In the Beginning – There Was Gabagool
In my search for purpose and a new career as an urban farmstead type, I’ve recently rekindled an interest in the art and science of curing meats. I was inspired last month when I started poking around into the possibility of acquiring a small, but well-respected artisan meat company. While that deal did not go through it set off a spark in my brain that has me thinking about becoming the next Sausage King of Seattle. Could I be a 21st century Abe Froman perhaps? Anyway, since late February I’ve studied all types of things like HAACP plans, knives, hygrometers, ph meters, good vs. bad mold and, most importantly, meat purveyors.
Over the past 2 years I’ve made bacon and pancetta at home with pretty good success. Although my wife doesn’t like the salty-ness of some of the bacon; I have been pretty happy with as have friends I have shared with. During a recent conversation with Mike Easton from the esteemed Il Corvo in Seattle, I was told to essentially ‘throw out’ the first Charcuterie book by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn in favor of their second book, Salumi and Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli. In Mike’s words, ‘those recipes are just too damned salty!’ So, on I went to get my new books and try my hand at a new style of old world cuisine.
Her Name Was Lola the Coppa
After sampling my dad’s (Don Stefano) coppa down in California in January, I decided to try my hand at making a couple of my own. The recipe and process are quite simple for coppa. Coppa is made from a muscle that runs from the neck of a pig down to the 2nd or 3rd rib bone along the back. The problem is, in this country you typically buy whole USDA pork shoulder/butt which in which the coppa is cut before the desired point on the rib.
So, you get about 2/3 of the coppa instead of the whole muscle on a European style shoulder cut. You also need to trim it out of the shoulder so you have to figure out which muscle it is and put your butchery skills to work. It’s not that hard to do but I did need to refer to the Salumi book for illustrative help. Some butchers will cut a whole coppa out for you if they are working with a whole or half hog – but this seems to be a rare occasion.
I started out with 2 pork shoulders that I trimmed out the coppa on. I’ll call them Lola and Rico. I photo-documented the process step by step for those of you scoring at home:
Step 1 – Trimming the coppa from the butt
The sort of triangular piece of meat on the left side of the shoulder is the coppa. So, we must separate it from the rest of the shoulder to do our work.
His Name was Rico
Of course, as the story by Barry Manilow goes, Lola met Rico at the Copa. So, here’s Rico pre-dressage…
And now Rico being trimmed – in a little better fashion than Lola now that I have practice…
And now for Lola and Rico side by side, all trimmed and weighed out:
Step 2: The Cure
No, I’m not going to integrate Robert Smith into this mess. But, we have to cure Lola and Rico now. So, here’s the process. I used the ‘Salt Box’ method with Diamond Crystal kosher salt at 3% of the weight of the coppa. I used no nitrates here as this level of salt will inhibit the growth of any undesirable bacteria.
This is not to say you should not use #1 cure – you can if you want an added level of safety to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum and other undesirable bacteria.
They Fell in Love
Now that both Lola and Rico have been salt boxed, it’s time to add the desired herbs and spices. For Rico, I chose to do a cure with Black Pepper, sliced garlic and ground fennel. For the 2.75 pound coppa I used about 1.5 Tablespoons of each spice with 2 cloves of thinly sliced garlic.
I toasted both the black pepper and fennel seed to release the oils and aromatics. Then I cracked the black pepper with the back of a skillet and put the fennel seed in a grinder for a moment to give me this:
For Lola, I chose to do a juniper and bay cure. For the ingredients in this cure, I used:
- 5 bay leaves – cracked by hand
- 1 Tbsp of toasted, cracked black pepper
- 1 Tbsp dried thyme
- 1 Tbsp crushed juniper berries
Step 3: Bagged and Pressed
Now that Lola and Rico have been properly seasoned, they need a couple of days on the cure.
For this, I sealed each bag and then put about 8# of weight in the form of landscaping cinder from my backyard (washed of course).
This is a faster curing process than many would prescribe. The weight of the bricks placed on top of each coppa help to distribute the cure more rapidly by speeding up osmosis. If you are not weighing down the coppa then you may want to increase your curing time to anywhere from 2-3 days/pound of meat.
And Now We Wait…
The coppa stay refrigerated in this state for 2 days (1 day for each kilo of meat) – flipping halfway through the process while redistributing the cure between flips. Once they have been through the first cure, they’ll be rinsed and encased in beef bung with more herbs to dry for at least 4 weeks up to 12 months while they lose 30-40% of their weight. Drying time will vary based on many factors including the fat and water content of the pork as well as ambient temperature and humidity in your room or chamber.
I’ll also be writing more about charcuterie and salumi going forward trying various Mediterranean techniques on different cuts of meat. Here’s another one of my favorites – How to Make Tonno di Maiale. Stay tuned!