Europeans have been dry curing meat for thousands of years. Classics like prosciutto, spalla, speck, cappicola, pancetta, and Iberico ham are simply meats that were rubbed with salt and aged to perfection. It's so much easier than making jerky, and it is moist and melts in your mouth. I don't know why it's not more common in America.
Here's what you need to dry cure:
-meat, a nice blocky piece that is at least 3 pounds
-fridge or consistently cold place
This is so easy. Even the math part is easy, and if you don't want to math, google can do it for you. Weigh the meat, using the metric option to keep the math simple. Write down the weight somewhere that you won't lose it (you will need it later to determine when the meat has finished curing).
Calculate 3% of the the weight of the meat to add in salt. If you need a refresher on how to calculate percentages, just multiply the meat's weight by .03. For every 1000 grams of meat, that's 30 grams of salt.
For instance, if your meat weighs 1560 grams, then 1560 x .03 = 46.8 grams of salt. Or ask google to calculate 3% of 1560.
Weigh out the salt, and rub it on all surfaces of the meat. Put it in the tub, in the fridge. After a couple of days, pour off the juices, flip it, and return it to the fridge. Do NOT add more salt. Be sure that there is good air circulation around the meat as it ages.
Now you just have to wait for time and chemistry to work their magic. Depending on the size of the meat, it will take anywhere from a few weeks up to a couple of months or more. What you are looking for is for it to lose 30%, or to be 70%, of its original weight. Multiply the original weight of the meat by .7 to get what the finished weight is. So for every 1000 grams of starting weight, it should be down to 700 grams finished weight.
That piece of meat from the example above would be 1560 x .7 = 1092 grams when it had finished curing. Or ask google to calculate 70% of 1560.
When you weigh it and find that it has reached its dry cured stage, congratulations!! Time to eat. It might not look delicious from the outside. There might even be a little harmless mold growing in the crevices, the same kind that grows on my cheese. Don't worry. What's inside is tender, flavorful, and will melt in your mouth. With a sharp, possibly serrated, knife, start cutting slices off one end. Try to make them as paper thin as possible. Put a slice in your mouth and just let it sit on your tongue for a few seconds. How do you even describe that taste?? Perfection?
You don't have to store it in the fridge between cuts. It is now shelf stable and can be left on the counter, or find a sharp S hook and hang it like I do. It tastes best at room temperature anyway.
I bet you eat it fast. Don't worry, if you purchased a whole or half hog, there's plenty more where that came from. My favorite cuts to make into dry cure are the coppa (neck loin), loin (cut in half so it's not so long), and half ham (the boneless rear portion of a ham). If you have a butcher custom process a hog for you, you will need to tell him that you want these portions left whole and boneless, as this isn't what Americans normally use these portions for. My butcher knows the coppa muscle, but most American butchers don't, so describe it as all the meat between the shoulder blade and the vertebrae, including the back fat--in other words, the neck loin. You can also make salami with ground pork.
While salt is the only necessary ingredient to cure meat, feel free to experiment with other spices. In addition to the 3% salt, you can use 1.5% sugar, or black pepper, paprika, chipotle, juniper berries, nutmeg, garlic, whatever sounds good to you. Always include 3% salt.
If you want to explore more wonderful ways to combine meat and salt, I highly recommend The River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook by Steven Lamb. I will also post my favorite dry cure recipe for cappicola in a later blog.