In the simplest of terms curing and smoking is preserving and flavouring. However, it encompasses craft, tradition, science and sorcery. Anyone and everyone can and should be producing simple cured products as a matter of course because they offer so much value to the keen amateur cook. It will expand your knowledge of food and increase your repertoire of dishes as well as taking you on a journey of discovery touching on almost every corner of the Globe. It enables you to take good ingredients and turn them in to elevated versions of themselves applying minimum intervention.
Dry curing, brining, hot and cold smoking are techniques that are empowering and take you one delicious step beyond your average recipe. They represent a deeper level of engagement with food than baking a cake or simmering a stew – perhaps because they require the deployment of often ancient artisan skills. These skills need not be daunting but they do set you off on a new learning curve. The cook who makes their own bacon enters a different arena from the one who roasts their own pork. And, correspondingly, he or she reaches a new level of gratification – often by no means instant, but always lasting.
But the rewards for your dedication, for any extra outlay or time, are immense. Curing meat or smoking fish doesn’t only result in a delicious end product; the gift is much greater than that. These are processes that unlock the secrets of some of our best-loved, most useful ingredients. They give you the keys to the citadel of smoky, salty-sweet-savoury moreishness: the hallowed place where bacon, air-dried ham, smoked salmon and kippers dwell.
Time plays an important part and anyone who embarks on this age-old process fuelled by salt and smoke, will understand how deeply connected the methods are to food history and the earliest fundamental cooking techniques. It is the antithesis of fast food. It can be traced from the discovery of fire through to the ancient civilisations and right up to the present day. It is impossible to know for sure how it came about but the significance is clear. It has derived from circumstances that are as real as evolution and survival. It has been honed through times of economic necessity in order to creatively manage food preservation and storage. It is considered a craft which represents the beginning of cooking and maintains a key part of any kitchen whether it is domestic or commercial to this day.
Curing and smoking are layers of love applied to something that you already hold a deep affection for. And it is the crucial ingredient of salt that really fuels the affair.
– Steven Lamb