The Big Leg Adventure: Prosciutto (FIRST POST)

I’ve made fresh sausage. I’ve made fermented dry sausage. Now, it is time to jump into a serious pig adventure.


Sunday morning, Cora hopped in the bike trailer, and we rode to the Ballard Farmer’s market to pick up the leg that would begin our prosciutto adventure. The pig was slaughtered on Tuesday, and it has not been frozen (not easy to find). Brandon from Sea Breeze Farm http://www.seabreezefarm.net/ butchered the animal, and trimmed the leg into a nice clean drumstick shape.

After eating a cinnamon crepe and listening to a few fiddle tunes, Cora and the 21.92 lb leg (to be named later) climbed into the trailer, and we rode home to get to work.

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The leg weighs 21.92 pounds. That’s 9952 g. For several years, all of my kitchen projects, particularly charcuterie-related projects are always done in grams. Pounds and ounces are a pain in the butt to deal with when very small percentages of salt, spices, and other colorful sprinkle-ables need to be calculated accurately.  The leg is about 2 1/2 feet long. And fortunately, we have enough counter space and refrigeration space to get the initial trimming and salting work done. After wiping down all the counters and boards with a bleach solution (gotta do my best to keep things clean if this thing is going to survive 18 months of aging), it was time to get to work. Here is the fresh leg before any work was done.

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Removing the aitch-bone.

Using a flexible boning knife, I cut along the bone and removed the aitch bone, leaving a big shiny ball, and eliminating a joint where bacteria could likely grow. A few small pieces of meat were trimmed off to tidy things up a bit….and to give us a bit of pork for dinner.

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Salt

Working with meat requires precise measurements. Salt, Sodium Nitrite, and Sodium Nitrate need to be accurately measured based on the weight of the meat if we intend to control pathogens, and keep the meat palatable, if not delicious. Sticking with metric units, specifically grams is the only way to stay sane and confident that everything is going to work out consistently. In all reliable sausage recipes, ingredients are given as a percentage (of meat) and GRAMS. This is good. This is manageable.  So, why would the recipes and experts who I rely on, tell me to add sodium nitrate at  “one level teaspoon per 5 lbs of meat” . Teaspoons and pounds are not metric. Sure, I can and did easily convert pounds to grams (1 pound = 454 grams) , but is a  “level teaspoon” really the precise quantity of the ingredient that is supposed to turn away botulism and its other pathogenic friends. Is a “level teaspoon” really going to help me understand the PPM (parts per million) or the percentage vs meat weight?  So….after a bit of reading, and recipe comparing, and calculating, I settled on 4% salt (Len Poli’s number) and .0024% (24 g) of Cure#2 (which is salt, 6.24% sodium nitrite, and 4.0% sodium nitrate).

OK, I’m feeling confident that I’m using the right stuff, and using the right quantity too. But I’m a bit annoyed that I had to do all this math to get here. It’s a big leg, and it’s going to be a 18 month project. Totally worth the effort, so I should settle down, right? Out of curiousity, I grabbed teaspoon and spooned out and weighed the amount of Cure#2 I intended to use . Guess what? 24 grams of Cure#2 happens to be exactly 4 (plus a little) “level teaspoons”. That’s exactly what I needed. Len Poli was right (He has done this a time or two before), and I could have just trusted his seemingly stupid units of measurement. In the end, my recipe was perfectly adequate, but I’m still glad I understand how to do the math.

Salts are measured, mixed, and ready to go…

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Gloves on, and the massaging begins. Not too much “scrubbing”, but mostly patting and pressing salts into the flesh and skin and all of the exposed surface area. Extra salt was pressed into the area where the exposed bone is surrounded by the muscle. We only used 2/3 of the salt at this time. The final 1/3 of salt will be rubbed into the leg in 2 weeks.

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Cora kept her gloves on, avoided sneezing, and was truly helpful with this.

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Completely salted

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First Salting

The leg was placed in a sanitized plastic tub. I made an angled “sandwich” with cutting boards on either side of the leg, and a 25# weight on top of everything. This should help press liquids out of the muscle as it is salting. At the bottom of the plastic tub, is a glass lid, used to create a slope. Juices will run downhill, and away from the leg.

At first, I built this sandwich setup on the kitchen counter. It looked well organized, and I was pleased that I actually owned all the appropriate gear needed to get through this first stage of salting.  Anxious to pack the leg away in its new refrigerated home, I picked up the whole tub, and took a few steps toward the basement stairs. Guess what. This thing is heavy, and awkward, and carrying it down a steep flight of stairs was a recipe for an unmitigated pig disaster. Removing the 25 pound weight from atop the tub made life much better. That was not difficult to resolve, but looking back, I can’t believe I was brilliant enough to try carrying the whole thing the first time around. I laughed….oh well.

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The whole tub was then placed into a refrigerator. I put a hygrometer (measures humidity) and a thermometer in the tub, and then put a lid on the whole thing. The leg will remain like this for 14 days. At that time, I will rinse off the leg, and apply the rest of the salt, and wait for another 14 days.

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One Response to The Big Leg Adventure: Prosciutto (FIRST POST)

  1. Paul says:

    Fascinating. Great photos, great job.
    Child labor?

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