Curing, whether done to meat or olives, means treating something with salt to help preserve it.
When curing meat or fish, the salt draws the moisture out, leaving bacteria less moisture to grow on. It also penetrates the meat, making an inhospitable environment for bacteria. Curing must be done in coolish places or the meat will go bad before it is preserved. Some home-curers say the ideal temperature range is 70 to 80 F (21 to 26 C.)
In the past, saltpetre (potassium nitrate KNO3) was often used because the nitrates helped preserve a reddish colour in the meat. Saltpetre is no longer used commercially owing to health concerns; sodium nitrate is now used instead. Involving some nitrates and nitrites in the curing process reduces the amount of salt that has to be used. This would have been important back in the days when salt was a very expensive commodity to be rationed out. Now, it helps address health concerns about reduced salt. Home-curers often use prepared mixes such as Morton’s Tender Quick.
There are two methods of curing, Dry-Cure and Wet-Cure:
This is the traditional method. Meat is rubbed with salt (or a mixture of salt, spices and sugar), then let stand or hang for up to 2 weeks. After that, it can be left to actually “cure” (age) for anytime up to about 9 months. The curing time can be reduced if the meat is also going to be smoked.
On farms, meat would be hung in burlap sacks, gunny bags or coated in flour or meal to keep bugs off it while hanging.
The meat is soaked in a brine for 2 or 3 days. Sometimes brine is also injected directly in the meat to speed up the aging process. Some say the injections affect the flavour adversely. What certainly happens, though, is that the injected brine bulks up the weight of the meat, which results in the consumer paying more money for water. Producers counter though, that it makes the meat cheaper, because otherwise they’d have to charge more for the meat. After the soaking, the meat is then left to hang for about 2 weeks.
In German, “Trockenpökeln” means dry-cure; “Nasspökeln” means wet-cure, and “Schnellpökeln” means brine-injected.