with France, it may get renamed! The other French product is my take on Toulouse sausage, Saucisse de Toulouse. This sausage is the subject of much debate, so whether mine's true to tradition is somewhat dependent on whose version of tradition you read! I've made them both to use in Cassoulet (meat and beans), Petit salé aux lentilles (meat and lentils) and Choucroute garnie (cabbage and meat). Some how the French names sound so much more appetising!

French style bacon and sausage

The pork skin from the belly is currently drying ready to make pork scratchings and we also cooked, sliced and vac-packed a joint of pork to use for sandwiches, apart from that it's been a quiet weekend! Well, except that is for having to get the emergency district nurses out in all that snow on Saturday night, or should I say Sunday morning. Half-past four in the morning's not good at any time, less so in 5 inches of snow. Thanks both and a massive thanks to the volunteer 4 x 4 driver who delivered them safely in his Range-Rover.

The Green Thing?

In the checkout queue at the supermarket, the girl on the till told an older woman that she should bring her own bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The woman apologised to her and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."

The girl responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment."

She was right - our generation didn't have the green thing in its day. Back then, we returned milk bottles, pop bottles and beer bottles to the shop. The shop sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilised and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the shops and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go to the next shop.

But she was right. We didn't have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby's nappies because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 3.5 kilowatts -- wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that was right we didn't have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house - not a TV in every room, and the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of Wales!

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she's right; we didn't have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn't have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service.

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances.

And we didn't need a computerised gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest chip shop.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?

Yeah, right!

White Sourdough Bread

Followers of this blog will maybe know of my embarrassment at being 'famous' for a recipe that is a clone (albeit superb) of a supermarket soft-bap. They'll also know that I've had difficulty in coming up with a sourdough recipe that fits in with my life style.

I've always felt that I'd make better sourdough bread if I had the 'proper kit' for proving it: a couche (proving cloth) or some bannetons (linen lined wicker baskets), preferably the latter. Now the problem with this is that bannetons ain't not cheap! Nice cane or wicker ones are anything between £12 and £45. Then low and behold, I don't often get lucky, but I was in a local trade wholesalers just before Christmas and they'd got 4 lined wicker display baskets for about a fiver! Just the job - identical in all but name. Having acquired the kit, and then making a sourdough starter for a mate, when I watched last week's "Fabulous Baker Boys" TV show and they made a sourdough loaf, I thought I'd better bite the bullet and have another go, it all seemed like an omen!

Sourdough bread

I decided to use the recipe featured on the TV programme (Fabulous Baker Boys,Channel 4, episode 4) but had major problems with the dough; theirs was a very wet dough, mine made to the same recipe was so dry that it wouldn't come together. I ended up adding an extra 75ml of water and it was still on the dry side as sourdoughs go. I've asked a fellow blogger more used to these types of bread to have a look at it, but I'm naturally loathe to say that the recipe's wrong given that 'Fabulous Baker Boy' Tom Herbert has won 'Baker Of the Year' and his sourdough has won 'Organic Loaf of the Year' 9 times in the last 10 years! You'll have to try it and see what you think! I'll give my adaption of the recipe with a note of the changes.

White Sourdough Bread

300ml Sourdough starter
500gm Strong bread flour
275ml Water (200ml in original)
10gm Salt (a pinch in original)

A note about the salt: Tom's 'pinch' of salt on the TV show was about the same as the 10gm that I've used. I based mine on the normal ratios of salt used in this type of bread.

I added all the other ingredients to the flour and then mixed it well in the Kenwood Chef and subsequently by hand. I left it to rise for a couple of hours and then shaped it, floured it all over, and put it into a basket lined with a flour covered linen. The baker brothers then leave this to rise for 8 - 12 hours. I put mine into the fridge for about 16 hours and then gave it a couple or three hours to come back to temperature the next day. The loaf was then tipped gently onto a baking stone pre-heated in an oven at 240°C, the top was slashed, and it was baked for about 30 minutes, then cooled.

It has the classic thick crisp sourdough crust that demands better teeth than mine and an open textured crumb. It has a well developed taste without being at all sour. All in all quite a pleasing result.

...and how did I know it would all work out so well? I didn't, that's why I baked one of my 'everyday' loaves, just to be on the safe side!

Sourdough bread

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