Dry Curing

Since I’m such a fan of bacon – American bacon in particular – I thought it only right to do a post on dry curing. Dry curing has been around and done the same way since the 13th century. Essentially, it’s the salting method but with the addition of nitrates. I know that sounds a bit like chemistry but bear with me.

To dry cure any type of meat, the salt (with nitrates) has to be rubbed in ham or other meat cuts before smoking. This is a tough job because it can only be done by hand. Once that’s done, the meat is packed in tubs – forcing the meat and coarse salt together as tightly as possible. It’s then left for some pre-determined time – sometimes as long as 6 weeks!

Over time, the salt dehydrates the meat by drawing moisture out of it and, as as we already know from reducing sauces, the more water you remove the more intense the flavour. (to a point)

In the barrel example above, all the liquid would simply drain away through a hole in the bottom of the tub. This drainage played important part in the process as the moisture was taking with it tiny particles of meat and blood. That’s good because the meat and blood might spoil the brine if given high enough temperatures. If the brine is kept at cooler or refrigerator temperatures the drainage hole is not needed and the liquid can sit at the bottom of the tub where some of the liquid will be re-absorbed by the meat. Of course, if the product is to be air-dried the liquid is unwelcome as it will slow down the drying process.

The dry curing method is best used for all types of sausages, bacon, and hams that will be air-dried.

In most cases, after curing process has been completed the meats go for smoking, then for air drying and there is no cooking involved. In addition to salt and Nitrates, the ingredients such as sugar, coriander, thyme, and juniper are often added to the dry mix.

The dry cure method is characterized by fast action and it can be used under wider temperature variations than other curing methods. There is a greater loss of meat weight due to the loss of water, product will have more pronounced flavour, it will be saltier and will be better preserved.

Suitable for meats that will not be cooked but smoked and air- dryed or just air-dryed.

It is also the best curing method for people living in hot climates or those with no refrigeration.

 

Potato Bacon Bites

bacon wrapped potatoQuick one today – these are very similar to the Sweet Chicken Bacon Bites I’ve posted before only this time with potatoes. The fact is, you can wrap pretty much anything in bacon and it will taste good, but there’s something particularly good about both chicken and potatoes. (There is a reason for that I’ll discuss in an upcoming post on bacon.)

The trick to this recipe is to get the smallest new potatoes you can find. They are sweeter, faster to cook and you can double your mileage from the bacon by cutting the strips in half. Of course you can do larger potatoes too but you’ll need more bacon.

Anyway, here goes…

Ingredients
5-6 small new potatoes per person
equal number of tooth pics as potatoes (plus a couple just in case)
3 strips of smoked streaky bacon per person – preferably American bacon (dry cured) if you can find it
olive oil
salt & pepper

Directions
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F)

Wash the new potatoes and pat dry. Set aside. Cut the bacon strips in half and wrap around the potatoes, securing with a tooth pic.

Place the wrapped potatoes on a lightly oiled baking tray and add a couple of drops of olive oil to each. Add a generous amount of salt & pepper – if you’re using American or dry-cured bacon you probably won’t need any additional salt like you will if you’re just using smoked streaky bacon.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until bacon is crispy and potatoes are soft. Times will vary each time you make them depending on the size of the potatoes but generally 25-30 minutes is enough.

Serve immediately.

Fresh Roast Turkey

Roast-Turkey-FreshOk, a lot of the initial posts have been what we would call “holiday related” but it feels appropriate since we just started the blog and, well, it’s just been the holidays. That being the case, it would be remiss of us if we didn’t add something about how we prefer to roast our turkey.

For us, there are a few things that are essential if you expect to have a lusciously moist roast turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas (or both):

  1. Fresh turkey – We can’t stress enough how much better it is to get a fresh, never frozen turkey. The past few years we have been lucky enough to live on a farm where our neighbour raises 5-6 turkeys specifically for eating around holiday time every year. We have to help slaughter and pluck them but it’s totally worth it.
  2. Crack the back – this is a “chefs’ trick” we learned some years ago. By pressing down on the top of the bird really hard, you can crack the ribs which will release loads of juicy flavour during cooking. Yes, it’s a bit gross and if you’re squeamish get someone else to do it for you – it’s worth it.
  3. Fat under the skin – Creating a few pockets under the skin and adding some additional fat (in our case that means copious amounts of butter) really helps the flavour and helps keep the bird basted from the inside.
  4. Rest after cooking – a lot of people don’t do this but it’s essential to let the meat rest after cooking. For a medium to large bird that means 20-30 minutes.

Growing up in America I (David) never had a fresh turkey so I didn’t know the difference. When I relocated to the UK and mentioned to someone that I was going to buy a frozen bird, they recoiled in horror and asked why I wasn’t getting a fresh bird. Since I’d never had one before and the ‘turkey industry’ had done such a good marketing job, I honestly didn’t think there would be much difference. Boy was I wrong! It was delicious so I vowed to always have fresh from then on. That was 1999 and I’ve managed to have fresh ever since.

Anyway, enough chatter, let’s get on to preparing that bird!

Ingredients
1 fresh turkey – allow at least 450g (1 pound) per person
4-6 strips bacon – American or ‘streaky’ bacon (see my forthcoming post on bacon)
4-6 carrots – roughly chopped
4-6 potatoes – cut into quarters
3-4 medium onions – quartered
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 medium oranges
200g unsalted butter
salt & pepper
good quality meat thermometer

Directions
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F)

chopped_vegetablesRough chop all the vegetables and add them to the roasting tin with a small amount of olive oil. Place the turkey on a firm surface and crack the ribs by pressing down hard on the breast bone until you hear and feel the ribs crack. Reshape and place on top of the vegetables in the roasting tray.

Roll the oranges on the counter top with a bit of pressure to break up some of the internal structures, pierce a few times with a fork and insert into the cavity of the turkey.

Cut 4-6, 1″ slits in the skin, creating small pockets between the skin and meat, placing around 25g of butter into each pocket. Don’t worry about the amount of butter, it’s not essential to be exact.

Brush the skin with olive oil, add a good amount of salt and pepper, cross bacon rashers across the top and cover with aluminum foil.

Place the covered bird in the oven and cook for 20 minutes per lb + 30 minutes. So if you have a bird that weighs 7.5kg the cooking time would work out something like this:

7,500g / 450g = 16.7 <– which is lbs
16.7 * 20 min = 334 min
334 min + 30 min = 364 min <– I would round down to 360 so the math is easier
360 min / 60 min = 6 hours

Personally, I start checking the core temperature about 20 minutes before the basic time (334 min) has been reached. Each bird is different and some cook faster than others. As soon as the core temperature is up to 180C it’s ready.

Halfway through cooking, take the bird out of the oven and baste. I also turn it around since we have a fan-assisted oven and the back can sometimes cook faster than the front.

When there’s about 45 minutes left of cooking time, remove the foil so the skin will crisp.

Once the core is up to 180C remove from the oven and transfer to a warmed serving dish. Cover and leave to rest for 20-25 minutes. Carve and serve.

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Do you have any particular tips or tricks you use to ensure moist turkey? Let us know in the comments!