Cold smoked chorizo

Cold smoked chorizo after hanging

Cold smoked chorizo

This is a cold smoked, Mexican style fresh chorizo sausage.

I made these to test out my original curing chamber setup (with the vivarium controller), as they only need to hang for about 5-7 days. Plus I wanted to use my newly built cold smoker 🙂

Shopping list (adjust the amounts according to how much meat / fat you have. The ratios are important):

  • 1.5kg pork shoulder, or a mixture of shoulder and belly, diced into 1″ cubes
  • 650g back fat diced into smaller cubes than the meat (if you can’t get back fat, use a greater ratio of belly)
  • 40g Sea salt
  • 6g of Cure #1 (pink salt)
  • 25g dried chilli powder
  • 3g white pepper
  • 75g dehydrated skimmed milk
  • 15g dried cumin
  • Thinly sliced spring onions – 120g or so, green part included
  • About 60ml cold water, and some ice cubes
  • Natural hog casings
  • Cold smoker / dust / pellets

Get your sausage on:

Important: Make sure you’ve got your grinder blades in the freezer for a few hours to help keep everything super cold and stop the fat smearing when grinding, and get your hog casings in some warmish water so they’re ready to be stuffed. If you have room, put the meat and fat into the freezer for a while too.

  • Put ice cubes in one mixing bowl and then put the other bowl into it
  • Mix the diced meat, salts, herbs and milk powder together and grind them through the coarse plate on your grinder, into the iced bowl
  • Grind the fat through the fine plate into the iced bowl with the meat in
  • Mix this all together with the spring onions and a splash of cold water, it’ll go sticky when you mix it – you want this
  • Take a small piece and fry it off in a pan to check the seasoning. Adjust if necessary. Make sure that you put the rest of the mixture in the fridge while you do this
  • Rinse the casings out thoroughly. Don’t let go else they’ll disappear down the plug hole!
  • Stuff your sausages into the casings, and twist into links. Whatever length you like
chorizo coil

Chorizo coil

chorizo links

And now with links!

  • Put them uncovered in the fridge overnight to build up a pellicle so that they take the smoke better
  • Stick them on your cold smoker for a few hours (I think mine had about 5 hours), they should have some nice colouration by then
Looking pretty good after a cold smokin'

Looking pretty good after a cold smokin’

  • Then hang them in the fridge (curing chamber, etc) for about 5 days. Ideally they want about 70% humidity. Mine were in there for a week and the humidity was all over the place, but they turned out fine. I was testing out the viability of the reptile vivarium controller as a curing chamber controller at the time, but I decided that more control was needed, hence sausageBot was born.
Hang them for about 5-7 days

Hang them for about 5-7 days

  • You can then freeze them and they’ll keep for ages, or keep them in the fridge for a couple of weeks max.
  • For bonus points, vacuum seal them – they take up less room and you won’t get any freezer burn. Plus it’s good fun.
Vacuum packed for freezing

I love this thing.

That’s it!

Unsurprisingly you can use them like any fresh chorizo – they’re particularly good with chicken, in risotto, or just fried up as a tapas dish.

Another sausageBot session

Had another good sausagebot curing chamber controller session tonight with Spandex. We’ve got the enclosure almost completed now and it’s starting to come together really well. Still need to work out exactly how to fix the lid on properly, but the tabbed corner pieces are all glued together and the base and sides too. I think the next job is to start wiring all the innards up and testing it before we finalise the enclosure structure as we know it’ll look sweet once complete.

Some pics of tonight’s progress…

sausagebot top off front view

sausagebot top off front view

sausagebot top off rear view

sausagebot top off rear view

Top on front view - sexy!

Top on front view – sexy!

Next time we’ll get all the innards fixed into place then onto testing and software development 🙂 It occurred to us tonight that we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time designing and building the enclosure but it’s time well spent I think. The really exciting stuff is up next!

Home made pastrami


Just look at it

Pastrami is just brined and smoked corned beef. It’s easy to make and it just takes a few days from start to finish.

The version is from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie book.

Here’s what you need.

  • A good quality piece of brisket (or beef plate if you can get that) – about 2kg
  • Coriander seeds
  • Black pepper

For the brine:

  • 4L water
  • 350g sea salt – or other salt without caking agents.
  • 225g sugar
  • 90g Muscovado sugar – or other soft brown sugar
  • 42g curing salt #1 (pink salt)
  • 8 grams pickling spice – you made a load up last time I hope? Just grab the jar off the shelf. If you didn’t – mix black peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, ground ginger, blade mace and chilli flakes in a pestle and mortar. Or just buy some ready made pickling spice.
  • 60ml honey
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushed.

Prepare the meat for brining:

  • Trim off all the surface fat from the meat. It’s worth taking your time over this. The final product can be a bit chewy in places if you leave it on. I didn’t take enough off the one in the main picture, so I’ve learned a lesson.

Then make the brine.

  • Put all the brine ingredients into a large saucepan.
  • Bring the brine to a boil, and then simmer until everything’s dissolved.
  • Let it cool, then put it in the fridge to chill.
  • Once it’s chilled, put your brisket into the brine. You can use another container if you can’t get the pot in the fridge. Weigh it down with something (a plate?) so that the meat is totally submerged. This is important.
  • Refrigerate it for 3 days
  • Take the beef out of the brine and throw the brine away. It’s done its job.
Brisket after brining

Brisket after brining

  • Dry the beef with kitchen paper. Make sure it doesn’t stick to the meat.
  • Blitz equal amounts of coriander seeds and black pepper in a coffee or herb grinder, or use a pestle and mortar if you want to make a mess and waste an hour. You need enough to cover the meat evenly.
  • Coat the meat with the coriander and pepper mixture
Brisket before smoking

Brisket before smoking

Now you’ve got options:

If you have a hot smoker, smoke that badboy until it’s 150F in the middle, as slowly as you can so it gets loads of smoke on it.

or if you don’t (I don’t, yet) you can cold smoke it, and then finish it off in the oven until it hits 150F in the middle. I tend to put it on a rack above an inch of water when it’s in the oven.

Once it’s cooked, wait until it cools, then slice it thinly. Serve it on good bread, with mustard, sauerkraut and gherkins. Or just stand there and keep shoving slices into your face. It’s bloody amazing.

Making Brawn

There are myriad versions of brawn, or head cheese, fromage de tête, whatever you want to call it. This version is from Fergus Henderson’s “Nose to tail”. It’s basically a jellied meat terrine.

I’ve been unable to find anyone willing (or able) to supply me with a pig’s head, until last week. I’ve asked in various butchers and each time I’ve been given a blank look. I guess no one makes this anymore. I found that the organic farm shop a few miles from home can supply heads, trotters and back fat! Huzzah! Back fat is almost as tricky to get hold of as a pig’s head, because no one likes fat these days apparently, the fools.

Ingredients for making brawn

Ingredients for making brawn

So to make this Brawn recipe I needed:

  • A pig’s head
  • 2 pig’s trotters
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 2 onions
  • Parsley, bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, rosemary, sage, plus about 2 tablespoons of cracked black peppercorns, all wrapped up and tied in muslin
  • Bunch of curly leafed parsley
  • A good slug of red wine vinegar
  • Sea salt
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • A VERY large stockpot
  • A couple of loaf tins or terrine moulds, plus some clingfilm
  • A packet of disposable razors
  • Patience

First of all you need to prep the head. Wash it all really well (don’t forget to clean the ears!) and give it a good shave with the disposable razors (you’ll need a few – I got through half a dozen) – doing that feels a bit odd to be quite honest. Give the trotters a good going over too – make sure you check between the toes!

Pig's head for brawn

Pig’s head for brawn – give it all a good wash and shave

You can imagine my girlfriend’s face when she wandered into the kitchen half asleep on Sunday morning to find me shaving a pig’s head with a bic razor 🙂

So, depending on how large the head is, and how large your pot is, you might need to saw it in half, or even into quarters in order to get it in there. Mine just fitted in the pot, albeit with the nose a little higher than I would have hoped for. If you’re sawing the head apart you’ll need a bone saw or a clean hacksaw with a new blade. Scoop out the brain and work out how you’re gonna cook it, if you are. Deep fried? On toast? Up to you. Mine came without the brain. I found out later that it was also missing the tongue, which was a real shame.

Some brawn recipes call for the head to be brined for 24 hours before cooking, but not this one, so I skipped the brining.

Once you’re happy with your shaved head, wash and peel the veg, then put everything apart from the sea salt into your huge stockpot, fill it with cold water, and bring it slowly up to a simmer.

Adding the veg and herbs to the pot

Add the veg and herbs to the pot

Adding the head to the pot

Add the head to the pot – this one only just fits!



Simmer very gently for about 3-4 hours, or until the meat is really soft and coming away from the head. Make sure it never fully boils!

Simmer and skim, simmer and skim

Simmer and skim, simmer and skim

Periodically scrape off any scum which floats to the top. I did this about 8 times during the simmer.

Then lift all the pig bits out of the broth (it’ll be falling apart by this stage – so be careful) and let it all cool down enough to be able to handle the meat.

After 4 hours on a really slow simmer

After 4 hours on a really slow simmer

Take all the meat off the head, shred it with your fingers and set aside. Pull the tongue out, peel the skin off it and dice it. Put this in with the other meat. If there’s any meat on the trotters pull that off, or simply discard them, they’ve done their job by now.

Mix the chopped parsely in with the diced and shredded meat.

Strain the stock into a clean pan through some muslin to get rid of all the bits, then cook this over a high heat until reduced by about half. Your house will smell very piggy by this point.

Get your loaf tins or terrine moulds ready – line them with clingfilm and arrange the meaty bits in them.

Check the seasoning of your reduced stock (It’s worthwhile seasoning heavily as this will be served cold, reducing the final flavour), then gently pour your stock over the meat and parsley, cover and pop into the fridge to set. It’s worth trying to get any remaining bubbles of air out while it’s still warm, you can bang it on the worksurface or or poke it with a spoon handle, etc to do this.

Assembling the brawn in the terrine

Assembling the brawn in the terrine

I didn’t get anywhere near the yield I was expecting but that’s because I took both jowls off for Guanciale, and because the tongue was missing!

Still, I only paid £6 for the head, trotters and about a kilo of back fat, so I can’t complain – according to the receipt the head was free, and it’s not every day you can say that you got free head 😛

Once it’s all properly set (overnight in the fridge is best), put a plate on top and invert it. Remove the clingfilm, cut a slice off and marvel at the porky wonder that is your brawn!

Tip it out of the terrine

Tip it out of the terrine

Slice a piece off, grab a home pickled gherkin or some cornichons from the jar, butter some some crunchy bread and potato salad and you’re set. And pour yourself a beer.

Plated up

Plated up

To be honest it tastes good but it needs really heavy seasoning – a lot more than I added – and it’s a bit too jelly-heavy, but it wobbles nicely 🙂 It needed about double the amount of meat, if I’d only kept one jowl back and the tongue there!

If you put some hard boiled eggs in it before it sets it would be like a jellied Gala pie. mmmm. Next time I’ll do that and make Fergus’ Crispy ear and sorrel salad to go with it.

Kielbasa Wiejska

Kielbasa Wiejska

Kielbasa Wiejska

A fresh Polish sausage – heavy on the garlic and marjoram. Courtesy of Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie.

you need:

  • 1Kg Pork shoulder, diced.
  • 20g Sea salt (or other non-iodised salt)
  • 35g crushed garlic
  • 10g finely chopped fresh marjoram
  • 5g freshly ground black pepper
  • a splash of cold water
  • a bag of ice
  • About 6ft of natural hog casings – I get mine from (they last for months if stored in their salty bag in the fridge)

Grab a big non-reactive mixing bowl and mix everything apart from the water together really well, then cover it with clingfilm and stick it in the fridge overnight. Your fridge will smell heavily of garlic in the morning, so maybe use double clingfilm, and remove any eggs you have in there 🙂

Get your mincer blades, the spiral thing and other metal mincer bits and put them in the freezer so they’re seriously cold when you come to mince / stuff it. It’s better to have everything almost freezing when you make sausages otherwise the fat can smear. It’s not so essential for a fine ground fresh sausage such as this, but it’s a good habit to get into nonetheless.

The next day, soak your hog casings in a bowl of warm water for about an hour or so, changing the water every now and then. Offer one end up to a tap and run some water through them to clean them out. Tip: Don’t let go, it’ll disappear down the plughole in about 2 seconds flat if you let it!

Open your garlicky fridge, take the mixture out and run it through the now ice-cold fine plate on your mincer – into a bowl which is in another same sized bowl with ice cubes in.

Put a splash of water in (really, just a very little bit), and mix like a madman with a wooden spoon while it’s still in the bowl above the iced-bowl. If you’ve got one, you can stick it in a food mixer with a paddle attachment for a minute or so, until it starts to get sticky and evenly mixed.

Cover the mixture with clingfilm again and stick it back in the fridge while you fry a piece – to check the seasoning. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Stuff the mixture into the hog casings (this is much easier and more fun with 2 people), then twist them into links. I made them into about 6″ links.

That’s it!

Fry a couple off and have them with sauerkraut, crusty bread, gherkins and mustard. Lovely.

They freeze really well, especially if you vacuum seal them.

Note: they’re very garlicky. I love garlic but I might tone it down a little next time 🙂

Building a dry curing chamber

I’m building a dry curing chamber out of a fridge – for fermented sausages and drying cured meats. This means I can make salami, guanciale, coppa and all the other really good stuff.

When you’re hanging meats to dry them (prosciutto, for example) you need the relative humidity to be about 70%RH, and the temperature in the region of 12-15C, warmer and wetter than most fridges are prepared to run, so you need some additional equipment to maintain these parameters. We don’t have ideal conditions in the UK to do this without a little gadgetry.

I won’t go over all the ins and outs of how to do this here – these guys have done it all before and are the authority on it as far as I can see:

Look at all that beautiful stuff they make. mmmmm.

Anyway, I bought a large fridge, here it is:

My soon to be Curing fridge

My soon to be Curing fridge

Should have enough room in there!

I also bought a reptile vivarium controller which monitors and controls temperature and humidity, and an ultrasonic humidifier. I plugged all this in to see how it would work without anything sausagey hanging in there. I set the temperature to 13C, and the variance to 2C. This means that the fridge compressor starts when the temperature gets up to 15C, and stops cooling when it hits 11C. Simple enough. But temperature control is the easy part.

Controlling relative humidity is far more tricky. When running empty, the humidity in the chamber was all over the place, going from too high, to far too low. Hardly ideal, and would have ended up ruining quite a lot of potentially tasty meat.

So I made a sacrificial batch of Mexican style chorizo to test out the chamber’s drying capabilities. This cold-smoked chorizo only needed to hang for about a week, long enough for me to work out how well / terribly it might behave.

I hung up the sausages and began monitoring. They hung  in there for a week and by that time they’d lost roughly 20% weight. But the humidity was still all over the place so for things which need much longer drying times this might not end well.

Here they are after being hung – I’ll make another post about how I made them at some point.

Cold smoked chorizo after hanging

Cold smoked chorizo after hanging

But I need more flexibility and control.

I was chatting all this through with my friend Spandex – (he is both tall and wise) –  and he said, “Someone must have done this with Arduino before”. I’d heard of Arduino before but never had experience with home electronics projects (other than building PCs), and the thought of wiring up mains appliances to relays is frankly pretty terrifying. He makes a lot of cool modular synth stuff so it’s right up his street.

So we hatched a plan to build a “sausageBot” – an Arduino-based controller which will monitor everything via sensors, and control all the equipment through relays. Spandex will be doing all the wiring and soldering and I’ll be asking daft questions and thinking about meat.

In return I have offered to pay him in cured meats. What a winner.

Here are a couple of mock-ups of how the case for sausageBot might look once finished:

Enclosure mockup - front

Enclosure mockup – front

Enclosure mockup - top

Enclosure mockup – top

last night we started to build the innards.

We went for a “let’s put something together and see what happens” approach. We’ve got a basic layout on breadboard, with the arduino reading temperature and humidity from the sensor, and we’ve also wired up the circuit for the first relay. Exciting stuff!

Sausagebot breadboard test

Sausagebot breadboard test

Temperature and humidity values being recorded

It’s alive!

It’s obviously very early days but exciting nonetheless. Will post more progress when there’s some to show 🙂

Duck prosciutto

Duck prosciutto

Duck prosciutto

The simplest home charcuterie project you can make. I urge you to try this. It doesn’t need any specialist curing chamber setup, and what’s more – it’s delicious!

You’ll need:

  • 2 large duck breasts (better still, you can buy a whole bird for a little more than the breasts, make stock with the carcass, and confit the legs)
  • Sea salt
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • white pepper
  • some cheesecloth (muslin) and butcher’s string
  • digital scales
  • a non-reactive, lidded container large enough to hold the breasts side by side without touching

Put some sea salt into the container so that it covers the bottom. Place the breasts on top of that, nestle them into the salt and make sure that they’re not touching. Press a bay leaf onto each one, then cover them completely with more sea salt. Put the lid on the container and put them in the fridge.

After 24 hours in the fridge, take them out and discard the salty brine that’s developed. They should be firm. Rinse the breasts under cold running water, and dry them with kitchen towel. Cover them with white pepper so that they have a nice dusting. Then take your muslin and wrap the breasts up tightly. Tie with butcher’s string so that you can hang them up. You’ll want to weigh them at this point using digital scales (a must have). Record the weight of each one and attach a label to the string with the weight on.

Then hang them up (ideally at about 70% relative humidity, and 12-15 degree C), until they’ve lost about 30% of their original weight. I hang mine in the cupboard under the stairs, above a bucket with some salty water in to add some humidity), but that’s not really necessary. Cool temperature is a must. Mine took nearly a week until they’d lost 30%.

That’s all there is to it!

Slice them as thinly as you can, and tuck in! I love to eat them on endive leaves, with thinly sliced pears and Gorgonzola. It’s sooo good.

Here they are after hanging for nearly a week

Duck prosciutto after hanging

Duck prosciutto after hanging

Duck prosciutto after hanging

Duck prosciutto after hanging

And here’s what they look like sliced. The fat just melts in your mouth!

Duck prosciutto slices

Duck prosciutto slices

Duck prosciutto slices

Duck prosciutto slices