I have a fondness for old ways of cooking and old recipes. I mean, if it takes a lot of time to do, it must be worth it, right? It is only natural that I would be drawn to salting meats. I even tried it as a young kid when we were learning about Native Americans in school. Thank goodness I had the common sense to not eat the resulting product as I did it horribly wrong. Now I'm older and wiser and know how to do it right. I won't lie, I am a bit enamored with the results. Though this might because I have a love affair with salt that borders on the deadly.
Salting meats is one of the oldest ways of preserving meat and with the invention of the refrigerator and freezer, it's been majorly abandoned by modern people. However, if our ancestors used it for hundreds of years, it must be pretty good or at least a good way of keeping meat from rotting. Who knows, you might need to know how to salt meat some day.
What You Need
Salting meat is a pretty basic affair. First, you need meat. Any fresh meat will do. Beef, pork, venison, rabbit, lamb, camel, whatever. I don't know how meat like chicken and turkey fairs in salt, I will admit. I have not tried it. You can use lean meat or meat with fat on it, it doesn't matter. I have found about half fat and half meat makes a really good salt pork though. Which is why you want to get belly or side cuts of pork if you are making salt pork specifically.
You also need salt, obviously. Go for pickling salt or sea salt for the best results. Do not used iodized table salt. While that is fine for cooking, the fact that you use a lot of salt when salting meats makes it best to avoid. The meat will absorb the sodium iodide which can cause health risk, such as thyroid problems. It also turns your meat an off color.
A lot of other people choose to add additional seasonings to the salt mixture to give extra flavor. I like to use brown sugar for that real nice smoky sweetness, but you can use regular sugar as well. You can also add cloves, pepper, coriander, whatever you think would taste good. Again, I have only added in brown sugar, you have to experiment yourself.
You will also need some sort of storage container. If you are making a lot, look for a five gallon bucket with a tight lid. If you are making a little, mason jars will work just fine. Just make sure you can seal it. Whatever the container, make sure it is absolutely clean and sterile. You can sterilize easily by rinsing it with boiling water a few times before use.
The last thing you need is a cool place. Ideally, the temperature should be between 36°F and 38°F. No more than 38°F and no less than 33°F. Most people use their refrigerators for this now a days, but there are also a lot of people who use cellars and barns for this just before winter. If you use a cellar or barn, be sure to check the temperature every so often as if it gets too warm, you will need to move your meat.
So in short. You will need:
- Other optional seasonings
- A container that is clean and seals
- A cool, dark place.
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Salting meat is ridiculously simple once you have the ingredients to do so.
Cut your meat into about 4 inch to 6 inch slabs. The thinner you cut, the fast it cures, but the thicker ones are easier to work with.
Roll your meat in the salt and other spices liberally and coat the bottom of your container with the mixture. Lay your meat down and cover with more salt and spices. If you are using jars, you can stack the meat, so don't be afraid to, just make sure there is enough salt in between.
Seal the container and store in the cool dark place for 5 to 10 days. That mixture will keep in your refrigerator for quite a few months, but I have been told the flavor turns south after a year. After your meat is sufficiently cured, you can remove it from the salt mixture and wrap it in plastic wrap as well. Once it's cured, this stuff pretty much keeps forever as long as it is cool.
What To Do With Salted Meat
So, your fun experiment into the old timey is complete, now what do you do with salted meats? Salted meats are mostly used to add flavor to dishes. Salt pork for example adds a creamy, salty, pork flavor to pretty much anything. You can add it to chowders, baked beans, or pretty much any veggie dish you want to give a boost of unhealthy pork to.
You can fry the meat up like bacon or any other fried meat, but you may want to wash some of the salt off first, it can be overwhelming.
I come from a family a salt-mongering high blood pressured daredevils whose absolute favorite snack is a thin slice of salt pork on pumpernickel bread with a bit of onions. So there is that. However, while the salt should have killed all the bacteria, there is no surer way to tell than to cook it. So I don't recommend being like my family and just munching on it raw. Though it is...Just really amazingly delicious if you are okay with eating raw fat.
While salted meat is kind of overwhelmingly salty on its own, it really is a great way to spice up any dish. It's really why I like to keep some around. It keeps for freakin' ever and it really brings the "Yum!" to a split pea soup or some fresh sautéed mushrooms and/or green beans.
Eating salt meat is nowhere near healthy, but sometimes, it is good for you just to be bad.