Are you interested in curing your own ham but hesitant to use nitrates?
You’re not alone. Many people are looking for natural alternatives to traditional curing methods.
The good news is that it’s possible to cure a fresh ham without nitrates and still achieve delicious results.
In this article, we’ll explore the process of curing a fresh ham using natural ingredients and methods.
Whether you’re a seasoned meat-curer or a beginner, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to create a delicious, natural ham that’s free from harmful additives.
So, let’s get started!
How To Cure A Fresh Ham Without Nitrates?
The first step in curing a fresh ham without nitrates is to trim off any excess flaps of meat on the leg of pork. You want to have a smooth surface for covering with salt, so that when it’s aging there are no little places for mold to grow in. It is very easy to accidentally hack off too much, so just slice off a small amount at a time.
Next, cover the base of a large food-safe container with salt (around one inch of it). Put your leg of pork in, and completely cover with more salt. You can put more legs in if you have them, making sure they are all completely surrounded by salt. Angle the container by lifting a corner up on something so that the liquid can drain off it as it ages.
Some books say to age the leg in salt for 2 1/2 to 3 days for every kilogram of meat. However, if you are not smoking it, you probably want to do it for the recommended time (so around 20 days for an 8kg ham). Lift the lid every day to see if there are any cracks in the top layer of salt, if there are, add more salt on top.
Remove the ham from the salt and rinse it off. You can put vinegar over it now if you like, and/or cold smoke it. When the ham is completely dry (and smoked, if you’re smoking), have a look at the exposed meat side of it and trim off any more obvious scraggly bits to try and make a flat surface.
Put lard into any crevasses in it, and then coat the surface of the exposed meat with a thick layer of more lard, so that there is no meat showing, only skin and lard. Hang it for at least 6 months (preferably 8 or more months) in a cool, dry, and airy place.
Why Avoid Nitrates In Cured Ham?
Nitrates are commonly used in the curing process of ham to preserve and improve the color of the meat. However, added nitrates are potentially hazardous to our health. According to the FDA, nitrosamines in processed meats increase the risk of cancer, specifically colon cancer, when people are repeatedly exposed to them. Ham is often the highest source of dietary nitrates, with a single 100 g serving of cured ham containing as much as 900 mcg of nitrites. This is why it’s important to avoid nitrates in cured ham.
Fortunately, it is possible to cure a fresh ham without nitrates. By using a dry salt cure method, you can achieve a similar result without the added health risks. The process involves covering the leg of pork with salt and aging it for around 20 days. Afterward, the ham is rinsed off and coated with lard before hanging for at least six months in a cool, dry, and airy place.
By avoiding nitrates in cured ham, you can reduce your risk of developing cancer and still enjoy a delicious cured ham that has been preserved using a natural method. It may take longer to cure without nitrates, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind and improved health benefits.
Natural Alternatives To Nitrates For Curing Ham
If you are looking for a way to cure your fresh ham without using nitrates, there are some natural alternatives that you can use. One of the most commonly used sources of nitrite in natural and organic meat products is celery powder, which is a naturally occurring nitrate source. When combined with a starter culture, it is used as a substitute for synthetic nitrates. Celery juice concentrate is another vegetable product that has a significant amount of naturally occurring nitrate. It has very little pigment and a mild taste that does not detract from the meat’s flavor.
Raw or turbinado sugar is another common ingredient used in naturally-cured products. Although there is no clear evidence on substantial amounts of nitrate or nitrite found in raw sugar, it is still used for its multi-functional purposes such as flavoring and improving quality.
Sea salt is also allowed in uncured products and can be used as a base for curing. Non-iodized sea salt can be used to draw moisture out of the meat cells and preserve it. However, table salt may slow down cooking and affect the taste or leave sediment in the brining liquid.
It is important to note that using natural alternatives to nitrates may lead to a decrease in consumer acceptance since consumers would not expect to taste vegetable flavor in a meat product. Additionally, alternatively-cured products are likely to have a shorter shelf life than nitrite-cured products since less nitrite is present in the final product and because other preservatives such as lactates, curing accelerators, and antioxidants are not used. Therefore, it is important to follow proper curing techniques and storage guidelines to ensure food safety and quality.
Ingredients And Equipment Needed For Natural Curing
To cure a fresh ham without nitrates, you will need the following ingredients:
– Salt: You will need enough salt to cover the leg of pork completely and to create a layer at the bottom of the container.
– Lard: You will need enough lard to fill any crevasses in the ham and to coat the exposed meat with a thick layer.
– Vinegar (optional): You can use vinegar to rinse off the ham after removing it from the salt.
– Wood chips (optional): If you want to cold smoke the ham, you will need wood chips of your choice.
In terms of equipment, you will need:
– A large food-safe container: You will need a container big enough to hold the leg of pork and to completely cover it with salt.
– Something to lift one corner of the container: This will allow the liquid to drain off as the ham ages.
– A sharp knife: You will need a knife to trim off excess flaps of meat and scraggly bits.
– A cloth towel: You will need a towel to pat dry the ham after rinsing it off.
– A rack: You will need a rack to air-dry the ham in the refrigerator after rinsing it off.
– A cool, dry, and airy place: You will need a place to hang the ham for at least 6 months (preferably 8 or more months) after coating it with lard.
Step-by-step Guide To Curing A Fresh Ham Without Nitrates
If you want to cure a fresh ham without nitrates, follow these step-by-step instructions:
1. Trim off any excess flaps of meat on the leg of pork to have a smooth surface for covering with salt.
2. Cover the base of a large food-safe container with salt (around one inch of it).
3. Put your leg of pork in, and completely cover with more salt. You can put more legs in if you have them, making sure they are all completely surrounded by salt.
4. Angle the container by lifting a corner up on something so that the liquid can drain off it as it ages.
5. Age the leg in salt for the recommended time (around 20 days for an 8kg ham). Lift the lid every day to see if there are any cracks in the top layer of salt, if there are, add more salt on top.
6. Remove the ham from the salt and rinse it off. You can put vinegar over it now if you like, and/or cold smoke it.
7. When the ham is completely dry (and smoked, if you’re smoking), have a look at the exposed meat side of it and trim off any more obvious scraggly bits to try and make a flat surface.
8. Put lard into any crevasses in it, and then coat the surface of the exposed meat with a thick layer of more lard, so that there is no meat showing, only skin and lard.
9. Hang it for at least 6 months (preferably 8 or more months) in a cool, dry, and airy place.
By following these simple steps, you can successfully cure a fresh ham without nitrates and enjoy delicious home-cured ham.
Tips For Achieving The Perfect Flavor And Texture
Achieving the perfect flavor and texture for your cured fresh ham without nitrates requires attention to detail and patience. Here are some tips to help you achieve the best results:
1. Use high-quality pork: The quality of the pork you use will affect the final flavor of the ham. Choose a fresh, high-quality pork leg from a trusted source.
2. Use the right amount of salt: The amount of salt used in the curing process is crucial for achieving the perfect flavor and texture. Use enough salt to completely cover the ham, but not so much that it becomes overly salty.
3. Monitor the curing process: Check on your ham regularly during the curing process to ensure that it is aging properly. If you notice any cracks in the top layer of salt, add more salt on top.
4. Rinse and dry the ham thoroughly: After removing the ham from the salt, rinse it off thoroughly and dry it completely before smoking or hanging it to age. Any excess moisture can lead to spoilage.
5. Use lard to seal in moisture: Applying a layer of lard to the exposed meat side of the ham before hanging it can help seal in moisture and prevent it from drying out too much during the aging process.
6. Be patient: Curing a fresh ham without nitrates takes time and patience. Hang your ham for at least 6 months (preferably 8 or more months) in a cool, dry, and airy place to allow it to develop its full flavor and texture.
Storing And Serving Your Natural Cured Ham
Once your natural cured ham is ready, it’s important to store it properly to ensure its quality and safety. The first step is to wrap it in a clean, breathable cloth or muslin. This will protect the ham from dust and insects while allowing it to continue to breathe and mature.
Next, find a cool, dry, and airy place to hang the ham. A cellar or pantry is ideal, as long as it’s not too damp or too warm. The temperature should be between 50-60°F (10-15°C) with a humidity level of around 60%. You can also use a ham bag or netting to help protect the ham while it hangs.
As the ham continues to age, check it regularly for any signs of mold or spoilage. If you notice any discoloration or foul odors, the ham may have gone bad and should be discarded.
When it’s time to serve your natural cured ham, remove it from its wrapping and slice thinly. It’s best to use a sharp knife and slice against the grain for the most tender and flavorful meat. You can serve the ham as is or pair it with other cured meats, cheeses, and bread for a delicious charcuterie board.
Remember that natural cured hams are typically saltier than other products, so they benefit from soaking in water for 1-12 hours (in the refrigerator) before cooking. This will help reduce the saltiness and ensure a more balanced flavor.