This weekend my phone buzzed with news of a comment on one of my blog posts. As this is a fairly rare occurrence, I was particularly surprised to note that it was from a reader who was facing a prosciutto crisis involving a missing aitchbone and a butcher shop full of suspects. Even more surprising was that I have readers at all, and after checking my blog’s stats, it turns out that most of you come here to learn how to “make your own perfect prosciutto”. (However, there were some outlier google searches that noted that people got here by looking up deviant behaviours involving salt and depravity… shame on you!)

Since Prosciutto time is right around the corner, it’s now time for a late (but nonetheless timely and accurate!) second installment.

If you’ve successfully purchased and salted and the required meat according to my first post, you’re now ready to make the magic happen and actually cure the meat of most of its bacterial evils through the use of a flavourful brine.

You’ll need:

Tools:

  • A clean bin with a lid that your prosciutto-to-be can fit inside of
  • A large sieve or cheesecloth
  • Pots and patience

Ingredients:

  1. 15 liters of water
  2. 15 cups of salt (Yes, it’s a lot of salt…)
  3. 7.5 cups of dark brown sugar
  4. 5 tbsp of saltpeter
  5. 1 bunch of thyme
  6. 15 sprigs of rosemary
  7. 15 bay leaves
  8. 10 tablespoons of crushed juniper berries

Once you’ve assembled the necessary tools and ingredients, it’s time to get cookin’. Begin by adding the salt, and saltpeter to the water and bring the pot(s) to a boil. Once the water is boiling, stir to ensure that you’ve dissolved all the salt and add in the brown sugar, stirring as needed to ensure that it is dissolved as well. At this point, the water will take on a rich, deep brown color. Now things get fragrant. If you have cheesecloth on hand, assemble a herb bouquet of thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and the juniper berries. If you don’t have cheesecloth, simply tie the fresh herbs and bay leaves together as well as you can and make sure you have a sieve for later. Bring the water to a boil once more and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Wait until the brine you’ve made has cooled to room temperature and remove the herb bouquet if you have one. If you don’t, once the brine has cooled, simply pour the brine from the pot through a sieve and into the bin you’ll be using to store the meat during the brining process. Once the liquid has been transferred, place your meat in the bin ensuring that it remains submerged. If necessary, weigh the meat down and cover the bin with the lid, storing it in a cool dry place.

For a 25-30lb piece of pork, you’ll want to ensure that the pork spends 8 days immersed in the brine. Note that if you weighed the meat down to keep it submerged, you may need to open the bin daily in order to rotate the meat and ensure that the part that is in contact with the weight is changed in order to ensure that the entire surface area of the meat has been exposed to the brine for an adequate amount of time.

If you’re curious to know more about how brine works to not only dry the meat (via osmosis) but also leads to meat that is softer and tastier, Cooking for Engineers has a great article on the subject that involves semi-permeable membranes, protein breakdown and other filthy bits of erotica.

In a few days (yes, I promise), I’ll post the Here’s the final step on how to protect the meat when you remove it from the brine and start the year-long curing process. Until then, stock up on some paprika and cayenne!