Inspired by the River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook, Ethan cured some bacon last week. It’s good, but not quite what we expected – it’s a little heavy on the juniper berries and bay leaf. Not bad at all, but I guess we’re used to Southern-style bacon. We’re going to try it again with different seasonings. This bacon was on the lean-side, too. And it’s been in the freezer for ages, so I guess we’re lucky it turned out edible at all.
We’re really enjoying the River Cottage book. We’ve gone through so many curing books over the years, and this is one of the best – up there with Jane Grigson’s Charcuterie and the Art of French Pork Cookery. Some of the books are downright disappointing.
There was a beautiful, glossy coffee table-type book called Charcuterie we were excited to get. The first recipe was for brined saurkraut that involved BOILING the brine afterwards and pouring it back over the cabbage to pasteurize it. There goes all the probiotic bacteria! Then the recipe says it only lasts 2 weeks. I’ve had brined pickles in my fridge that lasted more than a year. The texture isn’t the same, but they are perfectly edible.
The first recipe gave me grave misgivings, but I flipped though the rest of it anyway. It was a lot of curing salts with red 40 and propylene glycol, complicated ways of pressing pastry into expensive pate dishes – with about 20 illustrations of each minute step, and elaborate emulsified sausages that involved freezing all the standing mixer equipment for hours beforehand. I guess that’s what to expect if you read anything by professional chefs. I had to pick up Jane Grigson afterwards to clear my mind. My thoughts are that if rednecks all over Europe could make great charcuterie for centuries, it just can’t be that hard. Heck, the Gauls were the ones who started it all, and I’m sure they didn’t have standing mixers.
I think one of the problems is that most fancy sausage books are written for people to experiment with reproducing certain popular regional European sausages as closely as possible in their big city loft apartment, and we are on a different approach. We’re more in the line of having a whole carcass of meat and needing something to do to make it edible and storable as quickly as possible. A whole animal, with all the organs, head and trotters, is completely different than dealing with a pork butt in plastic wrap from the store.