Backing that up is the story Jimenez tells of how his grandfather, sans refrigeration, would butcher cows in the mountains of Mexico, with the cured smoked meat turned into thinly sliced cecina.
At El Rey, cecina tacos are a recurring special. “You get a really sharp knife and you slice it thin,” Jimenez says. Once covered with salt and sugar—to extract moisture and add flavor—the meat is left overnight before seeing the grill briefly during service the next day.
With its varied processes, which can include both being left in salt and air drying, cecina can bear ready similarities to the cured meats served a short hallway away from El Rey in the conspiratorial bubble that is The Ranstead Room.
As with prosciutto, once cecina is coated in salt, it can sit indefinitely, albeit at the right temperature.
But while some versions of cecina can be served raw, for the thick hind legs of pork
used for prosciutto it takes a bit longer to get to the point of not causing internal bleeding; prosciutto is cured for about two months prior to drying for up two years. The key is pulling out moisture that can harbor bacteria.
“By curing, you’re extracting it,” Magee says. “By dryng, you’re extracting even more. With prosciutto you’re losing 35% of its weight.”
Finding the ideal temperature and humidity in a restaurant basement past winter can be near impossible even with all your heat exhaling equipment turned off. But there is an ingenious way to get your drying room to the right temperature without electricity.
Not everyone is willing to put in the work or money needed for a charcuterie room right out of Middle Earth, however. That’s pretty much what Brooks Miller of North Mountain Pastures, north of Harrisburg, is building directly into a steep slope on his farm. Drawing on his background in engineering, Miller, who briefly staged with Jeff Michaud at Osteria and makes some of the best charcuterie in the state, plans to use solar fans and a thermal labyrinth, which takes advantage of steady underground temperatures for cooling or warming, to maintain a drying room under that hillside at a constant 55°.
In a zombie apocalypse, you don’t want to do too much long term planning though.
As for being able to eat a cured piece of pork sooner than a 1-2 year wait, Sean Magee would go the country ham route—he’d throw it in his smoker.
“Smoke is a way to get around not doing a long-term dry. You can get the same effect with a heavier amount of smoke over a longer period of time—like 20hrs or more,” he says. Either way, you’d be pulling out enough water to prevent your cut of meat from killing you.
“I’ve done some country hams where I’ll dry it for a month and then I’ll smoke it for 20 hours. When we had country ham on the menu two years ago, I got in huge shoulders. I cured them for a month. They were downstairs, temperature controlled the entire time, packed and pressed on salt, juniper,” Magee says.
But if he was really in a hurry, he’d accelerate things even more. For example, he has opted for a shortened drying time following curing in salt for two or three days. To compensate, the smoking time over hickory was upped to 3 days.
“It was like a country ham, but it was a very fast way. Most country hams take months, years,” he says. CONTINUE READING >