I love pork. Cured pork, uncured pork, roasted pork and breaded pork. I love the whole range of ham — from the cheapest mechanically formed slices to acorn-fed iberico. Most pork preparations are easy enough to DIY, but “homemade cold cuts” is not a phrase you hear very frequently, which is too bad, because they’re easily attainable if you have a precision cooker.
One of the drawbacks to precision cooking is its limited temperature range. Most foods require some sort of finishing step — either under a grill or in a hot pan — to get a bit of browning or char. But you don’t want browning or char with cold cuts. You don’t want a crust. You just want tender, juicy slices of salty meat; dry cold cuts are extremely unpleasant.
This makes precision cooking an obvious choice for the cooking portion of our cold cut recipe, but slow-cooked pork does not a cold cut make. For true, sandwich worthy ham vibes, you will need a bit of curing salt, which is very easily purchased on the internet. (If you’re skittish about nitrites and nitrates, please keep in mind that most “uncured” pork products you see in the grocery store — the ones that list celery in the ingredients — are complete bullshit.)
My current favourite curing salt is Morton Tender Quick, a mixture of salt, sugar and curing agents. It gives meats and fish (if you wish) that characteristic pink colour and cured flavour, and it gives it to them fast. For every pound of meat, mix one tablespoon of curing salt with two tablespoons of brown sugar and rub it all over your protein. Chuck that bag in the fridge overnight, and in the morning you will have a firmer, pinker, saltier piece of pork. (Morton does not recommend using this particular product for making’ bacon — the fat content varies wildly from belly to belly.)
Editor’s Note: Morton Tender Quick is not available in Australia, but there’s plenty of information about alternatives at Smoked & Cured online.
The combination of curing salt and precision cooking is all you need to make your own ham-like lunchmeat. I say “ham-like” because I used a tenderloin instead of a leg, but it tastes like ham. Tenderloins are uniform in shape (which means they cure evenly) and, unlike legs, small enough to fit inside even the tiniest, dumbest refrigerators, such as my own. A cured, sous-vide cooked tenderloin is salty-sweet and impossibly tender. Our not technically ham has the cured flavour you desire with the texture of slow cooked pork with just a touch more chew than you would expect. It is fantastic on a sandwich. To make it, you will need:
1 pork tenderloin (They often come in pairs, so double up if you dare, or marinate the other in this stuff.)
1 tablespoon of curing salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Trim any tapered ends off your tenderloin so you have a uniform cylinder, and eat the ends for supper. Trim off any silver skin and excess fat with a sharp knife, using your finger to gently separate the undesirable bits from the meat. Mix the curing salt and sugar in a small bowl, then add the mixture and the tenderloin to a gallon-sized freezer bag. Shake the meat around in the curing mixture to coat, making sure that every part of the tenderloin — even the ends — gets some love. Place the bag in the fridge overnight (8-12 hours).
Once the meat is done curing, set your water bath to 60 degrees Celsius using a precision cooker. While the water is heating, remove the meat from the bag and dry with paper towels. Place the tenderloin in a fresh freezer bag or vacuum sealable bag, and remove as much air as you can using the water displacement method or a vacuum sealer. Cook in the water bath for three hours, then plunge the bag into an ice bath to chill for 30 minutes before moving to the fridge for at least an hour (the longer you chill it, the easier it will be to slice).
Slice your fancy, home-cured lunch meat into slices, then make a sandwich. Eat that sandwich, then make another sandwich to take to work, where you can brag about how you made your own ham that isn’t technically ham, but gosh darn it, it sure tastes like it. Bask in the approval and jealousy of your peers as they gnaw on their rubbery grocery store slices, and repeat as needed.