I’m currently re-reading Jane Grigson’s marvellous Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery. It’s one of those books where you almost don’t have to try the recipes, the way she writes about them is a pleasure in itself. But, although this sort of gastronomy of the mind is better for the waistline – in the end you have to tuck in. And what we’ve been tucking into over the last few days is salt pork.
Salt pork is a great thing to make and have in the fridge, especially during autumn and winter, when it can lend its flavour to all sorts of slow-cooked dishes. It makes a great addition to boston baked beans – we use Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe from the River Cottage Meat Book. It can be used instead of pancetta or streaky bacon in a creamy pasta sauce, or you could boil it once it’s salted to make petit salé. Grigson has loads of great recipes for this. It’s also a really nice ingredient in any slow-cooked casserole.
It’s easy to make. Just make sure that the container you salt it in, and everything you use to make it, is nice and clean. Rinsing out containers with hot water and soda crystals is a good way to do this – or just use stuff straight out of the dishwasher. Check that the piece of pork fits in your container before you start!
We haven’t really got the container to do loads of it, so we tend to go with a good sized piece of pork belly, weighing about 1.5kg. A piece with no bones in it is the most convenient, but it doesn’t really matter. The recipe below is based on Jane Grigson’s.
1.5kg piece of belly pork
350g rough sea salt
2 bay leaves, chopped up small
6 juniper berries, squished lightly
2 sprigs of thyme
2 cloves, squished lightly
75g soft brown sugar
- Mix together the salt, sugar, herbs and spices in a clean bowl.
- Use about a quarter of this mix to coat the bottom of your container. It mustn’t be metal – we use a ceramic roasting dish. If you have something with a lid even better; if you have a large crock with a lid, better still!
- Rinse the piece of pork under the cold tap and then pat it dry with a clean muslin or clean tea towel.
- Take a handful of the seasoned salt and rub it well, pretty firmly, into the skin side of the pork. Once you’ve done this, turn the meat over and rub the same kind of amount into the flesh side, but do this more gently.
- Put your piece of pork, skin side up, on top of the salt in your container and pack in the rest of the salt mix round the sides and over the top.
- Put a very clean plate (or boiled bit of wood) on top of the pork and put some weights (not too many, say about 1/2 kg to 1 kg – if you don’t have weights use water in plastic bottles, or tinned food) on top.
- Cover it – we wrapped the container in two very clean tea towels, one lengthwise & the other widthwise.
- Leave it in a dark, cool place for 3-4 days before checking. You should see that the juices from the meat have combined with the salt to make a dark brine:
(Give it a sniff to find out it’s ok, and check to make sure there aren’t any mouldy bits on the surface of the brine. It should be fine – if the brine does look manky, what I’d do is make up some more of the flavoured salt, remove the pork from the brine, rinse it, dry it, wash out the container with some hot soda solution, and try rubbing it again.)
- You could start using it at this point – it will last about a week and will have quite a mild cure.
- Or leave it be for longer – it will be done after 8 days and the longer you leave it, the saltier it will get. Jane Grigson mentions that some instructions for petit salé say to leave it for 2-3 months! But she also says that it will be done if you give it 4 days per inch thickness.
- We did ours for just under two weeks. And we ended up with something that had been transformed by the salt & sugar:
- This was pretty salty and I don’t think I’d be tempted to leave it going for 2 months!
- Rinse all the salt from it, pat it dry and wrap in some clean muslin, storing somewhere cool – we just use the fridge. It will last at least a week. Here’s what it looks like when it’s sliced:
We’ll be making this regularly over the next few months, not least because there are some long, slow-cooked, warming casseroles that we want to have a go at..
Petit salé is simple to do. Soak the salt pork in tepid water for 2-3 hours, then drain and rinse & put it in a large saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to boiling point. Discard this water and do the same thing again with some fresh water. Add stock vegetables (carrot, onion, celery, plus 5 or 6 peppercorns) and simmer gently for 2-3 hours. Remove the meat and add a cup of lentils (puy, preferably) to the stock. Cook these for 20 minutes until done, then return the meat to the pan to warm it up. Serve the meat, sliced on the lentils with a bit of stock drizzled over.