Friday, January 14, 2011

Cure for Winter

Most people store stuff in the attic like holiday decorations, off-season clothing, suitcases, high school year books and old tax records. But I'm not "most people"....
Many years ago in another lifetime, another relationship and another state, I had a step-father-in-law who was Cajun to the core. Among my most prized possessions is the dog-eared copy of Paul Prudhomme's first cookbook, Louisiana Kitchen. By the time it was passed on to me, the cover had long disappeared leaving only the dirty white binding which bore a similar color to the recipe for Dirty Rice. If you stood up the book and let it fall open, it always landed in the same spot--Red Beans & Rice.

If it is one thing I've learned about cooking, regardless of the recipe, is that great ingredients make a great meal. Somehow my red beans never tasted as good as Steve's (although many of my guests would beg to differ). I always wondered why until he told me that there's no substitute for real andouille sausage and a home-cured ham hock, the recipe's staple ingredients along with what is affectionately referred to as the "Louisiana holy trinity"--celery, green pepper and onion.

So when a friend of mine dropped off a tote full of assorted pork scraps from a hog butchering (after reading my blog post Waste Nothing), I was ecstatic to find the hocks as well as a few other choice goodies such as several thick pieces of lard.

The hocks went into a brine and herb solution and there they've soaked for the last ten days. Now they'll hang in my very chilly attic for a few months. The first warm day of spring, they'll have a date with my smoker.

Salt curing has been a method of preservation for thousands of years before the most recent invention of refrigeration in just the last hundred years. Sadly, during that time we've gone from mouth-watering dry salt cured hams to Oscar Meyer bologna rife with nitrates.

But thanks to the resurgence in artisan charcuterie, nose-to-tail philosophy and the realization that oleo will kill you quicker than real animal fat, one of the most sought-after items showing up at farmers market is traditionally cured back fat.

My friends at North Mountain Pastures showed up at the Bloomingdale Farmers Market last season with Lardo and Salo. I did some insanely delicious things with it. One night, I cubed lardo and inserted it into a whole head of garlic wrapped in foil and roasted over a charcoal fire. After that, I was hooked.
Lardo is traditionally made in Italy and is seasoned with fresh rosemary, garlic and black pepper. Being the middle of winter, I had to opt for some dried herbs and crushed garlic left over from earlier in the season.
Similarly, the Ukrainians do the same thing, only it's called Salo. I made my version with smoked hot paprika. When it's ready, I'm sure I'll have no problem getting my Ukrainian pal to sample it...maybe wrapped around some fresh asparagus. That's about the time it will all be ready.


  1. What's the temperature in your attic? Humidity? Do you do anything special to control either?

  2. Temp is in the 40's and I keep humidifiers running throughout the house during winter. Nothing special.