Certainly among the oldest ways of reliably preserving meats, salting and brining have given the world some of its favorite dishes.
Things You Should Do Before You Start
- Obtain meat. Beef or pork would do nicely.
- It is wise to mosey about the far reaches of your home with a thermometer in hand. Make a note of the temperature of your cellar, attic, bulkhead, shed, and any unheated area of your home during the cold months. That way, when you need a place to store full crocks, you'll know where to go.
This time-tested (and virtually forgotten) method of preserving your meats is neither difficult nor especially time-consuming.
- Cut your meat into 4-inch to 6-inch slabs. Generally, for every 12 pounds, use ½ pound of pickling salt and ¼ cup brown sugar. Coat all the pieces with the salt mixture.
- Sterilize a 2-gallon or two 1-gallon crocks. To sterilize, wash and rinse it well with boiling water.
- Pack the meat tightly in the crocks (or jars if you don't have a lot of meat to store), and cover tightly with cheesecloth.
- Keep the meat at 36°F (no more than 38°F; no lower than freezing) for at least a month. Wrap the meat in moisture-proof paper or plastic wrap. It will keep all winter.
That's it! You just made salted pork! Remember, however, if it gets too warm or cold, you must move your meats, so check it every once in a while.
Just as reliable, but requiring a little bit more attention, brining is another way to preserve your meats.
- Pack the pieces of meat in a sterilized crock or jar and cover with a brine of 3 quarts water, 1 pound pickling salt, and ½ cup of brown sugar. Be sure the salt and sugar are dissolved.
- The brine must cover every inch of the meat, so if it doesn't, weigh it down with a plate and a heavy object like a canning jar full of water. Cover the container and store for a week at 36°F.
- Remove the meat, stir the brine, and repack meat each week for 4 weeks. If the brine is thick or stringy, wash each piece of pork thoroughly, resterilize the container, and mix fresh brine.
Easy as pie! Now put your new-found salting and brining skills to use with these traditional delicious meat dishes.
The basis for the traditional St. Patrick's Day feast, corned beef is equally good served as hash or on a sandwich.
- Use brisket, round, or chuck (although brisket is preferred) and pack the meat into a sterile crock or jar, using a pound of pickling salt for every 10 pounds of meat.
- Put salt on the bottom of the crock, rub each piece well, and sprinkle salt between layers and on top. Let it sit for 24 hours.
- Dissolve 1 cup pickling salt, ½ cup of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon sodium nitrate (saltpeter), and 1 teaspoon baking soda in 1 gallon of warm water. Add 2 tablespoons pickling spice, 2 teaspoons paprika, a dozen bay leaves, and four garlic cloves. Cool and pour over meat in crock. Make sure all the meat is covered. Let it cure for 8 weeks at 36°F.
- Each week, turn meat and check brine. If the brine is thick or stringy, pour it off, wash meat, resterilize container, and make a new brine using two cups of salt this time to make up for the salt you packed the meat in.
- You can leave the saltpeter out if you're opposed to it, but your meat will be gray instead of pink.
An old English favorite for Christmas, spiced beef has a distinctive flavor and is served sliced very thin as a first course or as a nibbling mean with common crackers or buttered bread.
- Cover a 4-pound beef brisket with ¼ cup dark brown sugar, pressing it in firmly. Place in a covered dish and stick it in a cold place (the fridge is fine) for 2 days.
- Crush together ¼ cup whole juniper berries, 2 tablespoons whole allspice, 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, and ¼ pickling salt. Each day for two weeks press about 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture onto the surface of the meat and return, covered, to a cold place.
- After 2 weeks, wash beef under running water to remove spices, place in casserole dish, and add one cup water. Bake at 275°F., covered, for 3 to 4 hours or until meat is very tender.
- Cool to room temperature and wrap in plastic wrap. Put meat on a flat place, cover with a board or place, and weight it down with about 5 pounds. Refrigerate for 24 hours, weighted.
- Remove weight and store meat, tightly wrapped, in refrigerator. It will keep for a month.