Firstly - thanks to the many people who've shared their experiences and/or recipes for dry curing. I ended up collecting a lot of useful info and tips from these forums, put that together with Hugh's books (and the Maynard book), then decided on my own cure mix and method based on all of that. Alison's 3-day cure info from downsizer, and the comments from people who tried it, were particularly useful!
I realised that there are a LOT of variables. The key ones seem to be:
Salt/sugar ratio - I've seen everything from 5:1 (Hugh) down to 2:1. I opted for 3:1 (with a little saltpetre - quantity based on Hugh's book; bacon colour ended up nicely pink with some more pink-brown patches on the surface)
Length of curing time - again, anything from 3 days up to a week or more. General view seems to be that 3/4 days suits most people. I went for just over 3 days.
How much cure to use? Hugh talks about rubbing "handfuls of cure", others said they used about a mugs worth. Franco (and I think others) suggested using 3-4% of the weight of the meat. That's what I based my measures on (~75g cure for 1.75 kg belly pork), and it came out really well, so this seems to be a good rule of thumb.
Drain liquid off or leave it? I drained the liquid after one day (there was quite a bit), then again on the 3rd day (very little liquid at that stage). Not sure what difference this makes - probably not as much as other factors.
Add more cure during the curing period? Hugh's method says drain liquid every day then rub in more cure - but his method clearly produces rather salty bacon. Because I drained a fair bit of liquid after the first day, I added a bit more cure (~5g), then no more after that.
The saltiness of the final bacon was pretty much spot on - a slight saltiness in the taste, but not at all strong so the bacon would be fine for butties, bacon and eggs etc. When I do it again, I'll probably not add any more cure mix as the meat cures - with the 3-4% by weight rule, and 3 days curing time, I reckon this will be perfect.
I had fun with the spices. Following Hugh, I used a few crushed juniper berries and some finely chopped bay leaves, but also added quite a bit of black pepper, some crushed coriander seeds and ground mace (for a sweeter/fruitier kind of spice note). During curing it smelled amazing - the mace was very noticeable, and I worried that I'd overdone it. You can taste the notes from the mace in the final product, but I'd definitely opt for using mace again in the mix. As Hugh said (in relation to making ketchup) - mace is ace!
Looking forward to trying this again (still have plenty of cure mix). Might try meat from a different supplier next time to compare - this time was free range Berkshire pork belly, might try Old Spot next time.
For anyone thinking of giving dry curing a go, but hasn't yet, try it now! It's easy, takes next to no time, and you should get great results.
Thanks again to all for previous discussions on this topic, here and elsewhere. Very useful!
I did notice that this was about twice as much as some other recipes suggest, but since it came from Hugh's book I felt confident that his suggestion would be OK.
I have some proper tbsp, tsp, 1/2 tsp and 1/4 tsp measures - so can get an accurate amount for these.
For those keen on trying it themselves, it's definitely worth getting the best meat you can get your hands on. This needn't be that expensive - but a good farmer's market or butcher will nearly always be preferable to supermarket. Rare/traditional breed is ideal if you can get it.
Thanks for that Howard. I did my first corned beef recently and was pleased with how easy it was and how well it came out.
Must supply recipe.....
I *love* corned beef, and I have a freezerful of fine beef, all cuts, just waiting to be eaten. Help me, Behemoth, you're my only hope! (Do I make a convincing Princess Leia?)
Prepare your brine:
400g demerara sugar
600g sea salt
A dozen juniper berries
A few pepper corns
3 bay leaves
saltpetre if you wish (franco suggests 6g per litre)
Boil it up until all has disolved and allow to cool. Pour into a suitable container and drop in a piece if brisket ensuring it's covered/weighted down and brine for up to five days turning the meat once or twice, in a cool place or the fridge.
I then rinsed it and slow roasted for two hours it in a roasting tray surrounded with the usual carrots, onions, leeks, celery, pepper, two heads of garlic and enough chicken stock (unsalted) and a couple of glasses of wine to just about cover the briskett. There may have been some tomatoes in there as well.