I Do Not Like Commercial Lamb. I Do Not Like It, Sam I Am.
I love the rich, gamey flavors of lamb. And I loathe the flavorless lamb we typically get in most grocery stores in this country. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating lamb in other countries you can appreciate the depth of flavor that comes with a pastured lamb raised on a diverse diet of plant life. Eating grilled lamb in Greece is a sublime experience. Eating lamb in the UK is a divine culinary game changer that will swear you off of Colorado or cryo-vac’d Aussie lamb from Costco for the rest of your life. Eating scottadito for the first time in Rome will make you wonder how you ever lived without it! It’s an elusive palette-pleaser that can only be found by buying lamb from small farmers in the good old US of A. And it’s well worth the extra few bucks when you get it at a Farmer’s market or direct from farm. Once you have it, you’ll never go back.
Lamb Prosciutto is for Purists
As most people familiar with salumi know – prosciutto is traditionally made from the hind leg of a pig. The name refers to the cut vs. the preparation so theoretically you can make prosciutto from the hind leg of any animal. It has been made for over 2000 years beginning in Parma, Italy where peasants would hang hams to cure for future consumption. Nowadays, it’s produced in various regions of Italy including Parma, San Daniele, Tuscany, Modena, Veneto and Norcia. All require a minimum of one year of aging.
But this isn’t a history lesson on traditional pig prosciutto. Now we are going to make lamb prosciutto! If you are a lamb lover this will blow your socks off. The gamey-ness and depth of flavor is stunning in the finished product. Plus, it doesn’t take nearly as long to cure as it’s porcine counterpart. Let’s get to it!
Step 1 – Procure Good Lamb
As previously mentioned, you can’t go wrong with getting a good leg of lamb from a small farmer at the market. Of course, you can make this with store-bought commercial lamb leg from wherever but if you’re about to go on this journey and spend the time and effort to make lamb prosciutto the right way then go large. Spend the money and see a better return on your investment in terms of quality and flavor. You won’t regret it.
I get most of my meat these days from Olsen Farms in Colville, Washington. Brent and his crew do a wonderful job with their animals and the quality is excellent. For my initial experiment, I bought half a leg to play with.
Step 2 – Prep Your Mise en Place
My friend Thierry Rautureau told me once that you should always prep your mise en place before doing any cooking whatsoever. So, I took his advice and measured out the cure and aromatics. Borrowing heavily from a recipe on Matt Wright’s Wrightfood blog, I prepped the following ingredients for my curing process:
The Lamb Prosciutto Cure
- 3.8% Trapani sea salt
- 1.4% ground black pepper
- 3% dextrose
- .25% #2 cure
- .4% crushed juniper berries
- 1% fresh rosemary
- 2% minced garlic
These are laid out in order in clockwise order starting from the bottom left in the photo below:
Step 3 – Bone The Lamb
You can make lamb prosciutto either bone in (like Chef Derek Ronspies does @ Le Petit Cochon) or bone out for a quicker drying times. I chose the latter in this case as I wanted to taste the results of this preparation sooner than later. Bone in curing time will be approximately 3-4 months start to finish while this boneless prep took about 6 weeks to reach its desired weight loss.
When de-boning, use your knife to separate meat from bone. Make a long vertical cut from the joint up and then work your way around the bone leaving as little meat as possible on the bone. Here’s a good video that demonstrates the technique properly.
Step 4 – Cure the Lamb
Once you’ve gotten your lamb prepped and ready you’ll want to blend your cure and aromatics in a small bowl. Then, rub the lamb with the cure liberally inside and out covering all available surface area. Once you’ve rubbed the lamb, put it in a Ziploc bag large enough to hold the lamb in its entirety and seal the bag. Place the bag in the refrigerator for 15 days flipping every other day while redistributing the cure.
After this process has been completed, remove the lamb from the Ziploc. It should look similar to the photo below:
Step 5 – Rinse and Tie the Lamb Prosciutto
Our next step is to rinse off the cure and tie the lamb into a nice little package to keep all the bad stuff out (bacteria, mold, bugs, etc.). Rinse the lamb under cold water and dab off any remaining water with a paper towel.
Once you have your lamb prepped for tying, roll it into as tight of a ‘tube’ shape as you possible can to eliminate air pockets and then tie it using a continuous knot. Here’s a pretty simple video on this technique. You will likely have a few ‘odd’ pieces of lamb that just don’t seem to fit properly into the rolled shape. In order to remedy this I trimmed off one larger piece and inserted it into the center of the leg prior to rolling. It kept the shape intact and allowed the odd piece to be integrated into the leg through the balance of the curing process. You may also decide to case your prosciutto to slow the aging process and to limit air-to-surface contact with the lamb.
Once I finished tying the lamb, I rolled it in toasted fennel seeds to give it an additional flavor component. I love the anise flavor the fennel imparts on cured meats and I typically use toasted, cracked fennel seed or fennel pollen when I can find it.
Step 6 – Let the Prosciutto Cure
Now it’s time to wait… You’ll want to hang your lamb prosciutto in a space that is between 50-60 degrees and at 65-75% relative humidity. If you don’t happen to have a curing chamber handy you may be able to use a basement space, closet or garage if you have one. These are recommended ranges but you can get by give or take a few degrees or percentage points. Depending on how wildly your temp and humidity fluctuates you may experience fast drying, case hardening or worse. If you do hang in an open space you may also want to wrap it in cheesecloth to keep any bugs from enjoying it.
Prior to hanging, measure the weight of the lamb prosciutto and record it. We’re looking for a 30-35% weight loss here and you’ll want to weigh on a weekly basis to track progress. Once you hit the 30% mark it’s game on. You can choose to wait longer allowing for more weight loss and further depth of flavor but be careful not to go too far. My prosciutto took about 4 weeks to dry to the desired weight. This will vary based for you based on temperature, humidity, weight and moisture content of the meat.
Step 7 – Mangia!
It’s the big day. Your lamb prosciutto is finished, at the ideal weight and the cure is complete. Let’s eat! I love to pair the deep, gamey lamb flavors with a bit of sweetness and sharp cheese. If you have a slicer then bonus. If not, take your sharpest knife and slice it as thinly as possible. The texture and width of the slice definitely impacts the mouthfeel and flavors of the lamb prosciutto.
Also, Fig jam or membrillo work well here. Manchego is also a nice accompaniment or a nice chevre rolled in ash. Alternatively, you can use your lamb prosciutto to make some beautiful soups with or even a nice lentil dish. There are a lot of possibilities here.
If you enjoyed this post then check out my other ‘how-to’ guides on making salumi such as coppa and guanciale. More are coming soon!
This looks great! I’m motivated to find a local sherherd. Super job on the pictures and this post. The bar has been raised.
Thanks! Much appreciated – I’m happy you are inspired!
Delish! If you make it, I’ll try it. Keep me out of the kitchen!
J. P. now I have someting else to do. But not just yet. We’ll talk
Australian farmer from Mudgee NSW, been looking at how to do this for some time your method looks clear and simple, will get a leg out of the freezer, and try.
Thanks Graeme – just make sure to tie the lamb as tightly as possible once the initial cure is done. Any air pockets will be bad news.
Jason Just a question with the drying process. Mines been hanging for 2 weeks now, should i remove the Cheese Cloth to Check the meat yet? its lost approx 15% of weight. i can see white mould on the outside but just not sure when i should be checking the meat to see how its looking?
Patience grasshopper. I know it’s tempting to want to peel away that cheesecloth and take a look but there’s really nothing to see. At worst, you risk disrupting the good white mold and will have a hard time re-wrapping it. If you are at 15% weight loss after two weeks you likely have another 4-6 weeks before getting to 30% or more. I actually prefer mine at 35%+.
I have never done anything like this before, but I am anxious to try it. Because I am a novice, I might be missing something very basic, but why are your measurements for the cure listed in percentages, which don’t equal 100%? How can I measure the ingredients?
Also, since I live in Oklahoma, it will be difficult or impossible to achieve 65-75% humidity as it is extremely dry here. Maintaining that temp would also be a challenge. Any suggestions?
Hi Scott – the percentages listed are as a ratio of the weight of the meat being cured. For example, if you are curing a 1,000 gram leg and the recipe calls for 3% salt you’ll want to use 30 grams of salt for the cure.
As far as humidity control goes – it’s essential that you create an environment that gets you in the correct range. Else, you’ll likely experience case hardening (where the outside of the meat is hard and the inside is soft) or worse. Your best bet would be to create a curing chamber out of an old fridge and then put a humidifier inside. Then, you would want to use a thermohyrgrometer to cycle the fridge and humidifier on at the appropriate levels. This isn’t a simple thing to set up but you can find good instructions on Jason Molinari’s Cured Meats blog.
If you don’t go that route, but do have a cellar, I’d suggest sectioning off a small space with thick plastic sheeting and running a humidifier on a low setting in the space – provided your temps stay in a range of ~50-60.
thank you for the reply Jason
i unwrapped everything yesterday after it had lost approx 33% of its weight. had abit of White mould around it which i washed off with Vinegar. there was abit of Greeny Mould on the end of it which i just cut off, that wouldnt of affected any of the rest of the meat would it? do you just store it in a fridge?
Hi Aren – If you’ve washed off the white mold and trimmed the greenish mold off the end you should be good. Just be sure to check it as you cut into it. Any air pockets left in the lamb may have mold growth. If it appears slimy or wet you’ll need to chuck it.
Now, if you have a vacuum sealer then put then use it. Else, put it in a ziploc bag and squeeze out as much air as possible. You’ll continue to get some weight loss but not anything radical. I like the flavor and texture of this recipe at closed to 40% weight loss. Enjoy!
Thank you for the post and the inspiration. Is there a standard procedure to removing accumulated mould after drying?
How do you store your prosciutto once it’s ready to eat? Just in the fridge?
Do you remember the weight of your leg before drying? I assume the larger, the longer. Just curious so I can approximate if mine (11lbs.) will be a longer or shorter drying time.
Ever experimented with a harissa rub?
Hi – I generally use a 1:5 salt/water brine solution to remove bad mold during and after the curing process. I used to use vinegar but didn’t like the aroma it left on the meat. Once the cure is complete, I vacuum seal the prosciutto so that further drying and case hardening doesn’t occur. You can leave it hanging for a bit once it reaches the desired weight loss but eventually it will turn to stone.
The weight of the piece I used in this recipe was about 4#. Yes – larger = longer. Bone in = even longer. For an 11 lb leg, depending on drying conditions, I’d guess about 4-6 months for you (bone in).
Haven’t used a harissa rub but sounds tasty!
Thanks for your responses. So you just rinse the prosciutto in your brine solution to remove the mold? Or wipe it? And when you say “bad” mould, do you mean that some mould may be worth leaving alone? I know that the microbial layers are sometimes our best friends and hosts of flavor when it comes to aging…
Wipe it down – don’t dip it in brine. White mold = good. Blue, green, yellow, black, fuzzy = generally bad
i have made lamb prosciutto without the pink salt. seasonings if pepper and rosemary. How important is the pink salt? There are conflicting / contrasting elements of the pink salt. From what i understand the purest prosciutto does not include pink salt. any thoughts? thnx
I think you could go either way. From a safety perspective, it’s not hurting you to add a little. If you want to be a traditionalist, then I’d do without as you are correct – there’s no nitrite used in traditional curing of prosciutto.
Hi Jason. I’m currently setting up my curing chamber and getting ready to start curing and drying meat. I was curious, I know your recipe doesn’t call for it and that it would add to the drying time but would it be worth it to bard the BRT leg to slow down the dry on exterior of the leg for a more consistent texture through the entire leg?
Hi Todd – I don’t think you’ll need to case the leg or cover with lard to slow drying time. If your chamber is set up correctly and you have the right temp and humidity levels then you should be fine.
Great post. My mom of from the Faroe Islands and they have a traditional cured meet where they take a lamb leg in the fall and remove all but the last layers of skin, lightly salt the cut area and hang it in a loosely slatted shed. Come the spring they eat it in a variety of dishes including just sliced on bread. I always thought that the winter conditions (high humidity, salt air, wind and just above freezing conditions were critical for the curing. However it is weather and generally the meat almost always turns out. It seems from what I have read the aging meat process seems quite forgiving for a variety of meats/humidity’s and temperatures provided there is good airflow and there is no wet areas that can’t dry out.
For one reason or another, the area right above the aitch bone on my ham (pork) smells a bit rancid — perhaps around the area where the artery was milked.. the rest of the ham smells fine. What are my options?
I would wipe the area down with white wine or vinegar to start. See if that helps solve your problem.
Looks lush. I ‘ve just got my cured Welsh mutton back from being smoked for 1 day and now 4 weeks of hanging. The ultimate Xmas pressie.
A question on casings. You don’t use one on the lamb prosciutto but you do on the culatello/fioccho. Can the culatello just be tied like the lamb? I love your blog.
Hey Steve – the prosciutto prep is similar to the prep on a hind pork leg which also requires no casing. That said, I don’t think it would harm the process at all to case the lamb leg though it isn’t necessary. The culatello, however, needs to be cased. Since the process is so long you would end up with a moldy rock at the end of 12 months if you didn’t case.
Glad you enjoy the blog and I hope you subscribe!
Hi there, I am a little new to curing meats and I am a little daunted by trying this with a whole leg of lam. Do you think this could be tried with a lamb rump cap? I have a couple and they weigh about 350 grams each. If I were to give this a whirl with the rumps how long do you reckon I could cure them for? 4 days? They are slightly thicker than a very large duck breast
Hi Kat –
I think that if you work with a piece that small you are going to end up with a rock. I’d recommend going with the whole leg.
Cheers for the response Jason. Much appreciated.
The only reason i really wondered about the lamb bums is because I have a recipe for some duck prosciutto which is curing at the moment. It’s supposed to be easy. As the weather is changing i’m searching all around the house for the best place to dry the meat. If I was to do the lamb leg (which I would love to have a crack at) I want to make sure that the humidity is correct as you have posted about above. Currently the garage is nearly 60% humidity (59%) so I don’t want to spoil the meats if this is not ‘tippy top’.
I will see what happens with the two small lamb rumps. At worst I have wasted a couple of quid. I must go and find myself something to convert into a little curing chamber if the humidity doesn’t improve soon.
Well – you can try it out and hope for the best. I think you’ll be challenged due to the low fat content. It might be a better option to cold smoke if you are set up for that.
60% humidity should be just fine. You may want to wrap loosely in cheesecloth to keep any unwanted pests from getting into it.
Hi Jason, I went with your advice and decided to try a whole boneless leg. All seems pretty good so far. It has been hanging for about three weeks in the garage wrapped in muslin. So far it’s only lost 7.5% of its original weight. There is no mold on it at all. It is not wet and seems to be taking on a nice colour. Should i just be more patient or do you think there could be an issue? The humidity seems to fluctuate a bit however, its within the humidity ranges suitable. The temperature has been pretty cold so I have been keeping a close eye on everything. Maybe i should take it out of the muslin? If you have any recommendations that would be cracking. Thanks in advance for your help.
Hi Kat –
I’d just stay the course. Remember, prosciutto made from pork takes upwards of a year to cure. Just relax and let nature do its work!
Jason, did you weight the bone? I am doing one lamb prosciutto now but is bone in. What should be the weight loss?
Hi Doru – weigh the entire piece including bone. Then measure weight loss percentages from there. You’ll find that you’re looking more for firmness and texture vs. a specific percentage. Anywhere from 25-40% will fit your palate.
Thank you Jason. Oups, I forgot to tell you how much I love your blog and how appreciated is in the newbies world. I wish you can post more, but I can imagine how busy you are. BTW, in January I am planning to do a Culatello following your recipe. Wish me luck.
Thanks Doru – so glad you enjoy it!
Hi Jason, is the 50-60 degrees for curing Fahrenheit or Celsius? I’m a sheep farmer from Western Australia and can’t wait to try this!
Hi Fraser – temps are in Fahrenheit unless otherwise noted. Happy curing!