Guide to Preservation: Salt-Curing

September 25, 2020

Not familiar with salt-cured foods? Think again. What about bacon? Smoked salmon? Salami? Sopressatta? Before we go down the long list of salt-cured meats to prove the pervasiveness of this preservation method, keep in mind that meats aren’t the sole subjects for salt-curing. More and more often, innovative chefs and recipe developers are showing us that cured meats are just the tip of the preservation iceberg. Below the surface of notable salt-cured eats, foodies have found that vegetables and other special ingredients cure quite well. Yolks, for example, turn into gratable orbs packed with complex flavor and unmatched texture once cured in salt. 


Because the process of salt-curing aims to remove all moisture from whichever food chefs or home cooks choose to cure, it is quite a scientific process (as most fermentation and preservation tends to be). Salt inhibits the growth of spoilage-causing microorganisms, making it the perfect solution for allowing perishable foods to last longer than usual. New bacteria replaces the perishable, unwanted bacterial population, generating what scientists deem to be an acidic environment at about 4.5 pH. Sugar, on the other hand, aids in fermentation, too (just not in the same sense). It is used as lactobacilli, which in more plain terms means that it prohibits spores from forming, making it a natural preservative as well. 


Cacio e Pepe with Salt-Cured Egg Yolks

Cacio e pepe has been a smash hit amongst diners and restaurateurs alike for quite some time. This Italian peasant dish packs an incredible amount of depth for such a simplistic meal, which explains its status as a best-selling dish at restaurants and eateries across the nation. With less than ten principal ingredients, think of this less as a recipe to follow and more as a framework with which to get creative. In this take on a beloved classic, pasta, cheese, and black pepper are transformed into something even more beautiful than before with the welcome addition of salt-cured egg grated over top, bringing luscious texture and flavor to the table and into our mouths.  


Ingredients:

4 Local Roots eggs

½ cup kosher salt

½ cup sugar

1 lb. Local Roots pasta

2 cups Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

2 cups pasta water

1 Tbsp. ground black pepper

6 Tbsp. Local Roots butter


Directions:

  1. Mix salt and sugar together in a large bowl using a whisk until combined. Transfer half of the mixture to a baking pan or another shallow dish with rimmed edges. 
  2. Before cracking the eggs, use them to make four indents in the salt mixture. Be sure to space these indents far enough from one another, but not too close to edges of the dish.
  3. Separate the eggs and set the whites aside. Gently nestle the yolks into their respective indents and top with the remaining salt mixture. Take care to avoid puncturing the yolks. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for about a week. 
  4. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Remove eggs from the salt mixture and rinse with water. Pat with paper towels and transfer to a wire rack. Bake until eggs are dried, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely before using. 
  5. Meanwhile, set 4 quarts of generously salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente and strain. Reserve about a cup of pasta water and set aside for later.
  6. In a large saucepan, melt butter and add black pepper. Place reserved pasta water in the pan and bring up to a simmer, whisking to combine. Reduce heat to low and add cheese a small handful at a time, stirring. Transfer pasta into the sauce and mix to coat. 
  7. Before serving, grate salt-cured eggs over pasta and serve hot. 

Article, Recipe, and Photos by Local Roots Volunteer Jess Santoro (@jess_santoro)





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