SausageBot progress

SausageBot panels

SausageBot panels  – just look at them!

Got the front and back panels sorted today. After work I drove over to Matt Spandex’s house to continue on the sausageBot curing fridge project. We already had some of the main parts bought and assembled, and so after a delicious, unexpected fish supper (thanks, Frances!) we drove to Nottingham hackspace to use their laser cutter for the front and back panels. Spandy had already designed the layout of the panels to fit the components as you can see in this post

I hadn’t been to the hackspace before and it’s great. You pay a subscription (whatever amount you like actually), and you can use what you need, as and when you need it. It’s the first floor of an old Victorian warehouse, kitted out with all manner of tools from cnc machines, laser cutters, lathes, soldering stations, and so on. Pretty much everything. It was fairly busy when we got there, but there’s plenty of room and noone using the laser cutter – result! So after about an hour trying to figure out how to import the sketches of the panels into the laptop hooked up to the laser cutter, we were in business.

The laser cutter is magic. Did we place the acrylic in the right place not to screw it all up? You’re damn right we did.

Anyway, here are the results from tonight’s session. I’m seriously impressed with the accuracy of this thing. All the components just clipped right into the holes! Kudos to Spandy, again for the design work 🙂

Front and back panels laser cut

Front and back panels laser cut

rear panel with power sockets fitted

rear panel with power sockets fitted

Fitting various components

Fitting various components

Front panel with knobs and screen!

Front panel with knobs and screen!

That green switch on the right hand side is pretty sexy, and it will light up when it’s on. It’s so satisfying to click on and off that I might have to duct tape it on in case I get tempted when actually in production.

Anyway, the next job is to get all the relays glued (or fixed somehow) to the base of the enclosure, fit the status LEDs (those are the 4 holes on the front panel with nothing in at the moment), wire it all up, then plug everything else in (fridge, humidifier, heater, etc)

I really can’t wait! Stay tuned….

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:

http://mattikaarts.com/blog/charcuterie/meat-curing-at-home-the-setup/

http://curedmeats.blogspot.co.uk/2007/07/key-equipment-piece-3-curing-chamber.html

http://www.localfoodheroes.co.uk/?e=780

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

 

 

Home cured bacon!

Home maple cured and smoked bacon

Home maple cured and smoked bacon

The first thing many people cure at home – and rightly so – is bacon. Just LOOK AT IT.

My first piece of bacon which I cured at home was straight out of Michael Rulhman and Brian Polcyn’s fantastic book – Charcuterie: The craft of salting, smoking and curing. I’ve adapted this recipe to my taste over time, as I prefer a sweeter cure on my bacon. Particularly a maple cure, with applewood smoke.

My current version:

  • A 1Kg decent piece of belly pork, (no ribs, and preferably with the skin on), trimmed so that the edges are nice and square.
  • Some of those “zippy” freezer bags – the large ones.
  • About  35gms basic dry cure  mix *
  • A good glug of maple syrup
  • About 2tbsp ground black pepper
  • About 10 juniper berries, crushed with the back of a knife

* I use a lot of this, so I make a large-ish batch up which means that I don’t have to measure it out each time. Accuracy is key when using curing salts so bigger is better in that respect too, less room for error.

Basic dry cure mix:

  • 450 grams sea salt (or any salt with no iodine anti-caking agent in)
  • 225 grams sugar
  • 50 grams cure #1 (also known as Prague powder 1 or pink salt) It’s 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% salt, and prevents botulism. Strictly speaking you don’t need this in bacon even if it’s smoked, because it’ll get cooked before eating anyway. It also makes the bacon a nice pink colour too.

It’ll keep indefinitely in a Kilner jar.

Put the bacon and dry cure mix into the zippy bag, rub it all over the meat (get into all those nooks and crannies), add the rest of the ingredients, give it another mix, then pop it into the fridge for about a week, turning it over every other day so that all the meat gets an even  cure (this is technically called “overhauling”). You’ll notice that a brine is produced, this is what you want, and it’ll carry the flavours into the meat.

After about 5 days or so, feel the meat to see if it feels a bit firm, not hard. If it does, it’s cured. If not, leave it another day and check again.

Once it’s cured, take it out of the fridge and wash all the cure off the meat under the cold tap (I can never get all the pepper off, that doesn’t really matter). Discard the cure and dry the meat with paper towel.

Now you have options to finish it off:

  1. Put it (fat side up) onto a griddle pan in a baking tray and set the oven to 200F (about 93C) until it’s 150F in the middle (that takes about 1-1.5hrs)
  2. Hot smoke it until it reaches 150F in the middle
  3. Cold smoke it and then finish it in the oven, as #1

That’s it! You’ve got lovely bacon. mmmm, bacon. Slice a piece off and fry it up!

If it’s a little bit salty, you can blanch it which will remove some of that salt. I’ve found that the edges tend to be more salty than the middle.

Here’s what mine looked like after about 8 hours cold smoked over applewood chips, before the oven phase:

After the smoke phase

After the smoke phase

After the smoke phase - underside

After the smoke phase – underside

And here it is freshly out of the oven, once it’s hit 150F in the middle

Smoked and cooked

Smoked and cooked

Smoked and cooked

Smoked and cooked

Take the fat off, slice it up, and use any trimmings, etc for lardons. It freezes really well, especially if you have a vacuum sealer.