In the past, I’ve tried curing a couple of ham legs without much success. The first one was cured okay but came out very, very salty. The second one, I had a bit of a problem with maggots getting in there and the whole thing had to be thrown out. I think the big problem was that the size of the ham was just far too big, which makes it very difficult to dry the ham when you don’t have the correct constant temperature and gentle breeze passing. I think the ideal spot to cure a ham leg would be in a kitchen by a window for air flow and I also think that I should have been more careful with the wrapping it in the muslin cloth.
What I decided, after the ham leg disaster of 2013, is that curing bacon is the way to go. It’s much more manageable, smaller pieces of meat, less risk of it going seriously, i.e. maggot level seriously, wrong. It doesn’t cost as much, the end result is amazing and it’s much, much quicker to do as well. This means that you get great tasting cured meat after a short wait – pretty immediate satisfaction!
I’ve cured a few joints now. The most successful one was using a recipe I pinched from Gavin at the Kernow Sausage Company. Gavin’s recipe is called ‘Sweetheart Bacon’. It’s cured and then marinated in molasses and a little bit of chilli; it tastes as good as it sounds – Gavin is definitely the king of curing bacon! Sweetheart Bacon is one of their award winning products and can be bought here. It’s definitely some of the nicest bacon I’ve ever tasted. After trying it I begged him for the recipe (which is top secret – so I’m not sharing any details, I’m afraid) and then had a try myself.
Because curing bacon is definitely more of an art than a science, I decided to improvise a bit! Rather than using molasses, I used maple syrup. In one word, it was epic. It was just absolutely amazing. It came out sweet and salty and delicious. Despite that, I think I could have probably left it in the maple syrup for a little bit longer – I guess that molasses take less time because they’re much heavier. I left it in there for five days and I think it could definitely handle more than that.
To cure a 1KG bag of bacon, I used a cup of salt and added a lot of spices to the cure mix – nutmeg, cinnamon and a little bit of clove, but not too much. I’ve also been using a lot of Muscovado sugar, works an absolute treat.
Next time I make it I’m going to use Panela sugar which is available from a Cornish company that have been importing it from Columbia. (They also do amazing Columbian drinking chocolate if that’s your thing) I think it will add the similar depth of flavor you get from using molasses or those kind of raw sugar flavors.
I’ve also invested in a bacon slicer. It makes the bacon go so much further. You can slice it thinly with a knife, but you just don’t get the same (well, I don’t get the same) beautiful thin, even slices that you get from a purpose slicer. I got my slicer for about 40 quid from Nisbets and it was money very, very well spent.