Ever wonder how that huge, bone-in, Virginia ham can last for a year, swinging from the rafters at room temperature? The biggest reason for this impressive example of food preservation is salt. Salt draws out moisture and creates a less hospitable environment for bacteria and fungus to deteriorate our preserved foods. Another handy method of preservation is smoking, which dries, flavors, and preserves meat and fish. Whether you’ve reduced the feral pig population by one, or you’ve caught a mess of fish, salting and smoking techniques can do a great job to preserve your tasty fish and game.
Salting meat and fish dates back to ancient times, but that doesn’t mean it’s foolproof. You want to make sure you do it right, so start by finding a reliable recipe. If you don’t use enough salt, the food will spoil prematurely or begin to grow dangerous organisms. If you use too much salt, your finished product may be way too salty (but this is better than not using enough). Salting can be done with a salty liquid known as a brine, with dry salt, or with a combination of both techniques. Curing agents, such as nitrate and nitrite, are also frequently added to curing mixtures, though these are regarded as unhealthy forms of salt.
Hog Dry Cure
Dry curing pork (feral or otherwise) is the easiest and most popular method of curing. Once you’ve trimmed up your ham, weigh it to know how much salt you’ll need. Morton salt company recommends ¾ ounce of their Sugar Cure product for each pound of pork. Do your math, weigh out the necessary cure salt, then divide the salt into thirds. Apply the first third all over the ham, packing it tightly around cut bones. Hang the ham in a cloth bag in a chilly garage or shed in late fall, or set it on a rack in your fridge with a pan underneath to catch the drips. Either way, the ham will need to stay between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit for one month. Apply the second rubbing of salt about 4 days after the first, and the third rubbing about 2 weeks after the first. Age it 2 days per pound. For additional flavor and longevity, cold smoke the ham once it’s cured.
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