Pauline's Ham in a Bag

About a year ago I replied to a comment on Pauline's Ham and said: "...I have done this cure with a lot less liquid by using a vacuum bag and just putting 100 - 200 ml of brine cure in with the meat (after injecting, of course)." It was my intention, at that time, to write further about this with an explanation and more detail.

Ham cured in a bag

Contrary to popular belief, the reason's not because I'm tight-fisted! There are also some technical reasons why it's a good idea. They're not related to injection-curing; it's the immersion part of the cure that's the potential cause for concern.

Now, let's be right about this, meat's been cured using injection followed by immersion - 'pump and dunk' - with no (apparent) problems for quite a time. And, before 2008, it wasn't a problem because the EU set the maximum residual level of nitrite allowed in the meat, and that could be determined by testing.

In 2008, this changed; the laws were tightened and the level of cure permitted was not only reduced, but was changed from being based on the residual level to being based on the 'ingoing amount' of cure instead.

That's fine in the case of a dry cure, where you know by weight how much the ingoing amount is. And, with an injection cure, you know exactly what you've injected. But what about immersion curing? How much will the meat 'suck up' from the brine?

We were under the impression that we also knew that; it was assumed to be about 8% - 10% of the meat's weight, in the same ratio as the ingredients in the brine cure.

Then we became aware of the US Food Safety and Inspection Service's "Processing Inspectors' Calculations Handbook", which tells how to make the necessary calculations. That specifies two methods for calculating immersion brines: one for small pieces of meat, and one for larger ones. Should we apply one of these to the immersion part of our procedure? If so, which one? Not a problem, you'd think, as the handbook gives instructions as to which one to use; but in reality, it is. You see, tests carried out by a US analytical scientist who's also a hobby curer, show that for pieces of meat of the size most commonly cured at home, the specified rule doesn't seem to work. His tests showed, that contrary to what the FSIS advise, the other rule applies.

The test results, from his piece of meat, indicate that the meat absorbs the ingredients from the brine very quickly, and in a way that is closest to FSIS method 2. This method states that the meat will try to become part of one system with the brine cure; it will become 'in equilibrium'. The method of calculation is such that the more brine cure there is, the higher the amount of ingredients absorbed. It sounds daft, but they mean it! What they're saying is, that if you take two identical 1kg pieces of meat, and put one into 2 litres of brine cure, and one into 5 litres, then the one that's in 5 litres will absorb more of the salt, sugar and curing salt.

So how does this affect the meat when it's been injected? Well, with the amounts of brine cure that I use in my recipes, once injected, it's my belief that there's little or no further pick-up from the short spell of time that it's in the brine cure. Looking at the details for a piece of ham I cured in 2008, had the FSIS method of calculation been used for the cure, the meat should have had 5% salt in it from the immersion part of the cure; that's double or triple the amount in average cooked ham from the supermarket. In fact, in side-by-side blind tests, my ham is less salty than theirs. I would stress, that of all the hundreds of hams that must have been made using my recipe, not one person has complained that it's inedibly salty. Mark my words, if it was 5% salt, they would have.

So, if that's the case, why am I bothering with all this? Well, firstly, there's a remote possibility that I'm wrong; secondly, I tend to cure larger pieces of meat, around 4 - 5kg; I know many of you use smaller pieces of meat that may react more quickly in the brine cure; thirdly, you can never be too safe.

The FSIS do give advice about what to do when you use two methods of curing on one piece of meat. They say to calculate each part of the curing process separately. Because of what I've said above and for other reasons, I'm not happy that their advice is correct; by the very nature of the equilibrium method, the injected amount of brine cure must form part of the calculation for the equilibrium part of the cure. You can't count it twice. So, which is it to be?

With that in mind, I've devised a cure that complies with both the injection curing calculations, and with those for immersion curing (had the brine cure not been injected). I have used FSIS method 2 to calculate it as an immersion cure. As far as I am aware, neither the EU nor the UK governments' publish instructions or advice on how to calculate that ingoing levels of nitrite and nitrates comply with their laws.

Pauline's Ham

This method of curing has been tested with various weights of meat between 2.3kg and 5.8kg.

The calculator will only work for pieces of meat between 1.5kg and 7kg.

Pauline's Ham - in a Bag
Enter the Weight of Meat in grams
between 1500 and 7000.
Water gm.
Salt gm.
Muscovado Sugar gm.
Boil the Ingredients above with your spices (below), then strain the spices from the brine retaining them for later.

Weigh the brine and make it up to gm.

Allow the brine to cool and then add:
Cure #1 gm.
Mix it in well.
Your Total Brine will now weigh gm.
Inject the meat with gm of this brine until the meat weighs gm.
You can now add the spices back to the remaining brine and put the meat into a sealed bag with the brine. Exclude as much air as possible so that the meat is in contact with the brine. Place it into the fridge and turn it two or three times a day for no more than days.
Spices - please note that these amounts are only a guide
Juniper berries berry
Whole cloves cloves
Black peppercorns peppercorns
Bay leaves leaves
Coriander seed seeds

The number of days shown in the calculator is the maximum that the meat can be left in contact with the amount of brine cure specified. The meat is only placed in the brine to allow time for the injected cure to spread evenly (equalise) throughout the meat. In virtually all cases, 7 days will be more than enough for this equalisation to take place, even if the maximum is more.

I recommend that you cook this ham, in water, or in a food-grade bag in water. Keep the temperature of the water below 80°C. The ham is cooked when the temperature of the centre of the meat reaches 72°C. It can also be cooked in a lidded pot on a rack above water, in which case keep the atmosphere around the ham at below 80°C. Alternatively, it can be roasted.

It has not been possible to include a comments section at the bottom of this page. However, comment on this topic can be made here.

Monday 21 January 2013 at 13:30 pm