At its simplest, curing meat requires nothing more than salt, but the addition of sweeteners, such as sugar or maple syrup, as well as spices and herbs and even wine adds extra layers of flavour. When curing, it's important to work cleanly and to use the best and freshest meat. Here, we've opted for free-range pork belly with a good amount of fat, but if you prefer more meat than fat, try a thin piece of rump. When curing over a long time, food safety as well as the appearance of the meat are important considerations, so pink curing salt containing sodium nitrate is often used. This eliminates botulism and preserves the pink colour of the meat; we've added a small amount to the salt cure here for this reason. Lentils are a classic accompaniment to cured meats, here steeped in a tangy vinaigrette that cuts through the meat's richness. Start this recipe at least five weeks ahead and up to three months. The curing process will be faster if done in a cool draughty place.
Note Pink curing salt #2, also known as Prague powder #2, contains salt, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate and pink colouring, and is formulated for longer cures; look for organic curing salt with natural food colouring, available from specialty food stockists such as The Melbourne Food Ingredient Depot.