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Friday, August 3, 2012

Pancetta, Parma Ham and Bacon

A little something that i have been playing with this winter is cured meats, very interesting thing this, i have played around with some bacon, I made my own smoked streaky bacon, absolutely wonderful, totally totally different to any store bought stuff that you find. I have now got curing some savoury bacon, maple bacon, parma ham and my second batch of pancetta, I have had my first batch an almost failure and have researched it a little more and found out where I went wrong so no it is off to making the parma and a second batch of pancetta that is going to be much more successful. All of this is in aid of being able to offer as much food on our menu's that is produced in house without artificial curing agents and extra added preservatives and all the other stuff that your body 1) doesn't want 2)doesn't need 3) wasn't designed to use. Salt curing of meats and the use of nitrites in curing meats has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, it just seems that of late "my generation" is losing touch with all of these wonderful and amazing crafts like making cheese, eating organic vegetables straight out of the garden eating meat that doesn't have growth hormones and antibiotics injected into them on a regular basis.

I put this all down to people becoming more driven by money and the lust for it that globalization has reigned supreme, i know for a fact that my grand parents used to grow all of these things and produced all of these things on there own, and this was not the way that they only lived my gran father still had a job on the gold mines, but it was the norm back then to have your own chickens, a big vegetable patch, some pigs and sheep. Now all we want it live is convenience and ease of living hence nice big houses with small gardens. So it gives me great pleasure in being able to do something that is now classed as Artisan, i love making sour dough breads, my own sour dough culture i have been using for 4 months now and is thriving, I enjoy making my own sausages so much so i do not buy any in anymore, it is too easy to make and a heck of a lot cheaper. I really enjoy making my own cheeses and have now found a way to make REAL ricotta instead of throwing the whey away, so it costs me nothing to make just a little time, and then i have the advantage of using this ricotta in making some pasta dishes, which I also make my own pasta as well.

I can see by December offering a Ploughmans platter with Homemade sour Dough Bread, Homemade pork and beef sausages, homemade pickles and preserves, pancetta, parma ham and homemade cheese, and all of this in an upmarket restaurant setting. I couldn't think of anything better to be doing other than something that has been forgotten over the years, it is the same when it comes to my cooking, i love to recreate old restaurant classic - again because these things are being forgotten.

Now i know i have gone a little off the beaten track here in this blog as the main aim was to talk about the productions of hams. So let me get back to the point........

The basics of making any hams and cured meats the most important thing is hygiene and sterilization of everything used in the production process, then secondly is good salt that is free of any additives, and then thirdly is good quality pigs!!

Now this last one is the hardest one to find, i am battling tremendously to find naturally reared pigs that have only been feed on raw vegetables and natural proteins and not fed on pellets and old restaurant scraps, i have been battling so much so with this that i have now decided to rear my own little porkers to make hams and bacon and so forth with. I have a supplier and friend who i get all my organic produce from and he would love to rear them for me, the area he has for them is probably around 30m x 5m and is it totally free range, with some citrus trees on on of the boundary fences (that means lots of lovely windfall fruit for the piggies) and then it has a beautiful roofed area that we will concrete for them to sleep in, now i know that are might not sound big but it is if you consider that i only want to rear 3 pigs at a time. they will be fed on all the off cuts of the organic produce, i also have alot of vegetables peels that i keep for a worm farm at the moment that i can fed them, and also the left over whey from my cheese making to give them as protein, so it seems if all goes according to plan that i will be growing some really good A-grade pork soon.

Ok now to get back onto track again, so if you have these essentials you're more than half way to making good ham, the last thing that you need is a storage area that is around 15c and about 80% humidity, this is a lot easier than you think, I have used a double door standing fridge that has been set to 15c, and i have a  couple of buckets of water in there to create good humidity, you can buy a simple humidifier that can be set.

Now you have everything you need and you want to make ham, lets start with the most famous of them all the Parma ham, who you can only call Parma Ham if it comes from certain parts of Italy and has been through all the strict checks, so for ease i am going to call it prosciutto, which is the same thing.

You will need 1 Pork back leg whole with the trotter still attached
2kg additive free salt
500g black pepper
500g pork lard (you can buy some pork back fat from the butcher cut it up small and cook it gently for a couple of hours to render out all the fat) now if you are rearing your own pigs, this would be something to use instead of just throwing it away.

Firstly you need to cut out the aitch bone, so that the only bone that is visible is the ball joint of the hip, any exposed bones poses a higher risk of spoilage, now you must liberally salt the leg, and especially concerntrate on the exposed meat section of it, them place this into a non reactive container cover with cling film and place 10kg weight on it, you need to leave it in the refridgerator or 1 day per 500g weight, i started with a 8,2kg leg so i left it in for 17 days, you will need to check it every day and if there is any liquid at the bottom of the container you will need to pour that out, dry the container and re-salt the meat.

Once you have done this process so can wash off all the salt and pat the meat dry with some kitchen paper, once it is dry pack the exposed meat part with lard and then black pepper, the black pepper stops bugs and insects from sitting on it exposing it to bacteria.

Now comes the fun part of all of this, you need to hang this for about 12-24 months at 15c at 80% humidity.
it will lose about half its original weight when it is ready. then slice super thin and enjoy!!!!!!!!!

here is a quick little interesting thing that i am sure more people dont know about,
Proper Bacon the way it is meant to be made takes around 8-10 days to cure, commercially produced bacon from the time of starting the curing to being sliced and packed ready for resale is about 3 hours!!!!!!!

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