In December Michael Ruhlman blogged about how incredibly easy it is to cure your own meat, here and then again here. The original post was entitled "Salt!"
And those are really the only two ingredients you need: salt and enthusiasm.
I couldn't imagine that it was as simple as Mr. MR said, so I decided to test his most basic recipe. I took a duck breast, wrapped it in salt for 24 hours, rinsed it off, and hung it up in a red bandanna not unlike one you might find dangling from the stick of Emmett Kelly.
Pre-salting it looked like this:
Post-salting it looked like this:
The flesh had darkened to a deep, almost purple red, as though somewhat cooked (which is what the salt does). I realize these photos would have a stronger before-and-after effect if I had shot the same side of the breast each time, but I didn't. So shut up.
When the appropriate length of time had passed (one week), I sliced off a piece, giddy with anticipation. It was disgusting.
Elise pointed out that it may have been the way I cut it. If you think of biting into a thick hunk of prosciutto (or prosciutto Americano), you can imagine it validating the too much of a good thing theory. I tried slicing it thinner, a difficult task for someone with knives like spoons. It wasn't bad, which of course means that it also wasn't good.
Once I trimmed the fat (saving it for rendering), I found that a thin slice was quite palatable. Still, it seemed like Ruhlman was right about being able to cure with nothing more than salt, but not about having it be something that you're particularly interested in eating. When I fried some up, all that changed. Crisped in a pan like bacon, the cured duck was extraordinary.
Ruhlman was dead on. With nothing more than salt, meat turns from a ticking time bomb of expiration to a delicious treat that you can keep enjoying from the time you cure it until the time at which you become neurotic about how long it's been since you cured it.
The duck bacon performed best when slivered, crisped in skillet, and served with something of contrasting texture and flavor. For instance, on top of a root veggie mash, as pictured at top.
In addition to tasting great, Ruhlman's simple salt cure provides an extremely low tech solution to making food last. No doubt this is an ancient answer to a problem we now counter with machines that require massive amounts of ill begotten energy.
How convenient that nature provides fixes to its own problems. God made meat that goes bad quickly, but god also made salt. And Michael Ruhlman.