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.
- 85 gm fine sea salt
- 40 gm caster sugar
- 1 tsp pink curing salt #2 (see note)
- ½ tsp crushed fennel seeds
- 650 gm skinless, boneless female pork belly
- 150 gm Puy or small green lentils
- 100 ml cabernet sauvignon vinegar
- 80 ml (1/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra, to serve
- 4 golden shallots, finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- ½ fennel bulb, diced, fronds reserved and coarsely chopped to serve
- 1Combine salt, sugar and pink curing salt, fennel seeds and freshly ground black pepper to taste in a bowl. Place pork belly in a large snap-lock bag that holds it snugly, add cure mixture, shake to coat pork, seal and refrigerate for 5 days. Remove pork from bag, pat dry with paper towels, wrap in new muslin cloth and hang the fridge or a cool draughty place until dried to your liking (8-10 weeks refrigerated or 4-6 weeks in a cool, draughty place).
- 2For lentil salad, boil lentils in a large saucepan until tender (20-25 minutes), then drain. Combine vinegar, oil, shallot and garlic in a bowl. While still warm, add lentils to dressing, season well to taste, toss to combine and set aside to cool completely, then refrigerate until required. Before serving, bring lentil salad to room temperature and drizzle with extra olive oil. Lentil salad can be made up to 2 days ahead.
- 3Thinly slice meat on a meat slicer, or freeze briefly to firm up, then slice on a mandolin or as thinly as you can with a very sharp knife. Serve on lentil salad and scatter with fennel fronds.
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.
Drink Suggestion: Rustic farmhouse cider. Drink suggestion by Max Allen