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Curing Pig Legs
June 19, 2014 10:39 PM   Subscribe

Okay, second charcuterie question in a row! So I have two hams in my basement, in trashbags, covered in a buttload of salt. Am I going to die of botulism?

So I had this pig from a local farm show up at my house, in halves, and I broke it down from there it, and froze the vast majority of it. Of course I wanted to dry cure the hams, ala prosciutto. I've been generally following recipes in (the excellent) Charcuterie. The recipe in the book for prosciutto (prior to hanging) is 'cover in salt, put in fridge, one day per #, maybe press'. For lack of fridge space, I diverged a bit, and just put them in my 60F basement. This seems pretty in-line with traditional preparation, but I've started to second guess my decision...

I've found lots of recipes for internet people curing their hams outside of a fridge, but they tend to use curing salt (which I did not use). I've also found plenty of recipes of other internet people curing their hams without curing salt, but in their fridge. And therein lies my paranoia.

I've been removing the liquid that's come out, keeping everything pretty sanitary, changing the bags, and daily ensuring total coverage of salt, with new salt, in every crevice. They definitely don't smell awful (they smell like meat, not rotting meat) but I know that's not a sure sign. I'm willing to get the meat tested (which is a thing, I think) before I eat them, if it comes to it. Anywa, in the meantime, please talk me down and tell me the hams are probably fine!
posted by wrok to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your hams are probably fine!
posted by flippant at 11:29 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Your hams are probably fine!

As a followup, Michael Ruhlman writes here about nitrites. If you generally trust him to understand food science and the associated safeguards, then I think you're fine following his recipe from Charcuterie.

It's my opinion that if a prominent food writer is going to publish a recipe for something as potentially dicey as curing raw pork, then there's not going to be alot of room for error in the recipe. Similar with canning recipes.
posted by cabingirl at 11:51 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Curing salt is generally a mixture of coarse table salt and sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite helps with several aspects of curing; it reduces the likelihood of catching botulism; it slows rancidity; and it makes your meat link pink rather than grey. But it's also not especially good for you, and people were using ad-hoc mixtures with and without sodium nitrate for thousands of years. So you'll probably be fine.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:51 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Your hams are possibly fine. Are you feeling lucky?

The one detail that bothered me on reading your description is the temperature in your basement – I was taught that the magic point for 'safe' curing is 10°C (50°F) – above that you start running a risk curing without nitrates.

I'm unfamiliar with (the excellent) Charcuterie, though I am fairly certain one of my friends owns a much-loved copy; from my own readings, I'd point you towards meat and sausages. Whilst I don't specifically recall it covering hams, it provides an excellent explanations of the various chemical processes and reasonings behind various styles of curing.
posted by not the fingers, not the fingers at 11:53 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


The lack of sodium nitrate doesn't concern me but the 60F basement does. What you're doing is ambient curing and my understanding is that is done in the cold months for this very reason. So that the ambient temperature will be 40F or so.
posted by Justinian at 1:04 AM on June 20 [5 favorites]


I'd say toss it, it's not worth the risk. 60F is perfect for growing wee-beasties. Toss it.
...
Full disclosure: I'm also a Muslim, so you gotta take that into account.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:32 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


I lived with a guy, LC [his full name, the joke was it stood for "Lost Cause" he was the thirteenteenth of thirteen] who was given two wild shot hogs. It took two days to butcher them, in my damn living room where the temperature was maybe seventy-five. Best pork chops I ever had.

Salt kills all. I would eat it. I eat it always though.
posted by vapidave at 1:52 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


I have followed some of the recipes in Charcuterie (particularly the pancetta and duck prosciutto) by hanging the meat in my unregulated basement for several weeks. The pancetta gets cooked afterwards, but the prosciutto is ready to go after the drying. I have eaten several pounds of my own cured meats over the past couple years (and several Mefites have, too!) and to my knowledge no one has gotten sick or died from any of it.

Cue angry Mefites with their "Backseatpilot poisoned me!" stories.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:03 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


Salt kills all

Untrue.

As with the commenter above, I'm not concerned at all with the ambient curing. I am quite concerned, however, with the temperature. 60F is the upper end of the Safe Zone, the temperature range at which bacteria multiply fastest.

I'm a culinary professional who generally gives very few fucks about safety at home; I'll leave stuff out, forget to put it in the fridge, whatever. But I would neither eat these hams nor serve them to others. The temperature is just... not good.

Sorry. I think you've wasted money. Your practices and techniques are good, except for the temp.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:02 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


Maybe next time use a small room in your basement in conjunction with a window AC unit? Maybe you can get the temp down to 50?
posted by ian1977 at 8:13 AM on June 20


You should call and ask Dave Arnold on the Cooking Issues podcast: http://www.heritageradionetwork.org/programs/51-Cooking-Issues
posted by conrad53 at 10:04 AM on June 20


So, as long as the hams are not obviously spoiled, I'm going to proceed with hanging and drying them. I'll make sure to get a definitive safety test before I start to consume, however.

(Also, thanks!)
posted by wrok at 12:28 PM on June 20


Spoilage isn't always obvious, so that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

In any case, these hams should not be consumed by children, the elderly, pregnant women, or anyone who is immunocompromised, as I am not sure what you mean by 'definitive safety test.' Not many non-professionals have access to food safety labs.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:04 PM on June 20 [3 favorites]


Oh and as for hanging and drying.. you need a cool and very dry space to do so. Home basements are rarely free of humidity, so if you can block off a room you may need a dehumidifier. Possibly coupled, as suggested above, with an AC unit to get the temperature down into the safe zone, if such Arctic ACs exist.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:06 PM on June 20


CoolBot turns a regular AC unit into a real cooler, sufficient for food storage.

While we're thinking of ways this could go badly, I would note that I personally make sure to use food-safe containers when curing. I doubt your trash bags are food safe. This a less pressing issue than botulism, of course, but something to think about.
posted by librarina at 2:13 PM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Oh and as for hanging and drying.. you need a cool and very dry space to do so. Home basements are rarely free of humidity, so if you can block off a room you may need a dehumidifier. Possibly coupled, as suggested above, with an AC unit to get the temperature down into the safe zone, if such Arctic ACs exist.

That's actually not true. If you dry out the outside of the ham too quickly with too low humidity, the inside moisture will seal in.

I have a curing chamber ready to go for that stage, it's temperature + humidity controlled.
posted by wrok at 3:24 PM on June 20


If you have a space whose temperature and humidity are controllable within foodsafe levels, I am boggled as to why you're not doing the salt cure in there?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:52 PM on June 20


Because I didn't 2 weeks ago?
posted by wrok at 4:41 PM on June 20


Okay, well that speaks to poor planning. Either way, throw those hams out (seriously, what do you think a definitive food safety test looks like, and how are you going to access it?) and chalk the loss up to a learning experience.

Again, I would not eat these in my own home, and I'm the very definition of lackadaisical when it comes to my own personal food safety. I would absolutely definitely in no way serve these to another human being, on either a personal or professional basis. (And I say that as someone who has made more duck prosciutto than he can count, cured sausages, and assorted other bits and pieces of charcuterie.)

Sorry dude/tte, I know that's not the answer you want. But curing raw meats, especially the size of a pork leg, is a highly nontrivial issue when it comes to doing so safely. The temperature alone (plus the almost guaranteed non-foodsafe garbage bags) throws safety right out the window.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:12 PM on June 20 [4 favorites]


I'll make sure to get a definitive safety test before I start to consume, however.

Speaking as someone that worked in the r&d division of a biggish food manufacturer until recently (and is generally on Team Eat-It!, FWIW), I think you're greatly underestimating the cost of doing this responsibly.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 11:41 PM on June 20 [2 favorites]


After eating said meat, can you give us an update like 2 weeks later. Because some of us are wondering if you will be able to.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:04 AM on June 21 [7 favorites]


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