Part I: Smoking and Salting Meats
A well-stocked pantry or larder has always been essential to any kitchen. It doesn’t matter that the kitchen is in a castle, a manor house, or ship. A good cook knew how to make food items last over journeys aboard ships or long winters. Below I have offered a variety of techniques to keep your food longer. Many of these techniques can be used to create fantastic dishes and wonderful gifts to your loved ones.
Smoking meats were another way of preserving them. Unlike the salting process, smoking adds a tastier element to the meat. As a note, I feel safer eating smoked versus salted meats. Smoking meats require a lot less time than the salting process, so the rewards come quicker. Basically it comes to hours versus days. Although salting has been around for centuries, I grew up with smoked meats and still enjoy them today.
The process is quite easy; obtain wood chips (found in the same location as the charcoal briquettes) and soak them overnight in water. Once done, place the soaked wood chips in the bottom of the pot or tray.
I strongly recommend that you should not smoke meat indoors as it will create a lot of smoke. It can be done easily on an outdoor grill or bonfire. If on a grill, use a double rack system and place the tray with the wood chips on the lower rack and the meat or salt on the upper rack and close the lid. If using a bonfire, place the chips at the bottom of the cast iron pot and place the meat on top of the chips or the salt in a tray on top of the chips and place the lid on the pot. The heat will cause the chips to smoke and will smoke the meat appropriately.
The type and size of meat will determine the time required to cook. If the meat contains bone, it will require more time to cook. A 5 lb. roast of beef or pork will require 2 – 3 hours’ worth of cooking. Despite the desire to serve the meat medium, it should be cooked all of the way through. The meat will remain moist and flavorful. A medium sized roasting chicken will require 45 minutes to an hour and half to cook and a 12 lb. turkey will need to cook for 4 – 5 hours. In the case of poultry, the internal temperature should be 165 degrees prior to removing from the heat. Each selection of meat should stand 10 minutes before carving, this will allow the meat to continue to cook and keep the meat moist prior to serving.
Meats could also be salted as a way of preserving them over long periods of time by removing excess water. Red meat or fish are best suited for salting, which takes place at room temperature. The selected red meat (usually beef, but can be pork or lamb) should be fairly lean. By encasing the meat in salt, it removes the moisture from the flesh and slows the meat from going rancid. The same process can be used on fish, but the fish, including its cavity, must be fully encased in salt. The traditional versions of the meats sold in delicatessens, such as salami and dried beef, were originally salt cured for months before serving.
In the next issue, I will cover other food preservation methods including flavored sugars, salts, oils and vinegars as well as making your own extracts.