Curing is the process whereby liquid is removed from a cut of meat or whole bird with the use of salt in order to preserve that meat.
There are two methods of curing with salt:
- Dry cure – this is where a cut of meat is either very heavily seasoned or completely covered in salt.
- Wet cure – this where a cut of meat is submerged in a salt solution (brine)
- The length of time taken to dry cure the meat in either cures depends on the size of the cut of meat as well as the end goal required. For example, a duck breast used to made duck “ham” can be salted overnight and then hung for 4-5 days where as a whole leg of pork can take up to six weeks in salt and hang for a further 2 years in the case of prosciutto.
- The same can be said for wet curing although because the meat is submerged in the brine the curing process is much faster. This process will be used to produce things like salt beef for pastrami or for cooked hams and gammons. Meat that has been wet cured can also be desalinated by rinsing under cold water or by changing the cooking water a couple of times during the final cooking process.
- Cold smoking is also used as a curing method but that is usually after a cut of meat has already been dry cured. This is done but channelling hot smoke over a short distance so that it cools and does not cook the meat. This is a slow process that may take days, depending on the nature or size of meat being smoked.
- Hot smoking, while it too has preservative qualities is more of a cooking enhancement that a curing process. This process can be done on a BBQ, a stove-top or a gas burner. Here the meat is placed directly over wood chips or shavings and the controlled heat from the smoke actually cooks the meat.
- The meat that is to be hot smoked must still spend some time in either a brine or dry cure otherwise all that happens is that you end up with a cut of meat that is smoky on the outside but the smoke has made no impact on the overall flavour of the meat. The salt helps to develop an overall smoked flavour throughout the meat.
- Meat that is hot smoked can be served immediately although for best results it should be served, on the same day that it is smoked, at room temperature.