Converting a Fridge into a Curing Chamber - Part 1 - Controlling Temperature

lomo dryingAlthough it's a common topic of discussion on the sausage making forum, I've never got around to writing about converting my fridge into an air-drying chamber. Before I start, I accept no responsibility for what you do with the information here; it's up to you to ensure that what you do is safe and complies with any relevant regulations/legislation. If in doubt, please seek the advice of a professionally qualified person.

This information relates to converting a fridge for use in the UK. For details of converting a fridge in the US, please see this article on the Cured Meats website.

Firstly, let's look at the conditions we need; there are 3 main phases during the process of making air-dried products, curing, fermentation and drying. Ideal conditions for these are:

  • Curing - normal fridge temperatures are fine, ideally at the higher end around 5° - 8°C.
  • Fermenting - used when making sausage and occasionally with dried meats. The product is held at temperatures around 24°C with a very high relative humidity, around 90% - 95%, for a period that can vary from 12 hours to several days, to enable bacteria to make the sausage more acidic, which makes it safe to eat. The exact temperatures and times depend on the specific bacteria added, so follow the manufacturers guidelines or the recipe carefully.
  • Drying - a period of weeks, or months, during which we want the product to dry slowly and evenly which will add to its safety. The conditions for doing this are ideally between 10° - 15°C with a relative humidity between 70% and 85%. Our aim is to keep the humidity of the chamber just slightly below that of the product, whilst it dries. Regular changes of air are also beneficial. My own experience, along with that of fellow home sausage-makers, suggests that there are less problems when the drying is takes place at the lower end of this temperature range. Many favour a temperature of 12°C, or thereabouts, as do I.

Most people have little problem creating the conditions for the first two phases, but often have problems with the third; modern houses tend not to have places with these conditions. A cellar or pantry is often ideal, or can be adapted easily. If you can beg or borrow the use of one, then do so: the larger the area, the easier it seems to be to control. However, for the rest of us, the only economic option is to adapt a fridge or freezer to create the conditions required.

Firstly, you'll need a fridge to convert - 'auto-defrost' is the type to go for as these tend to have very low humidity; it's easier to increase humidity than decrease it!

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Wild Garlic 'Pesto'

It's coming up to one of my favourite times in the 'foodie' year. The local asparagus season is just around the corner: it's already started in some parts of the country. That'll be closely followed by soft fruit, and one of my favourite vegetables, marsh samphire. Mmm...

At the moment it's wild garlic season. Also known as ramps, ramsons or buckrams, these leaves grow in woodland and seem to be 'the in thing' with TV chefs. I've featured them before and there are some recipes for them in my previous post.

I was give some this week and made a wild garlic pesto with them. I've just had 'a big dollop' of it in some mushroom soup and it's superb.

Wild garlic pesto

Wild Garlic Pesto

75gm Wild garlic leaves
25gm Nuts - I used walnuts that I had in the freezer.
25gm Parmesan 'type' cheese - finely grated
50ml (approx) Olive oil

Puree the nuts and garlic leaves, then add the grated cheese. Mix to a paste with the olive oil.

I'm sure that a totally local version would be just as good made with Welland Valley Rapeseed Oil and Berkswell Cheese. It would also be vegetarian.

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My First Sous-Vide

I promise, I will post more ham and sausage recipes, but I've been 'under the weather' and Pauline's hands have been bad again. As soon as she's back on form, or I can find someone else in the family to do the bits I can't, I'll get a few test batches on the go. In the meantime...

Cooking "Sous-vide" - at a low temperature in a water-bath - is a great way of cooking. In my position, it's less dangerous, doesn't require a lot of manual dexterity and is fairly fool-proof.

Here's my first attempt:

Sous Vide Steak

I cooked it at 57°C using a large slow-cooker with an external thermostat that I've had made up. The steak was vac-packed and cooked for a couple of hours or so. The temperature is such that it can't overcook, it's only ever as hot as you want the meat to be.

It was superbly tender, but cooked a little too much for me. Next time I'll try cooking it at 54°C; this should allow for the slight 'over-run' in temperature that occurs when the thermostat turns off.

After a hour or so in the water-bath, the steak was put into a little oil, in a scorching hot pan, and seared on both sides.

It was served with a large salad, grilled tomatoes and a few new potatoes. Yes, I'm still on the flamin' diet!

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