Chances are you don’t have a cellar/basement or a curing chamber but please don’t get discouraged and read on. I dry-cure pretty much everything in my closet. Dry-curing isn’t but the simple process of removing moisture from meat by letting it hang in the open for an extended period of time until it reaches a certain weight while avoiding spoilage (in most cases the meat has been heavily salted which speeds up dehydration and inhibits pathogen activity). Once it hits that target weight it is considered dried-cured. The reduced water content and the high salinity will keep the meat preserved (pretty much forever). The ideal temperatures and humidity range to achieve this can be found pretty much in every recipe out there but not everybody lives in the ideal weather or have the equipment to reproduce it. I’m sure you have a fridge at home though. Not that this is essential but it makes the process even easier. Do you have a vacuum sealer? Now that’s just cheating. guys!
1 pork loin. Weight might vary so I will give you ingredients in % of the meat’s weight.
3% kosher salt.
0.25% Cure salt #2.
1% paprika powder (optional)
1% ground black pepper (optional)
The wet cure.
Weigh the meat and make sure to write down that number and keep that information handy (I write it on a piece of paper and stick it on the baggie). Then, mix all the dry ingredients well and place them in a plastic baggie big enough to hold the pork loin. Place the pork loin in the baggie and using your hand, rub the meat trying to distribute the cure evenly the best you can. Vacuum seal and place the baggie in the fridge for about a week per every 2 pounds (1 Kg) turning the baggie over, once a day, every day. The salt will draw water out of the meat, mixing with the rest of the dry ingredients creating a wet cure/brine. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, use a ziplock bag and make sure to remove as much air as possible from the bag.
Dry-curing. The Fridge phase.
Remove the meat from the bag and rinse it under cold water really well and pat it dry with paper towels. Place the meat on a cooling rack and then place the cooling rack over a baking sheet and place this contraption in the fridge for a couple of weeks (if you have enough vertical room in your fridge you could also hang the meat there. Otherwise you might need to tie up the loin as shown in the pics to keep its shape). Turn the meat over every day. This will reduce the moisture on the surface of the meat dramatically and make it less prone to spoiling during the final drying phase in your closet of choice.
Dry-curing. The Closet phase.
Using kitchen twine, make a butcher’s knot (slip-knot) and literally hang the meat in your closet. This phase isn’t time-based because you have to work with the humidity of your local climate/weather. Now you need a scale. Once or twice a week weigh the meat. Your target weight should be somewhere around 66% of the original weight which if you have been following the steps, should have been written down on a piece of paper and kept near the meat (I stick it to the hanging string). As the meat dries it acquires a wonderful dark reddish tone. It should also smell appetizing. The meat will continue to dry beyond the 66% mark which is normal but at the 66% mark, the texture and flavor of the cured pork is at its best so definitely give it a try!
How to deal with mold.
Keep an eye on the meat daily. To reduce the risk of mold growth (white or green), try rubbing the meat with distilled white or apple cider vinegar (any sharp vinegar really). If mold persists, rub it again. I doubt you’ll deal with a recurring-mold issue though. If you see any other mold types that aren’t green or white… probably best to abort your mission especially if you find black mold. I have never had to deal with this and I’m sure you won’t either.
I’d like to talk a bit about curing salts. If you aren’t familiar, there’s a ton of information online. Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are what are used in modern times to cure meats at home and in the food industry (potassium nitrite used to be used in the old days instead…) Curing salts that you need to become familiar with are curing salt #1 and curing salt #2. They have other names like Prague powder #1 and #2 and also pink salt #1 and #2. It’s a bit confusing at first but not really. The number is what’s important because depending on the number, the composition of the curing salt is different and so is its application. Using one over the other would be determined by the length of the curing time required. #1 is used for quick cures lasting less than 2 weeks. #2 is used for anything above 2 weeks.
Why use curing salts?
Primarily to inhibit the growth of bacteria, especially the one responsible for botulism. You can cure meat without using curing salts (just by using regular salt alone) but better safe than sorry. Curing salts also have an effect on the color of the cured product. You know that beautiful pink color of ham, right? And they also affect/enhance the flavor of the meat. Make sure you label these salts clearly and keep them out reach of children. Don’t use them for any other culinary purpose. Only for curing.
Ready to start dry curing at home?
I know the idea might seem a bit daunting at first but it really is easy and safe. Just make sure you’re working with fresh ingredients. Meat shouldn’t smell of anything. If you detect funny smells, probably best to not use the meat altogether. Follow basic sanitation rules, wash your hands and any utensils you’ll be using and happy home-curing! Please, let me know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments section below!