The River Cottage MEAT Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a recipe for making bresaola, an Italian air-cured beef. I had never tried curing meat before and I was intrigued. I chose two cuts of top round from the freezer — meat from our own grass-fed steer.
I began by creating a marinade for the meat with a bottle of red wine and 1-2 pounds of salt. I believe those are the two essential ingredients. Additional spices can be added such as fresh rosemary, garlic, cloves, pepper and zest from lemons and oranges. I put each piece of meat in a ziploc bag, divided the marinade between them and then put them in the refrigerator. I turned the bags over once or twice a day for about a week.
Then, the meat was ready to be air-cured. I removed the meat from the marinade, patted it dry, and then wrapped it several times in cheesecloth. I tied a string around each piece of meat for hanging it easily.
The next challenge is to find a place to air-dry the meat for a period from 10 days to two months. Fearnley-Whittingstall says to hang it in a “cool and draughty place (such as outbuilding or covered porch).” I chose an area off of a sun porch.
I let the meat cure for two months and it was ready just before Christmas. Over this time, the meat becomes hard, as its water evaporates. Checking on the meat over this period of time, I could tell the difference as the meat changed from soft and spongy to rock-hard.
I bought an electric slicer to cut it as thinly as possible. I don’t know if it would be possible to cut it with a knife without hacking it to bits.
I arranged the thin slices on a plate, as below, and sprinkled a little lemon juice over them. You can use it as part of an antipasto platter.
I liked the taste and the texture. It’s similar, of course, to other cured meats such as prosciutto, which is made from pork, but it’s darker and a bit musty.
What fascinates me is that curing meats was an old-world way of preserving meat. It doesn’t involve cooking the meat at all. Today, it’s an arcane practice rather than a necessary way of storing food. Yet making bresaola is satisfying and produces a quite distinctive taste from a rather ordinary cut of beef.