Making Your own Perfect Prosciutto – First Steps

So you want to make your own prosciutto? If all goes well, you’ll eventually be rewarded by ridiculously delicious cured ham. I’ve been told that it’s also really sexy and virile. If you screw up, you’ll have blown about 50$ and have to salvage what meat you can through putting it to stock. Potential mates will also snicker at you and you will lose your sexy and virile mystique. The lesson here folks is: don’t screw up.

To that end, here are some ground rules:

  1. Follow the recipe. At least the first time. Curing meat is easy but you probably aren’t used to it. As a result, if you go out on a limb and follow a hunch you may run into big trouble.
  2. Be patient. It takes time to prepare prosciutto. 2 days for bleeding, 10 days in a flavoured brine and at least 365 spent drying. If you cut anything short you will end up with a prosciutto that is either too wet or too dry.
  3. Don’t be afraid of mould. It’s a good sign, question yourself if none grows during the drying process.
  4. If something doesn’t smell right, stop, think and seek help. Recipes aren’t foolproof, not even this one. So many environmental factors come into play. You really need to keep an eye on your prosciutto throughout the process so if there is ever any rot (I haven’t seen any in years of following this recipe) you can try to salvage what is left of your prosciutto.

Now that you know the rules of the game, you’re ready to actually get out there and start curin’ some pork.

Choosing

All you need to get started

Pork Leg and Salt : All you need to get started

The first step in making prosciutto is running out to buy a leg of pork. You’ll want to see a reputable butcher for this and ask him to round off the portion of the leg that connects to the pig’s torso (the lowest portion of the picture shown at the left of this paragraph). This will ensure that your prosciutto has a nice shape that’s easy for you to cut and deal with later. In Montreal, I usually go to Charcuterie Noel since they tend to get their meat from good suppliers and while waiting at the butcher’s counter I often see many pork legs go by, thus helping to ensure a healthy inventory turnover.

You’ll want to aim for a leg that is around 10-12 kilograms. Bigger legs give you bigger chunks that are ideal for slicing however once you get past 12 kilos the meat is generally tougher and not as desirable. Pork legs smaller than 10 kilos will often provide great testing and tender cured hams, but are less pleasant to slice.

One final note, if the butcher suggests removing the bone around the ball joint that connects to the pig’s hip, politely decline. Although many traditional recipes remove this bone before curing, this generally results in increased spoilage. Leaving it in will only make cutting the cured prosciutto more exciting. Yes… exciting….

Bleeding

Once you’ve got the meat on your kitchen counter, it’s time to start the curing process that turns this big hunk of pork into prosciutto. Before we begin, I’d like to bring up a topic from high school chemistry that is at the heart of this recipe: osmosis

Osmosis Diagram

Osmosis: Science at work

In order to cure meat, we’re going to need to dehydrate it. In order to dehydrate it and infuse it with the p roper flavours and rich colour we’re going to avoid using anything like those cheesy fruit dryers you see on infomercials. Instead, we’re going to use salt in high concentrations to cause liquid inside the prosciutto to come through a thin membrane of fat and muscle tissue and seep out. Thus, before we start gradually drying the meat in open air, we need to bleed and brine it to remove as much liquid as possible.

The first step in this process is to “bleed” the meat to remove part of the excess liquid in the pork. In this stage, we’ll be applying copious amounts of salt (about 600g) to a pork leg in order to start the curing process.

1. Liberally apply salt to the exposed muscle of the pork leg, ensuring that you work it into any nooks and crannies. Apply a less concentrated layer to the outer skin as well.

Salt sides and bottom

Thoroughly Salted Prosciutto

2. When salting all the crevices, pay special attention to this area. Ensure that you work salt in around the bone and on the meat underneath the skin.

salted opening

Salted Crevice

Once you’ve applied salt to the pork leg, bring it to the cool, damp room you plan to eventually dry it in. Prepare a surface for the leg to lie flat on and some receptacle in which to collect the blood and any other oozings that will be extracted through osmosis. I do this by using a folding chair, which I cover with a plastic garbage bag for protection (I like my folding chairs).

First Day “Bleeding” Setup or “What 100lbs of Pork looks like”

With your surface prepared, place the pork leg skin down on the surface and use some object to prop it up at an angle to promote drainage of liquids onto the surface and into the receptacle you’ve positioned to catch the oozing. Leave it this way for 1 day.

On the second day, flip the prosciutto over and apply weight to it. Generally around 4-8 kilograms should suffice. Place the weights on the skin of the pork leg. Remember to keep the meat at an angle to promote drainage. Leave it this way for 1 day.

Once you’re done, continue through to my next post on the subject that shows you how to complete the curing process by preparing a flavourful brine.

 

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Making Your own Perfect Prosciutto – First Steps

  1. It’s hard to say, I haven’t measured it (yet).

    The main reason that the process is usually started in January/February is because that’s the time of year when our climate causes insulated (but unheated) cold rooms to be at a temperature of somewhere between 1-9 celsius.

    It’s normal for the temperature of the room to increase to around 15 in the summer months. This is OK because most of the drying took place during the preceding cooler months.

    I’ve noticed that a big factor seems to be the humidity of the room. Rooms that are too dry lead to saltier and tougher end results.

    If you’ve got access to a room like this, you’ve gotta try this out. It’s really almost foolproof!

  2. where’s the enxt steps on making prosciutto? a flavlourful brine?

    I was mis-informed and cut out the aichbone of my current leg leaving a flap of meat & a cavity where the bone was….should I cut that flap off?

    any help would be greatly appreciated, Ross

    • Hi Ross,

      Thanks for your comments and questions. I apologize for being a little side tracked on the brine recipe. I haven’t had a chance to finish editing my post on it but will make sure to post it later today.

      Regarding the aitchbone, you should still be able to cure a tasty prosciutto (and it will be easier to cut once its ready), however, you will have slightly less meat due to the wastefulness of cutting out this bone.

      I recommend that you remove the flap of meat and expose the cavity where the bone was. If you don’t remove the flap, it will cure quicker than the rest of the prosciutto (due to the fact that it is thinner) and this may make getting good results trickier. Don’t throw out the “flap”, you can fry it up and serve it with polenta or use it to flavour tomato sauce!

      One more point, make sure that you adequately salt the cavity where the aitchbone was when following the process I noted in my post above. Although the brine will eventually seep into the cavity thoroughly, you’ll want to ensure that you remove as much excess moisture from it beforehand.

      Good luck and check back later today for the second installment :)

      Let me know how it goes!

    • Hey Andrew, Good question!

      Thankfully, we haven’t had any first hand experience with rodents as they’re relatively uncommon in our dwellings in Montreal. The final step in preparing prosciutto to cure is to cover the exposed meat in a mix of ground paprika and cayenne pepper. This doesn’t add much flavour to the prosciutto, instead it’s done to create a crust around the meat that impedes flies from laying their eggs on the surface.

      Such a coating may even help protect against rodents if the critters don’t enjoy spicy food :)

    • My recipe uses a nitrate, Potassium Nitrate (aka saltpeter)
      Where I am it’s easier to use this in addition to table salt instead of sourcing curing salt. Curing salt is simply NaCL (90-something %) and NaNO3 anyway. Effect is the same.

  3. I live in southwest Florida. I have an old refridgerator, is it ok to use that if I keep the temperature at 45 – 50° Fahrenheit and keep the humidity at 60-70%? I use to make it when I lived in New Jersey but that was over 20 years ago.
    Thank you

  4. Hi, all! Just a quick note that I “basically” followed most of this recipe, over the past year. I started on Valentines Day, 2012, with the plan of serving it to my “prosciutto crazy” wife one year later. The plan woiked poifectly! After tricking her into going to a nice Italian restaurant here in San Francisco, we did a blind (I blindfolded her) taste test of a bunch of fine prosciutto (e.g. San Daniel, Parma, etc.)…and mine. Every time, my/her prosciutto received a 9.5,and the highest any of the others got was a 9!! Brisbane, CA. was the perfect temperature, it appears. I never refrigerated it, not for a single day. Since I made two whole legs, we will leave the other one, to taste NEXT Valentines day (or maybe even keep it going another two years?). Ours/mine is super fragrant, melts in your mouth, etc. chadvoyage at yahoo if you have any questions. Chad

  5. Pingback: Le projet Prosciutto 2014 | Madame M

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