Leberkäse

Loaves of Leberkäse Leberkäse is an emulsified sausage mixture that is shaped into a block, baked, and sliced to order.  Picture hot dog filling, only instead of stuffed into casings it’s packed into a loaf pan.

Yes: a hot dog terrine.

For the record the name literally means “liver cheese,” but usually contains neither liver nor cheese.  There is, however, a preparation called Käseleberkäse, which is Leberkäse studded with cubes of cheese in the style of a Käsekrainer.

Where would you eat Leberkäse?  Austria and Bavaria, for starters.  More specifically sausage stands, beer gardens, grocery stores, and any other place that might hot-hold food for quick service.  The loaves are baked till they have a brown, crusty top, then kept under a heat lamp until ordered, at which time a half inch slab is sliced from the end.  Leberkäse is commonly served in a kaiser roll with mustard or mayonnaise.

I didn’t return from Austria with an authentic Leberkäse recipe, but the flavour and texture of the dish reminded me so much of North American hot dogs that I have developed my own formula from a standard hot dog recipe.  The main departure is that I substitute a small amount of the beef shortrib with pork shoulder, and add a healthy dose of sautéed onion to the mix.  And of course it’s baked as a loaf.

For meals at home I slice slabs from the baked, chilled loaf, then sear them on a griddle and eat them on a crusty kaisersemmel.  Think fried baloney sandwiches.

leberkaese_plate.JPG

 

Leberkäse

Ingredient Percent (%) for 5 kg (g)  
beef shortrib 66.7 3335
pork shoulder 33.3 1665
kosher salt 1.20 60
curing salt 0.578 29
water 20.0 1000
mustard powder 0.711 36
paprika 0.489 24
coriander 0.222 11
garlic, minced 1.422 71
black pepper 0.178 9
corn syrup 2.400 120
sautéed onion 10.0 500

Procedure

  1. Combine the beef, pork, kosher salt, curing salt, and water.  Mix briefly, then cover tightly and let stand in the fridge for 48 hours.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients.  Chill thoroughly and grind through a 1/4″ plate.  (See this post for details on grinding technique.  Properly chilling the meat is especially important for emulsified sausages such as Leberkase.)
  3. Chill thoroughly and grind through a 1/4″ plate for a second time.
  4. Chill thoroughly and blitz in a food processor in small batches until mixture is a uniform paste.
  5. Line loaf pans with parchment.  Bring a pot of water to the boil.
  6. Pack the meat paste into the loaf pans.  Cover with foil.  Cook in a water bath until an internal temperature of 150°F is reached.

Pork Liver Pâté

Seared liver and ground pork

“What the hell is pâté?”

Pâté is fancy French meatloaf: it’s ground meat, bound with dairy, eggs, and bread.  The only difference is that pâté usually contains some liver, and it’s usually eaten cold.  If it’s baked in a special ceramic dish, it can be called a terrine.

Within that definition, there is a spectrum of pâtés that runs from rustic to refined. The two qualities that decide a pâté’s place on the spectrum are texture and ingredients. Rustic pâtés are coarser in texture and made with cheaper, heartier ingredients, like liver. They are often described by words like campagne (“country”), grandmère (“grandma”), and maison (“house”). Refined pâtés have a finer, creamier texture and feature meat more prominently than liver. They may also have fancy interior garnishes, like foie gras or pistachio nuts.  The following pâté is on the far rustic end of that spectrum, as it is coarsely ground and is half liver, half pork shoulder.

If you’re hesitant to work with liver, this is the dish for you.  You still get a clear idea of what liver tastes like, but it is somewhat tempered.  The slightly grainy, pasty texture is smoothed out by the presence of pork fat.  This dish is your gateway to liver enjoyment.

A heavy ceramic terrine
Special equipment.  Besides having some way to grind the meat and liver, the only special equipment required is a baking vessel.  I use a traditional a terrine.  You can make a terrine out of any cooking vessel, but the heavy, ceramic versions are best because they retain and evenly distribute heat.

Pâté has a delicate, almost spreadable texture.  There is a bit of egg, a bit of bread, and a brief mixing period, but the majority of the binding is going to be done by weighing down the pâté after baking.  For this I use a 2 kg brick wrapped in tin foil, and a piece of cardboard, roughly the size of the terrine, also wrapped in foil, to evenly distribute the weight of the brick.

Some things to keep in mind.  For the best texture, we want to absolutely minimize leaching fat.  As with sausages, or really any ground preparation, the meat, fat, liver, and grinder parts must be super-chilled.  Once ground, mixed, and packed into the mold, the terrine is baked to an internal temperature of 150°F, or medium-well.  There should be a faint blush of pink in the centre.  Overcooking will tighten up the meat and leach fat from the meat, yielding a dry meatloaf.  Finally, weigh the terrine heavily and chill for at least 24 hours before cutting.  Cutting with a serrated knife will help keep the terrine’s shape.

 

Pork Liver Pâté

Ingredients
  • 500 g pork liver, large dice, chilled thoroughly
  • 500 g pork shoulder, large dice
  • 25 g kosher salt
  • 4 g black pepper, finely ground
  • 30 mL canola oil
  • 60 g onion, fine dice
  • 60 mL apple brandy or schnapps
  • 2 stale white buns
  • 125 mL whole milk
  • 60 mL heavy cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • fresh thyme and summer savory to taste

Procedure

  1. Heat a heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the canola oil.  Sear the liver aggressively, without cooking the interior.  Remove the liver from the pan.  Quickly sauté onions, then deglaze with the brandy.  Add onion mixture to liver then chill thoroughly.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300°F and put a pot of water on to simmer.
  3. Form the panada by combining the buns, milk, cream, and eggs.
  4. Grind the chilled pork shoulder through a small die.
  5. Combine the chilled liver mix, the ground pork, the panada, salt, and pepper.  Grind through small die.
  6. Add herbs and mix in stand mixer for about 1 minute.
  7. Line the terrine with plastic wrap and pack tightly with farce.  Avoid air pockets.
  8. Put a folded dishtowel in a high-sided roasting pan.  This will keep the terrine from resting on the bottom and help the pâté cook evenly.  Place terrine on the towel and fill the pan with the simmering water so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the terrine.  Bake in oven until centre of pâté is 150°F, maybe one hour.
  9. Remove from oven.  Remove terrine from water bath.  Press with 1 kg weight overnight in fridge.

Slices of pork liver pâté on a charcuterie board

Intermediate Sausage-Making

After this year’s Eat Alberta conference, I had a few people ask me about giving some kind of “advanced” sausage-making class.  I wouldn’t consider myself an expert sausagemaker, but at Nomad I got to make them almost every week, so I picked up lots of tricks.  I thought I’d compile some of those ideas in this post.

The following are notes on refining ingredients and techniques to better tailor your sausages to your liking.

 

Ingredients: The Meat and Fat

Every book on sausage-making says pretty much the same thing: use shoulder.  Maybe jowl, maybe belly, and maybe a bit of trim from around the carcass, but shoulder is the undisputed sausage-making cut.  The reasons are this:

  • it generally contains roughly the right ratio of meat to fat
  • it is a tough cut, high in connective tissue.  This means firstly that it is less suited to quick, dry heat methods of cooking (though that is debatable…) but also that when it is ground and cooked it is especially moist and flavourful
  • it is cheap

You won’t go wrong using shoulder in your sausages.  However, and this is a big “however”, besides being the best sausage mix, pork shoulder also makes the best pulled pork.  It makes the best potted pork.  And the best roast, the best ham, and pretty much the best anything, except bacon.  If I only buy one side of pork a year, and I want to be able to make pulled pork and terrines and roasts, I can’t afford to grind the whole shoulder for sausages.

With that in mind, I’ve started using leg meat in conjunction with fatback.  Leg meat is kind of in between loin and shoulder in many respects: it has more fat marbling through the muscles and more connective tissue than the loin.  According the Heston Blumenthal, using leg meat also “boost[s] juiciness because the muscle structure there is better at retaining moisture than other parts of the animal.”[1]

Grinding

I think this was adequately stressed in the  Introduction, but I’ll say it again: grinding properly chilled meat with sharp blades is the single most important thing you can do to make a good sausage.  Moving on.

Equipment.  Increasingly I’ve been using a BakeMax meat grinder.  I still think the Kitchen-Aid grinder attachment is a great investment for people starting out in sausage-making, but  with the amount of links I make every year, I’ve pretty much destroyed the motor on my mixer.  There are clear advantages to having the stand alone grinder, if you can justify the cost.

One note on the construction of the grinder housing that took me a few batches to figure out.  At the very bottom of the picture below you can see a small pin.

The grinder body, with the pin that holds the grinder plate in place

That pin fits into a hole on the grinder plate, holding the plate in place relative to the housing, while the worm and blade turn within.

The grinder body and plate

After extensive use that pin might start to slide back.  Then the plate will not be held in place, and will turn with the worm and blade.  This results is the worst grind I’ve ever seen.  It’s very apparent that something is wrong, but it took me ages to figure out how to fix it.

There is a hole on the other side from which the pin will start to poke out.  The pin can be hammered back into place.

The other side of the pin hole

Ingredients: Seasoning and Flavours

Why I almost always put a bit of curing salt in my sausages:

  • improves colour,
  • changes flavour,
  • I can hang my sausages properly (see below for a full explanation of why I think this is important), and
  • I can cold smoke my sausages if I so choose.

For a full explanation of curing salt, see this post.

As for spices: always start with whole spices, and always toast the whole spices briefly before grinding or crushing them.  To do this, set a heavy pan over medium-high heat.  Add the spices to the dry pan (ie. no oil…).  Shake the pan gently so that the spices get even exposure to the heat.  Most spices will start to crackle and pop.  Once you can plainly smell the aroma of the spice you are toasting, remove it from the pan.

Recipes v. Formulae

I never say to myself, “Today I will make 5 kilos of sausage.”  More likely, I cut up a pig, then say, “I’m going to make sausage from this hunk of meat, these hunks of fat, and all these bits of trim.”  Then I weight all those items and that’s how much sausage I make.  As such I’ve started writing out my sausage recipes in a new format.  Instead of a recipe that calls for x kilos of pork and y grams of salt, I use something called a baker’s formula.  The weight of meat and fat are allocated 100%, and each of the other ingredients are represented as percentages, by weight of the meat and fat.  Here’s and example:

Basic Garlic Sausage

  • 100% pork and fat
  • 1.640% kosher salt
  • 0.150% curing salt
  • 0.799% garlic, minced
  • 0.225% black pepper

If after meat-cutting I’m left with 4268 g of meat and fat that will become sausages, I’ll need (4268 g x 0.01640) = 70 g of kosher salt.

If you are using the same recipe often, you can easily make an Excel spreadsheet into which you add the quantity of meat and fat, and all the other relative values fill themselves in.

Mixing

In Introduction to Sausage-Making I defined sausages as ground meat, usually stuffed into casings.  I say “usually in casing”s to accomodate the various sausages patties, sausages en crepinette, and loose sausages.

Since I go out of my way to include patties in the sausages family, people invariably ask: are hamburgers, then, being ground meat, technically a sausage?  The answer is a resolute “no.”

True hamburgers are not mixed, and therefore have a very different mouthfeel than sausages.  While the texture of sausages is cohesive and springy, “the gently gathered ground beef in a good hamburger has a delicate quality quite unlike even a tender steak” (Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking).  For more discussion on the loose amalgamation that is a proper hamburger, see my post from this past summer: Burger Freak-Out.

(As a sidenote: to my mind Harvey’s “hamburgers” are actually sausages, because they have clearly been mixed, and have a firm, springy texture!)

Now that we are intermediate sausage-makers I must make our definition of sausages more precise.  Sausages are ground meat that has been mixed to develop a cohesive texture, then usually stuffed into casings.

Stuffing

Natural casings are actually only one of several coaxial layers that make up the pig’s small intestine.  It’s called the submucosa.  It is surrounded by networks of blood vessels and nerves and all kinds of other stuff.

Every so often I’ll be stuffing forcemeat into natural casings and I’ll notice that the surfaces are absolutely covered in tiny ganglia.  I use the term as a descriptor, not an anatomical sense.

A hog casing ganglion!

To me these are a imperfections.  Entirely aesthetic, but imperfections nonetheless.

You can pick them off, though that would be tedious.  As further evidence that God wants us to make sausages, you can easily turn casings inside out so that these unsightly ganglia are on the inside, next to the meat.

Simply turn one end of the length of casing inside out, then feed it onto a faucet.  Start running cold water, and the weight of the water will actually pull the casing through itself.  That isn’t a great explanation.  Hopefully the picture below offers some clarification.

Turning casings inside out in the kitchen sink

As a final note on casings….  For the past couple years I’ve been buying natural hog casings from Halford’s here in Edmonton.  I’ve been noticing huge variations in the quality of the casings within a hank.

Linking

I’m often asked if you need to somehow seal the ends of the sausages after linking to keep the meat from shooting out.  The answer is “no,” provided you have mixed your meat properly to obtain a good bind, and provided you cook the sausage gently (see below for more on cooking).

Hanging

After stuffing and linking my sausages I hang them at room temperature for a couple hours.  I can do this safely because they contain curing salt.  The reasons for hanging sausages are numerous and compelling!

  • Hanging compacts the meat and makes for a more cohesive texture.
  • Hanging reinforces the links you’ve made.
  • Hanging the sausages at warmish temperatures helps with flavour maturation.  This is a classic technique of European charcutiers.
  • Hanging dries out the surface of the sausages, which has three pleasant effects: one, the sausages freeze without forming ice on their surfaces; two, the sausages brown better in the pan; and three, the colour of the sausages becomes darker and much, much more appetizing.

That last point sounds crazy when I say it aloud, so I took a picture of a freshly stuffed sausage (pale and slippery) beside some hanging sausages (darker, redder…)  Which would you rather put in your mouth?

Comparing the colour of freshly-stuffed sausages with those that have been hung at room temperature for a couple hours

Cooking

Use gentle heat!  Do not score for the love of God!  Do not overcook!  A gentle pan is good, but I prefer poaching the sausages, shocking in ice water, then gently reheating in a pan or on a grill.  This cooks them much more evenly and much more gently.

As mentioned above, if you mix, stuff, link, hang, and cook properly, the meat will not shoot out the ends of the casing.  See below:

Cooking sausages so that the meat stays in the casings

References

1. Blumenthal, Heston.  In Search of Perfection.  ©2006 Heston Blumenthal.  Published by Bloomsbury USA, New York. Page 126.

Book Review: Salumi by Ruhlman and Polcyn

Ruhlman and Polcyn's new book SalumiMichael Ruhlman is one of my favourite food writers, and a handful of his books have changed the way I think about food and cooking.  I’m convinced that his book Ratio is the single most powerful and pragmatic cookbook ever written.  He had a hand in The French Laundry Cookbook, one of the most influential cookbooks of the last twenty years.  In his narrative Soul of a Chef he describes the discipline and dedication required to work in kitchens like that of The French Laundry.  And of course there is the seminal book Charcuterie, a collaboration between Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn that almost single-handedly started a cured meat revival in restaurants and home kitchens and backyards across North America.

The book Salumi has been branded as a companion to Charcuterie.  This is clear in the packaging: the book is from the same publisher, its the same size, and filled with the same instructive line drawings, though happily with the inclusion of some colour photographs, too.  Salumi is broken into four sections.  The first is theory and ingredients, then some basic recipes, followed by more complex recipes, and finally a chapter on cooking with salumi.

The chapter on dry-cured meats in Charcuterie is so thorough, both in theories and recipes, that I’ve been curious to see what new content would be introduced in Salumi ever since murmurs of the book first appeared on Ruhlman’s blog.

Thankfully there is some great original content in the theory and ingredients section.  Most important I think are the detailed instructions on cutting whole pigs in both the Italian and American fashions.  The logistics and economics of buying whole hogs was addressed in Charcuterie, so the most valuable info here is how to remove unique Italians cuts of pork like coppa, and how to clean a hing leg to make prosciutto.

While there is a lot of redundant information between this book and Charcuterie, there are some very interesting departures.  For instance, in Salumi all of the whole muscle cuts – coppa, pancettaguanciale, and so on – are cured with sea salt, without any sodium nitrate.  (The only exception is if you plan to roll your pancetta, than nitrite is recommended.)

There is also an interesting section on fermenting salami with natural bacteria.  While all the salami recipes in Salumi do call for Bacto-Ferm, there is a brief but informative discussion of how you could develop the same tanginess in your sausages without commercial products.

Since I just got my hands on the book last week, I haven’t had the chance to try any of the recipes.  There is a good variety, and if they are as reliable as the ones in Charcuterie they will be fantastic starting points from which to develop unique recipes tailored to your individual tastes.

The final chapter on serving and cooking with salumi is the least interesting to me, but there are some good ideas for condiments.

All in all, while Salumi is nowhere near as densely informative as Charcuterie, I think it’s a great reference on this hallowed corner of the cured meat universe.

Air-Dried Beef

Air-dried beef goes by many different names in many different places.  The most famous, I think is bresaola, from northern Italy.  In adjacent Switzerland air-dried beef is pressed into a unique block shape and called Bündnerfleisch, after the Swiss canton of Graubünden.  Nearby in eastern France it is often lightly smoked, and called brési.  In all of these alpine regions it is a common accompaniment for fondue.

Eye of round is one of the best cuts to use for air-dried beef.  It is a single muscle, with very little internal fat, easily trimmed to a convenient size.  First remove any silverskin and fat.

Beef eye of round, with silverskin and fat

The cleaned eye of round:

Beef eye of round, cleaned of all silverskin and fat

The clean muscle is then rubbed with salt, pepper, herbs, and spices…

Rubbing the round down with herbs, salt, and pepper

…and left in a covered container to cure for maybe two weeks.  After curing the meat is rinsed and patted dry.

The meat can be strung up in the cellar as is, or it can be stuffed into a casing to help moderate moisture loss.  I have used beef bungs and cheesecloth.

Two rounds, one wrapped in cheesecloth, the other in a beef bung

Ideally a bit of mold will grow on the surface.  “Friendly mold” like this takes up the prime real estate and prevents pathogens from moving into the neighbourhood.

Air-dried beef from the cellar with lots of good mold

Traditionally the meat was dried so thoroughly that it was inedible unless sliced paper thin.  Nowadays, since we’re curing and drying for flavour and mouthfeel more than true preservation, air-dried beef doesn’t need to be taken that far.  It will loose about one third of its weight in the cellar.  In the picture below you can see the vibrant red colour of the finished meat.  Note there is very little marbling.

A bright red slice of air-dried beef

Below you can see the air-dried beef on a charcuterie plate.  Clockwise from top right is the dried beef, elk jerky, grilled bread, pickles, pickled peppers, fresh pork sausage, and dried pork sausage.

A charcuterie plate with air-dried beef in the top right.

Pork Tongue

A brined, cooked, peeled pig's tongueThe tongue is one of those cuts that sounds way, way weirder than it really is.

The tongue has two sections.  There’s the part that we usually think of when we consider an animal’s tongue: the part at the front that can move freely around the mouth.  Then there’s the base, at the back of the mouth.  The meat from these two sections is different.

The tip meat has a very close, dense texture, and is lean. The base meat has a coarser texture, and is a bit fatty.

The meat from both sections is very tough in its raw state.  As you can imagine, the tongue is a highly exercised muscle, and requires extensive cooking at low temperatures, usually using a moist-heat method.  “Boiled tongue” is a classic, though I prefer braising for reasons I’ll discuss below.

Finding Tongue. When you buy a side of pork, there is not typically half a tongue on the carcass; the tongue is removed whole before the pig is split down the middle.  This is good, because it means we have whole pork tongues to work with, but it also means that if you’re ordering a side of pork, or a split head, you’ll have to expressly ask that the tongue be included.

If you want only a tongue, most pork producers will have no problem providing you one.  They usually sell for a few bucks.

Curing Tongue.  Once you’ve secured a tongue, you’ll have to ask yourself if you want to cure it.  I would say that if you plan on incorporating tongue into a ragout, or grind for sausage, or some other preparation that is going to mask its tonguiness, don’t cure it.  If you’re going to be enjoying it sliced or chopped on its own, cure it.

I use the Basic Curing Brine for four days.

Cooking Tongue.  The classic method of preparation, especially for beef tongue, is boiling.  This does a fine job of tenderizing the meat, but I figure if you’ve gone to the trouble of curing a tongue so that it’s seasoned throughout, there’s no sense in boiling it unless you plan on consuming the cooking liquid as a broth.  As we’ve noted on Button Soup several times (eg. cured bath chaps, ham hocks, et c), simmering cured meat in an excess of water leaches the salt and flavours from the meat into the liquid and makes the meat very, very bland.

I suppose the ideal solution is to vacuum-seal the tongue and poach it gently.  I don’t have a vacuum sealer, but I’ve found that a shallow braise is just as effective at tenderizing the meat and doesn’t leach much cure from the flesh.  I add enough light pork stock to come maybe a third up the side of the tongues.  If you don’t have pork stock on hand, use water and vegetables, and by the end of cooking you’ll have some. If you are using a pressure cooker, be sure that you add enough stock to meet the minimum liquid requirements.

Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the meat is tender, maybe three hours.  One hour in a pressure cooker.

Peeling Tongue.  There is a layer of “skin” on the tongue.  It’s not like skin from other parts of the animal, which is thick, and has a layer of fat beneath.  This is very thin.  It’s not inedible or unsafe to eat, but it is always peeled away and discarded.  If the meat has been cooked, the skin should come away easily.  Best done while the tongue is still warm.

Eating Tongue.  Now that you have a cured, cooked, peeled pig’s tongue, the world is yours.  You can slice it cold and eat it with a bit of vinegar.  Maybe put it on a sandwich.

Church Function Food.  I’ve been thinking a bit about “church function food” lately.  I remember certain events in church basements, things like bake sales, or the reception after a funeral.  A very specific kind of food was served there.  From my own childhood in Ontario I remember there was a lot of mayonnaise: creamy slaw, macaroni salad, and potato salad, for instance.  For sweets there was jello, date squares, brownies, and cakes with ridiculous names like Queen Elizabeth and Wartime.  I really didn’t mind this food.

My favourite church function dish is minced ham sandwiches: ground ham bound with mayonnaise and garnished with finely chopped celery and parsley, served between slices of white bread, possibly crustless.  It’s the whitest dish known to man.

Here’s a variation on that.  Tongue on toast.  Chop the pork tongue, mix with celery and parsley.  Here it’s taken with beet ketchup.

Chopped tongue on toast with beet ketchup

 

On Brining Meat

A b- b- b- back bacon brine.There are two types of brine: seasoning and curing.  Each will be discussed in turn.

 

Part One: Seasoning Brine

Seasoning brine typically contains three ingredients: water, salt, and sugar.  But why do we season-brine meat to begin with? There are at least three reasons:

Flavour.  The first reason we season-brine meat is to evenly distribute flavour-enhancing salt throughout its mass, instead of simply on the outer surface.  We can also impart the flavour of herbs and spices to the meat.

Increased Tenderness.  As Harold McGee writes in On Food and Cooking, “salt disrupts the structure of the muscle filaments [and] dissolves parts of the the protein structure that supports the contracting filaments.”  A strong enough brine will also start to dissolve the filaments themselves.  During cooking, these partially dissolved filaments can’t coagulate in their usual way, so the meat seems more tender to the diner.

Increased Moisture.  Interactions between salt and protein increase the water-holding capacity of the muscle cells, which then absorb water from the brine.  McGee says that a brine with 5.5% salinity is required to start dissolving the meat filaments.  It’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that many brine recipes, including the basic seasoning brine in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, call for 5.6% salt by weight of water.

The Role of Sugar in Brine.  In seasoning brine, sugar is added strictly for flavour.  Sweet things taste good, and sweetness also helps to round out the salinity of the brine.  The sugar content can certainly be tailored to individual taste, but most recipes call for about 3% of the weight of the water.

Why we don’t season-brine beef and game.  Seasoning brine is usually applied to pork and poultry.  Beef steaks and roasts are usually cooked rare or medium, whereas pork and poultry are cooked medium-well and well, respectively.  Beef therefore doesn’t loose as much moisture during cooking, and isn’t in need of a brine the same way pork and poultry are.  A couple people have told me that brining beef yields a mushy texture.

Basic Seasoning Brine

Percentages, by weight

  • 100% – water
  • 5.6%  – kosher salt
  • 3.1%   – sugar

Example Recipe

  • 4 L water
  • 225 g kosher salt
  • 130 g sugar

 

Part Two: Curing Brine

Curing brine contains water, salt, sugar, and curing salt.  Curing brine performs all of the functions of a seasoning brine, as listed above, but they also cure the meat.  For a complete description of why we cure meat and what exactly curing salt is, see On Curing Salts (and Fearmongering).

Brine-Curing v. Rub-Curing.  Some meats are traditionally cured with brine, others with dry rub.  The later is often called “dry curing,” but this terminology is confusing, as air-dried charcuterie like salami and bresaola are also called dry-cured.  For this reason I refer to the process as rub-curing.

Some examples of what I’m talking about: the hams at the grocery store down the street are always brined, but proscuitto is always rub-cured.  Some charcuterie items can go either way: Ruhlman’s recipe for back bacon calls for a brine, but the the Irvings cure their pork loins with a dry rub.  Based on internet chat forums, it seems that belly bacon can also go either way.

So, my question: Why are some charcuterie items cured with brine, and others with rub?  This question has bothered me for some time.  Preparing brine can be a bit of a hassle, because you have to heat the water to dissolve all the salt and sugar, then chill the liquid thoroughly before the meat can be submerged.  It would be easier if I could just sprinkle a dry rub directly onto the meat and be done with it.

After a review of the relevant literature, here is my best answer to the above question.  Whether we’re brine-curing or rub-curing, salt is distributed through the meat, which:

  • cures the meat;
  • increases the tenderness of the meat by disrupting filament structure, partly dissolving some filaments, and preventing those partially-dissolved filaments from coagulating during cooking; and
  • improves mouthfeel by increasing the moisture-holding capacity of the muscle cells.

The only difference between the two processes is that, when brined, meat takes in water.  The meat’s mass actually increases by 10%, sometimes more.  Again, McGee: “When cooked, the meat still loses around 20% of its weight in moisture, but this loss in counter-balanced by the brine absorbed, so that moisture loss is effectively cut in half.”  In other words, we increase the yield on the meat, and increase the amount of moisture in the cooked meat.  Obviously there can be no water absorption when a rub-cure is used.

With this in mind, we can say that curing-brine can only be advantageous for meat that will be cooked, like hams and corned beef.  Meat that is going to be air-dried, like proscuitto or bresaola, should clearly not be brined, as the air-drying is intended to drive moisture out of the meat.

What about our belly and back bacon, then?  Why is it that some are brined and others rubbed?  I would argue that back bacon should always be brined.  Being made from the loin, it is prone to dryness.  Belly bacon, however, is about half fat, and is not prone to dryness in the least.

So as a general rule:

  • meat that will be air-dried should be rub-cured
  • lean meat that will be cooked (eg. loin, hock, leg) should be brine-cured
  • fatty meat that will be cooked (eg. belly, jowl) can be rub-cured

Now that we have established which cuts should be brine-cured, we need to consider the recipe.

Salt Content.  Most curing brine has a salinity of 8-9%.  In older sources (eg.  Fritz Sonnenschmidt’s Charcuterie), different cuts of meat all have unique brine recipes with varying salinity.  Very broadly, it seems that the tougher the cut of meat, the stronger the brine.  For instance, beef brisket that will become corned beef calls for a strong brine, while pork loin for Kassler Ripchen a weak brine.

You can certainly tweak brine in this way. I just stick to 8.5%.

Sugar Content.  As mentioned above, sugar is added to cures chiefly for its flavour.  Since curing brine has a much higher concentration of salt that seasoning brine, and sugar softens the aggressive taste of the salt, our curing brine will have a lot of sugar in them.

Again, surveying a set of brine recipes, we can see that sugar content varies widely, much more widely than salt content, in fact.  If I could discern one trend, I would say that large, festive roasts that are often accompanied by sweet glazes or sauces have the most sugar in them.  Holiday ham is probably the best example, so often served with honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar.

Basic Curing Brine

Percentages, by weight

  • 100% – water
  • 8.5%  – kosher
  • 1.2%  – curing salt
  • 3-10%- sugar

Example Recipe: Sweet Brine for Ham or Back Bacon

  • 4 L water
  • 340 g kosher
  • 48 g curing salt
  • 400 g sugar

 

Part Three: General Brine Notes

Brine Volumes.  The only rule is that the meat must be completely submerged.  Given a nice round roast and an appropriately sized container, 4 L of brine should work for everything from a 1 lb trotter to a 15 lb ham.

Cooling Brine.  Generally a brine must be heated in order to dissolve all the salts and sugars.  The brine must be completely chilled to fridge temperatures before the meat is added.  It takes a bucket of warm water a long time to cool in the fridge, and submerging meat in that water would have the meat exposed to microbe-friendly temperatures for several hours.

Basically this means you need to plan ahead.  If I know I’m going to be brining my Thanksgiving turkey on Saturday, I make a brine on Friday night.  There are lots of ways to speed up the cooling process.  The most effective is to make your brine with the full amount of salts and sugars, but only half the amount of water.  Heat on the stove, and once the salts are dissolved, add the remaining weight of water in ice.  If you don’t have enough ice, the same can be done with cold water.

Brine Times.  Season-brining is a much quicker process than cure-brining.  Seasoning-brines typically take a matter of hours.  In fact, there are quite often tables in charcuterie books, stating this many hours for a pork chop, this many hours for a chicken, and so on.  If the meat is already portioned into steaks or chops, I leave them for 12 hours.  If it is a roast that will be cut later, I leave it for 24 hours.

Curing brine usually takes days to fully penetrate a piece of meat.  I leave most items in for four or five days.  This includes tongues, hocks, and medium-sized roasts.  For larger roasts, like say a 10-15 lb ham, I inject brine and leave the meat submerged in for one week.  It’s a fairly forgiving process: leaving the meat in for an extra day does not, in my experience, make the meat too salty.

Don’t Re-Use Brine!  When you brine meat, salt and sugar are taken in, right?  That means that afterwards the concentrations of salt and sugar in your brine are no longer correct!  Discard brine after a single use!

On Cured Beef, Montreal, and the Gout

I have a certain old friend.  Technically we went to high school together, but I first got to know him in Lister Hall, then at the Kappa Alpha house on university row.  He studied philosophy, and after graduation he followed a girl to Montreal.  There he fell victim to many of the city’s seductions: strong beer, girls, and cocaine, yes, but above all these, smoked meat.

For a while he lived only a few blocks from Schwartz’s, that Mecca of Montreal smoked meat.  For a while he ate there every day: a sandwich, a pickle, and a cherry coke.

Montreal smoked meat is that city’s version of New York’s pastrami: beef brisket, cured with a concoction of spices reminiscent of corned beef, then rubbed with black pepper and coriander, hot-smoked, steamed, and finally cut to order.  At Schwartz’s and most other Jewish delicatessens the meat is stacked a few inches high on thin slices of rye bread slathered with prepared mustard.

There are many ailments with apocryphal causes.  Mononucleosis, “the kissing disease,” is commonly attributed to promiscuity.  When I heard that gout was often caused by excessive consumption of cured meat and red wine, I assumed that this, likewise, was a Victorian misconception.

My friend ate at Schwartz’s almost every day for the better part of three months.  One morning he woke with a violent start.  The weight of his bedsheet on his left big toe made him shriek in pain.  He was dumbfounded.  What was happening?  The only logical explanation he could conjure was that, in the wasted stupor of the previous evening, he had somehow broken his toe.  On this hypothesis he hobbled to the doctor.  Within thirty minutes he was diagnosed with gout.

His recovery was slow and cruel.  For one sober month he lived mostly on raspberry yogurt.  He had to go without Unibroue’s many Belgian-inspired ales.  No more crepuscular visits to La Banquise for poutine italienne.  No quail from Toqué or blanquette de veau from Hotel Nelson.

No Montreal smoked meat.

He never confided this in me, but I imagine that he went through the same convulsing withdrawl symptoms of a heroine addict.

What I admire most about this friend is that he is able to turn the most painful, squalid memories into great stories.  He now jokes about swapping gout stories with his octogenarian grandma.

 

Anyways.  That happened years ago, but it has been on my mind this week because we made Montreal-style smoked meat at work.  (“Montreal smoked meat” isn’t a protected designation, yet, but because I’m a gentile living maybe three thousands kilometers from la belle province, I add the word “style.”)

As mentioned above, Montreal smoked meat and pastrami are both usually made with beef brisket.  We were curious to try using other cuts.  We ended up curing an entire forequarter of beef, except for the neck, shank, and standing rib.  We cured, smoked, shaved, and served it all.

Foodies, generally, and I, specifically, often wax eloquent about the importance of fat in a piece of meat.  That being said, I much preferred the bottom blade, with its judicious fatty marbling, to the brisket, with its thick slab of external fat.  The blade was also a darker, richer burgundy colour than most of the other cuts.

The leaner, more tender cuts, like the cross-rib, benefited hugely from the curing and smoking.  Aficionados would no doubt argue that the deli meat made from this cut can not properly be called Montreal smoked meat or pastrami, but regardless, it really was good.

A slab of Montreal-style smoked meat

A late night snack

Peameal Bacon

Slices of homemade peameal baconIt’s always confused me that Americans call back bacon “Canadian bacon,” when it’s much more associated with Britain than Canada.  To my knowledge the only uniquely Canadian form of bacon is peameal bacon: cured pork loin rolled in ground split peas, which keeps the surface of the meat dry and inhibits microbial growth.  Sometime over the past century cornmeal has taken the place of peameal, but the name hasn’t changed.

This week I made two forms of peameal bacon: the contemporary favourite – lean, centre-cut pork loin, fat trimmed down, brined and rolled in cornmeal – and a rustic recontruction, inspired by the fantastic book The Art of Living According to Joe Beef.   I left an inch or two of fatty side meat on the loin, and after curing, rolled the meat in coarsely crushed yellow split peas.

In the end, the crushed split-peas were too coarse, making for a tooth-snapping bite.  The cornmeal had a better texture, but once the bacon had hung out in the fridge for a few days, the cornmeal absorbed moisture and lost its crispiness.

Use as you would back bacon.  Makes great sandwiches and bennies.  Below is a toasted English muffin, aged cheddar, peameal bacon, maple mustard, and poached egg:

Eggs St. Lawrence: English muffin, cheddar, peameal bacon, poached eggs, brown beans.