Pickled Pork

In the days before refrigeration small animals like chickens, rabbits, and small game usually were killed and eaten the same day. The meat of larger animals like pigs, however, had to be preserved by curing, drying, smoking, or a combination of those techniques. Many traditional dishes use preserved meats, but they can be difficult to find and often contain unnecessary chemicals. Fortunately it is easy to cure meat safely at home because it can be refrigerated as it cures and when finished. This recipe, adapted from Bruce Aidells’ Complete Sausage Book (Berkley: Ten Speed Press, 2000) 48, makes a product similar to the petit sales used in Louisiana cooking. I use it in place of salt pork in baked beans. It can also be turned into New Orleans’ famous spicy tasso, but that is a different recipe.

A note about curing salts: sodium nitrite has been used for centuries to prevent botulism in meat. In the 1970s concerns were raised that, when cooked, meats cured with sodium nitrites became contaminated with nitrosamines that were suspected of being carcinogenic in large doses. Subsequent studies by the National Science Foundation showed these concerns to be largely unfounded when the salts are used properly. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that cures contain 6.1 grams of sodium nitrite per 100 pounds of meat. Because such a small amount is difficult to measure accurately sodium nitrite is sold as 6.25% concentration mixed in ordinary salt. Variously called Prague Salt #1, Instacure #1, or pink salt #1 (because of the dye used to prevent from accidently being confused with plain salt) it is available from any sausage making supply vendor. I bought mine online from The Sausage Maker, Inc. in Buffalo.

Ingredients

 

Pork shoulder (butt)

5 to 6 pounds

2 to 3 kilograms

Water

2 quarts

2 liters

Kosher salt

10 ounces (1 cup)

300 grams

Sugar

3½ ounces (½ cup)

100 grams

Instacure #1

1½ ounces (7½ teaspoons)

40 grams

Red pepper flakes (optional)

1 teaspoon

5 milliliters

Bay leaves

6

6

Cloves, whole

6

6

Allspice, whole

6

6

 

Method

Cut the pork into 2” chunks of approximately equal size. In a 1-gallon or larger stainless steel, plastic, crockery, or glass container, dissolve the salt, sugar, and curing salt in the water, stirring continuously until completely dissolved. Put the meat into the brine and add red pepper flakes, if using, and the spices. Place a heavy plate or other suitable weight to ensure that the meat stays completely submerged in the brine. Refrigerate for 2 days. To see if the pork is completely cured, cut a chunk in half. The pork should be uniformly pink throughout. If it is not, leave the meat in the brine in the refrigerator for another day. Repeat the test.

Wash the cured meat under cold running water, drain, and store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to I week. For longer storage, dry the meat carefully and freeze in large freezer bags, removing as much air as possible.

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