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Finding the cure

PUBLISHED: 11:43 28 May 2014 | UPDATED: 11:43 28 May 2014

'Rookie' Andy Richards with his nephew Jack and the pigs at their smallholding in Snowdonia

'Rookie' Andy Richards with his nephew Jack and the pigs at their smallholding in Snowdonia

Archant

The Rookies are on a quest - to recreate some special curing salt they were given by a master butcher

It’s no secret that the more things we do on the smallholding, the more we keep coming back to the pigs as our favourites! They’re just fantastic to rear and to eat! But after months of roasted joints and pork chops we were looking for something new.

We’re pretty well sorted with bangers now. We’ve had loads of practice and are developing our favourite recipes –all top secret of course! We learnt very quickly to write down exactly what we put in our mixes and in what quantities as we had the heartbreak of making the perfect sausage and then struggling to remember what was in it! So pen and paper is always at the ready.

When it came to bacon we were a little more apprehensive. Dry cures or wet cures? Bought in mix or make our own? Looking back now, it was exactly the same apprehension we had with everything we’ve done here on the smallholding.  We just want to get it right, and as with everything else – we just had to get on with it.

A trip to London

We were visiting friends in London at the start of the year and stopped in an incredible deli and butchers. We spent hours in there looking at all their amazing meats and cheeses. We spoke to the butcher for a while about keeping pigs and wanting to try our own bacon. He then stepped out the back and returned with a small pot of salt. He was giving us a sample of his own secret recipe! He wouldn’t tell us what was in it, but to use 40g per kilo of meat, rub it all on, put it in a plastic tub and turn over every day for 10 days. Simple.

We couldn’t believe it. It felt like Willy Wonka had given us the recipe to his best chocolate bar. When we got home we got straight on with the curing. The day the bacon was ready felt like Christmas Day. It’s not an overstatement to say that the bacon was breathtaking – it was so delicious we didn’t want to eat too much in case we ran out.

So now the curing salt is about to run out and we have no idea how to recreate it! We keep tasting the bacon and trying to write down what we can taste – it has a hint of smoke and a hint of sweetness but, other than that, we’re lost!

Fortunately, CS food writer Mrs Simkins has come to the rescue. See our question and her answer below.

THE SECRET OF CURING SALT

Q. We’re trying to make our own curing salt. Firstly, what does every cure need and, secondly, what different things can you add to flavour it?

CS food writer Mrs Simkins says: The main cure component is salt: you can make bacon with salt alone. Salt draws out the moisture and preserves the meat, as well as contributing to the distinctive bacon flavour. Table salt is effective and economical but some people swear by sea salt.

It’s a good idea to add sodium nitrate as well (at a rate of15g sodium nitrate to 2kg salt). This helps retain the pink colour of the meat and prevent it turning grey, but, more importantly, it inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. You can find it online.

Sugar gives the bacon an extra mellow flavour dimension and helps balance the saltiness. Soft brown or muscovado both work well. You could use one part sugar to one part salt in your cure, or two parts salt to one of sugar.

If you are smoking your bacon, you probably won’t want to add anything further, but if you are making ‘green’ bacon, you could add a few extra subtle flavourings. Cracked black pepper is a classic; also try other aromatics such as crushed garlic cloves, sprigs of thyme or some bruised juniper berries, powdered bay leaves, a broken cinnamon stick or two, or some grated nutmeg.

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