This is a very simple recipe for making home-made cured pork tenderloin – salumi. It has become one of my favorites for a number of reasons. It is relatively fool proof and easy to make, especially when compared to preparing larger cuts of meat like a whole prosciutto. Tenderloins usually cure in about a month, whereas a whole ham will take six months or more. If you think about doing this on Thanksgiving week, your “mini-prosciutto” will be ready for New Year’s Eve. The pork can be cured – and dried – right in the refrigerator, which eliminates the need – and the risk – of finding a cool drafty place to hang the meat, and then crossing your fingers that mold, or mice, or the neighborhood fisher don’t find it.
There are two components to the process.
First, cure the loin for 12 hours in a dry salt brine.
Second, dry the salumi in the refrigerator for a month.
There are numerous regional and ethnic variations to this process, with each local recipe calling for its own ingredients to add to the basic salt cure, or to dress the pork while it is drying. You can make each part of this process as simple or as complicated as you like. I follow a basic “saucisson of pork tenderloin” recipe preferred by French chef Jacques Pépin, which is as easy as it is delicious.
Take a tenderloin of pork, or more practically, two, since they typically are sold in pairs. Trim off the small narrow ends of each piece so that you have a uniform thickness that will dry evenly as it cures. Save the pork ends for a different dish. Salt cures for meat will usually utilize kosher salt. This recipe calls for one cup of kosher salt, with two tablespoons of light brown sugar blended in. Various other recipes will add an additional curing agent like Prague powder, which contains sodium nitrate and is what gives cured meats their pink color.
I personally use a premixed product called Morton Tender Quick Curing Salt, which you can order directly from Amazon. If using Morton Tender Quick, you only need 1/2 cup (plus 2 tablespoons of brown sugar) to cure the two tenderloins. Dredge the loins in the salt cure and place them in a sealed gallon plastic bag. Pour the remaining salt over the pork, shake to distribute, and put it in the refrigerator overnight for approximately twelve hours. By morning the salt will have drawn much of the liquid out of the loins, which will now be marinating in a salt and brown sugar bath.
Day 2: Remove the loins and wipe the salt brine from the meat. Pépin suggests using a few tablespoons of brandy to rinse the remaining salt off the loins. I do this while holding the loins over a mixing bowl. There are many variations to this theme too, depending on what country or county you are preparing your pork in. I have made this with Italian cooks who wash the pork with red wine squeezed from a towel filled with crushed garlic. German cooks rinse it with vinegar. Southern chefs will recommend using a proper bourbon. Each does the job, and each adds a little of its own regional flavor and I suppose each will “sterilize” the meat a bit before hanging. Or not. Speaking of sterile, I have not experienced a mold issue using this process, as I frequently do when curing whole prosciutti. If you do, always err on the side of caution and remember Restaurant Rule #1: When in doubt, throw it out.
At this point the “hams” will be rolled loosely in a white towel and put in the refrigerator to dry. Before you do that you will want to season the pork. Pépin uses lots of crushed black peppercorns and Herbes de Provence. A little cayenne and paprika adds flavor and heat. One of the two loins that I am preparing today will get a healthy spritz of my BBQ dry rub. I then wrap the loins in old white linen table napkins and stand them up like wine bottles on the refrigerator door rack. They take up very little space that way. In four weeks you will have your own house cured saucisson. Slice the pork as thin as you are able (ideally on a slicer if you have one) and serve at room temperature. Enjoy!