Saturday, July 10, 2010

How to make “hork” or “pam” from your pigs.

One learns from one’s mistakes, a process that is illuminating yet uncomfortable. In France, on apprend en faisant des erreurs, which is precisely the same thing but is often shortened simply to on apprend en faisant, which I feel is all together more sympathetic to the poor pioneer, simply saying that “one learns in the doing”. All manor of important people have something to say on the matter : James Joyce says eloquently and charitably that, “mistakes are the portals of discovery”; for Oscar Wilde, “experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes” and Sophia Loren suggests that, “mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.” So we are in good company.

So what did I do wrong ? Our three hams have not cured and air-dried as we’d hoped into Parma-style ham. Having been suspended undercover but out in the open air for nearly six months, I shaved off some slithers from the end to see what it was like. It wasn’t Parma ham. The meat was certainly dry but rather sweet and almost completely lacking in salt. I delved deep into the leg with my butcher’s knife to find that the meat hadn’t got the hard texture of dried ham. It was raw meat. It certainly smelt OK, which as a modern chap brought up with fridges, freezers and consume-by dates seems astonishing for a lump of pork that’s been hanging up outside for so long. Whatever has happened?

I posted a query on the River Cottage Community pages and thanks to some helpful replies, I think I know what went wrong. In short, we had frozen the legs before unfreezing them and putting them in brine for a month. The cells in the meat are changed during the freezing and thawing process and that has prevented the meat taking up the salt cure. It had, however, cured round the edges enough so as to seal in the meat and keep it fresh.

The story so far: four years ago, we cured our first dry ham by packing the leg in dry salt for several weeks (time according to the weight) that worked a treat. The following year, we did the same but were bitterly disappointed when we opened the wooden box after a month to find the leg had gone rotten (we think that the salt wasn’t dry enough). The solution (deliberate pun!) was to put the next leg in brine. We figured that the brine would eliminate all air and get into all the nooks and crannies; that worked a treat too. But why freeze the meat? It was more convenient for us: we had vegetarian house-sitters during a Christmas trip to see ageing parents. And we habitually take small pieces of loin or belly out of the freezer to cure to make bacon and that has always worked, which kind of suggested that freezing wouldn’t be a problem.

Now that I’d investigated our un-cooked ham pretty extensively with a butcher’s knife, what should we do with the meat. We boiled a portion to see if we had ham, which is the precise moment we discovered a new meat product. The meat, boiled, was not ham but sufficient salt had got in, having a partial curing effect, so it wasn’t pork, neither! perhaps “hork” or even “pam”.

We’ve since used some of the meat in our World-beating Spaghetti Bolognaise sauce. We added no salt but the cure already there made the dish a touch too salty: not inedible, just enough to give one a thirst for some more Chianti. And the rest, we turned into chorizo (which we’ve had a lot of success with) and a garlic salami, for the very first time.

To come back to how one learns from one’s mistakes … allegedly. Our powerful, industrial catering mincer has a neck too deep for your fingers to get into trouble. But the plastic plunger falls annoying just short, leaving a bit of meat begging to be pushed in with the end of a wooden spoon … oops! And this is the second time I’ve done this. And if you want any advice on how to take a good photo, checkout my best effort at the top.