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.