Since my most recent book Cured came out last year I have been inundated with requests to do Curing workshops from my own cookery school - The Chef's Room - in Wales to the Abergavenny Food Festival - the Monmouth Women's Restival and various venues in London. The interest and enthusiasm for curing knows no bounds and I have just heard that we are to have our very own British curing festival in London this autumn which is amazing and so exciting.
Many people ask me exactly what is curing – curing is a collective name for all forms of preserving; drying, salting, smoking, spicing, marinating, potting, pickling and raw. It is a subject as old as man himself – who even as a hunter gatherer faced the eternal problem of how to store food in times of plenty for leaner times.
What I love about curing is that it is culinary alchemy. It is like turning base metal into gold. For example a good jam captures the essence of the main ingredient. The flavour is intensified and takes on something of its own. This is true of every kind of preserving; think salmon then think about smoked salmon, think beef then think pastrami, and think pork think prosciutto. Curing is exciting and addictive and best of all it is easy to do; it uses few ingredients and simple techniques, but it takes its time. This is true slow food. Once you have mastered the basics you can play around with ingredients and create all kinds of new flavours.
You may say, why cure now that we have fridges and freezers. As I have already said curing intensifies, deepens and enriches the flavour and offers room for experimentation. Curing also prolongs the life of meat, fish and vegetables and once you have cured your loin of pork, smoked your salmon, potted your rabbit these delicious dishes keep really well which means you always have something delicious in the fridge to offer friends or simply to treat yourself with.
Like making preserves you need top quality seasonal ingredients. Let the seasons work for you and don’t rush things, be organised, start with small cuts of meat and fish until you have perfected the curer’s craft. Remember this is not science, there are rules but you must use some common sense. Temperature and humidity will affect timing, each piece of meat or fish will respond differently. There is much to learn from experience
Curing is liberating – we have all become slaves to the last minute meal but this puts great pressure on the cook. Gravadlax may take three days to make but it takes only a few minutes and a few ingredients to prepare – add boiled potatoes and a dill sauce and at the end of it you have a meal fit for a king with no hassle what so ever. You just need to think about it in advance.
One last word Curing is not only about preserving lumps of meat and fish; it allows you to make all kinds of delicate dishes on a very domestic level. Salting and spicing takes roast pheasant to another level. Confits de canard, transfers a few inexpensive stringy duck legs into a melt in the mouth treat. Smoking a trout on the top of your kitchen stove and eating it hot is sublime and the secret is simply to think ahead.
Cured slow techniques for enhancing meat fish fruit and vegetables
By Lindy Wildsmith.
Cured was shortlisted along with 6 other books for the prestigious Andre Simon award and is also shortlisted for the Guild of Food Writers "Food book of the year"