Introduction to Dry Curing

Get the basics of preserving meats without water. This tutorial examines the dry curing process, guidelines, ratios and time considerations.

| May 2019

dry-curing
Dry curing is just the same as brining – but without the added water. This method has been widely used as a means of preservation since ancient times. Our forebears may not have understood the chemistry, but it is relatively simple: almost all meat contains a high percentage of water, which must be removed to prevent it from spoiling. Salt rubbed into the meat draws out the water and retards the growth of enzymes and microbes.

How Dry Curing Works

If we look at our food a little more closely, we see that it has a very complex structure. When we are curing food it pays to understand the action of enzymes and micro-organisms as well as the structure of the meat. Enzymes are specialized proteins that can help produce to ripen; however, they can also trigger the rotting process. The simplest way to stop enzymes is to cook the food or to freeze it. Moulds, yeasts and bacteria are all micro-organisms that are sometimes harnessed to add flavour (just think of some ripe cheeses), but if left unchecked they may ruin your food.

The resistance of different types of bacteria to salt varies. For example, salmonella is inhibited by salt concentrations as low as 3%, but staphylococcus survives in much higher concentrations. The curing process must provide sufficient cure to effectively protect against unwanted degradation. It may sound like a battlefield, but there is the added advantage that the flavour is enhanced as well, especially if extra herbs or spices are added.

Good old-fashioned salt is the key ingredient, though it acts less harshly as a dry cure if used in a coarser form, so rock, kosher or sea salts are preferable to table salt. Curing does not happen instantaneously – it takes time for the salt to penetrate the meat and draw out the moisture. It is also worth remembering that the meat is vulnerable during the curing process, so it must be kept in a cool place. It was no accident that curing used to be most common at the start of winter, when the autumn reserves had diminished and the cool days had started. Using salt alone can dry out the meat and leave it hard and salty, and it often loses its colour. To counteract this, sugar is usually added.



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Guidelines

  • It is essential to buy good meat or fish.
  • Clean everything that you are going to use very carefully.
  • Trim the meat of excess fat and unwanted bits prior to curing.
  • Rub the salt into the meat or fish thoroughly, especially into any creases or crevices.
  • Use a crock pot, plastic food container or hardwood box or barrel.
  • Keep the meat or fish cool while curing.
  • Curing takes time, so be patient – good things come to those who wait.

high-quality-fish






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