BRINES & CURES

Brines and cures or salting is a method of preserving food and has been practiced since antiquity. Probably the first preserved foods may have come about by accident- fish drying on the boats or ships in the middle of the sea, dried for future use.

 

INGREDIENTUSED FOR PRESERVING

SALT

The salt most commonly used the World over is the common salt or Sodium Chloride. Salt changes foods, by drawing out water, blood and other impurities. In doing so, it preserves them, making them less susceptible to spoilage and rot.

The important role played by salt is:-

  • OSMOSIS– is the movement of water through a semi-permeable membrane, such as the cell walls of plant and animal, in order to equalize the concentrations of a solute (typically salt) on both sides of the membrane. This is known as osmotic pressure. Plant and animal cells contain relatively weak solutions of natural salts. Bacteria and other micro nutrients thrive in such solutions, drawing in nutrients through the cell walls. If however these cell walls are exposed to a strong salt solution the outward osmotic pressure created by the strong solution prevents them from feeding and thus from reproduction, there by their activity is inhibited and decay is prevented.
  • DEHYDRATION: The presence of „free‟ water is one of the indicators of a food’s relative susceptibility to spoilage through microbial action. In order to increase the shelf life it is important to remove as much excess water as possible. Salt has a dehydrating effect on foods by attracting the free water and making it unavailable to microbes. Exposure to air or heat for controlled periods allows the water to evaporate, reducing the overall volume and weight of the food.
  • DEHYDRATION: The presence of „free‟ water is one of the indicators of a food’s relative susceptibility to spoilage through microbial action. In order to increase the shelf life it is important to remove as much excess water as possible. Salt has a dehydrating effect on foods by attracting the free water and making it unavailable to microbes. Exposure to air or heat for controlled periods allows the water to evaporate, reducing the overall volume and weight of the food.
  • FERMENTATION: Decay in foods is also caused by enzymes naturally present in foodstuff as well as by living micro-organisms. Salt stops all enzymatic action by upsetting the electrical balance of the liquid in which they act. The strength of the salt solution is important. Some micro-organism can tolerate strong solutions of salt. Among these are certain lactic acid producing bacteria, which, rather causing decay, bring about beneficial fermentations. For this reason just the right amount of salt is used so as to kill all harmful pathogens and allowing these to grow. The lactic acid produced by these bacteria, itself safeguards it from bad bacteria. Eventually the acid becomes so concentrated that even these bacteria die and fermentation stops ant the food keeps, however the foods flavour is changed.
  • DENATURING PROTIENS: salt inevitably changes the structure of proteins in food. Smooth foods become grainy and firm foods may soften.

 

CURING SALTS

For thousands of years humans have been eating meat cured with unrefined salt. Two special mixtures are generally used for curing purposes:

Tinted Cure Mix (T.C.M.) or Pink Cure or Prague Powder

Prague Powder is a commercially-sold salt mixture used in preserving meat. It is a generic term, not a trademarked name. The mixture is sold dyed pink to avoid confusion in homes with table salt.

The mixture contains nitrites to give meat its pink colour, and prevent botulism. The nitrites break down into nitric oxide and then dissipate. Ultimately, what is produced in the meat is nitric oxide, which combines with myoglobin protein to give a pleasing red or pink colour to the meat.

 

Two versions of Prague Powder are sold –

 

Prague powder #1

Prague powder #1 is 1 part (6.25%) sodium nitrite to 15 parts (93.75%) salt, plus anti-caking elements.

It is used for all curing other than dry cure. You use 1 teaspoon for 5 pounds (2 kg) of meat, or 100g per 100 pounds (45 kg), and mix it with cold water to use.

Prague powder #2

Per pound (16 oz) (450g) of Prague powder #2, there is 1 oz (6.25%) sodium nitrite, .64 oz (4%) sodium nitrate, 14.36 oz (89.75 %) salt, and anti-caking elements. It is mostly for dry curing (e.g. products that require no cooking, refrigeration or smoking.) These meat products typically take a longer time to cure. You mix with cold water to use, using 1 teaspoon for 5 pounds (2 kg) of meat, or 100g per 100 pounds (45 kg).

 

SUGARS

Ordinary white sugar and other forms of sugar, including corn syrup, honey, and maple sugar is used in some cures. Using less sweet forms of sugar, such as corn syrup and dextrose, provides the advantage of sugar without adding too much sweetness.

Sweeteners are used for:-

  • Overcoming the harshness of salt in the cure.
  • Balance the overall flavour.
  • Counteract bitterness.
  • Help stabilize colour in cured meats.
  • Increase water retention in the finished product.
  • Provide a good nutrient source for fermentation.

 

HERBS, SPICES AND OTHER FLAVOURINGS

Nearly any spice or flavourings that are used in cooking may be used in curing. Some traditional herbs and spices used are garlic, pepper, coriander, caraway, nutmeg, mace, dry mustard, cinnamon, all spice, cardamom, etc. in addition, ingredients such as dry and fresh chillies, infusions and essences, wines and vinegars may also be incorporated to give a contemporary appeal.

FUNCTOINS OF CURING

Curing is done for the following reasons:-

  • For fixing of colour so as to give meat a nice colour. The nitrous oxide obtained from reduction of nitrite reacts with haemoglobin and myoglobin to form nitric oxide haemo or myoglobin, which upon heating or maturing is converted to the bright pink nitrosylmyochromogen.
  • To alter and improve flavour.
  • Provides antioxidant function.
  • Provides protection from Clostridium Botulism.
  • To retard the development of rancidity.
  • To make the texture rougher.
  • To improve shelf life.

 

CURING METHODS

The two basic methods of cures are DRY CURES and WET CURES or BRINES.

DRY CURES

Probably the oldest method still used. In a dry cure the cure ingredients are mixed together and packed or rubbed over the food product to coat it completely. The length of time required for dry curing meats depends on their thickness. Whole Joints may take as long as 45 days, in such long cures the food is repeatedly turned and rubbed with the cure mixture in order to maintain uniform contact.

 

WET CURES or BRINES

When salt and other curing agents are dissolved in water you get brine. To make brine you may use hot water or even bring the brine to simmer to infuse the spices or other aromatics. However the brine must be thoroughly chilled before you use it to cure foods. The simplest way to use brine is to immerse the food in brine, may be by using weights and let it soak until the cure is complete. However, brine may take a long time to penetrate to the center of large items such as ham. To hasten the process brine may be pumped or injected into the meats to make sure it penetrates evenly. After injecting the Joint may then be soaked in brine as well. Commercial operations use multiple needle injection method. The length of time required for wet curing depends on the size and thickness of the item. Fresh brine should be made for each batch of cured items, do not reuse brines.

 

PELLICLE

Before cured foods are smoked, they should be allowed to air dry long enough to form a tacky skin, known as pellicle. The pellicle plays a key role in producing excellent smoked items. It acts as a protective barrier for the food and also plays a role in capturing the smoke’s flavour and colour. The exterior of the item must be sufficiently dry if smoke is to adhere.

 

 

 

 

SMOKING

Smoking has been used as a way of drying and preserving food since prehistoric times. Smoking does have some preservative effects, but for modern cooking, it is more important for the flavours that it gives to meats, poultry and seafood. Even smoked chesses and vegetable are relished for their special flavours.

 

Basic rules for smoking:-

  1. Do not smoke meats, poultry and fish that have not been cured, without the preservative effects of curing, smoking could be unsafe.
  2. Foods must be air dried after curing and before smoking.
  3. In order to smoke foods a “Smoker” is necessary. The basic feature shared by each type of smoker is a smoke source, a smoke chamber where the food is exposed, circulation and ventilation.
  4. The wood used for smoking could be Hickory, Oak, Walnut, Chestnut, apple, wood from citrus trees, etc. In order to produce a rich, aromatic smoke soft woods must be avoided.
  5. In addition to various hardwoods other flammable materials like teas, herbs, stems, whole spices, corn husks, fruit peels and peanut shells, may be added. Wood must be free from oil or charcoal.

 

TYPES OF SMOKING

There are two types of smoking; they are Cold smoking and Hot smoking. In cold smoking the temperature inside the smoke house is kept at or below 30 degree Celsius. At these temperatures, the food take on the flavour of the smoke but are not cooked.

In hot smoking the temperature in the smoke house may be as high as 90 degree C, for fish and poultry. These temperatures are high enough to cook the foods being smoked. Higher temperatures tend to cause excessive shrinkage. Foods may be hot smoked until they reach an internal temperature of 150 to 163 degree C, to ensure that they are fully cooked.

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