About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Friday, September 19, 2008
Brine vs Dry Cure
In last Tuesday's (16/9/08) extrabite supplement in the Herald Sun, Bob Hart points to an earlier article regarding processed hams containing up to 38% water and laments that dry curing ham could become a lost art, the inference being that dry curing produces better tasting meat.

But is that really the case?

My favourite ham comes from a Continental butcher who specialises in hams and smallgoods and is cured in brine, a heavily salted water bath, which starts the preservation process, before being smoked, another preserving technique. What I get from him is well flavoured ham that is also extremely juicy. This is the fundamental difference between brining and dry curing, brining adds some water, whilst dry curing, where the meat is covered in dry salt and the resulting moisture allowed to drip away, strips it out.

So is one better than the other?

Not really, they're both traditional methods producing vastly different results, it depends on the outcome required. Do you want moist juicy well flavoured meat that keeps for a bit longer than when it was fresh or do you want to preserve the meat for many months, but it's much drier?

The answer for me is both. While brined ham is good because it's juicy, prosciutto, which has had its moisture removed, has a far more intense flavour -- dry curing has concentrated it. Both styles have their place in every kitchen, whether brined hams, bacon or silverside, to the full flavoured dry cured prosciutto, Parma, Spanish jamon or schinkenspeck, to air dried beef, bresaola and bundnerfleisch.

So how to tell the difference? Brined meat tends to be light pink in colour, whilst dry cured becomes a very dark burnished brown.

Where Hart is right, it's much better to buy ham from a specialist smallgoods butcher, there is no comparison to the cheaper supermarket stuff. It really is a case of you get what you pay for.
  posted at 7:49 am

At 10:48 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right; they're chalk and cheese, almost literally in a figurative sense.

My favourite dried item is pastourma. The aroma will get you every time. But then you can't beat the unique texture and flavour of a very good brined ham.

At 11:02 am, Blogger neil said...

I don't know if it's the same, but in my first marriage, we ate bastourma, its odour seemed to leach out of every pore for days, especially in the underarm area.

At 12:43 pm, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

There's something here about perfect - it really doesn't exist in this universe - and what we grow up with is what we learn is good
what we let the media/politician fool us into believing
or what we think the in crowd is going to say is cool and we want to be part of the in group . . .
But I just came from seeing
Burn After Reading
and so I may not be seeing so well as I laughed till I cried and then I laughed so hard I stopped breathing.

At 4:21 am, Blogger Katie Zeller said...

We can get a wide variety of local, dry-cured ham but no brine-cured. Oh, it's avaliable, the pressed kind that is used for sandwiches, but not a proper ham, I love the dry... but at Christmas I would really love the other!

At 12:25 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, so true, we need to make up our own minds once in a while; I've never believed in perfection.

Hi katiez, we used to have the pressed kind from a tin when we were growing up. Always good to have the choice.

At 2:18 am, Blogger Jeanne said...

You are so right - one is no better than the other, they are totalyl different! And they're both delicious...

At 10:31 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi jeanne, you said that right!

At 12:17 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree - there's nothing like Christmas ham, but why can't we get it all year round? Does anyone have some recommendations of great continental butchers in the inner-Melbourne area? I've got trade contacts only and my wife objects to 5kg. of ham in the fridge at one time...

At 2:24 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi scott, try Ormond Meat & Smallgoods 9578 5049, Gruner Butcher in St Kilda, 9534 2715, Mileto in Windsor, 9510 2241 ask about their nuss ham and ask Prahran Continental the same thing, 9510 2809. Hope that helps.

At 12:32 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great tip - thanks Neil. Popped in to Prahran Continental over the weekend and it was awesome. Can't wait to try your other recommendations!


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