Hi folks - we're right in the midst of Sandy up here on the farm. Our shelters are all pinned to the ground, and we've used more hay and straw in the last 24 hours than in the last several months! We went to bed last night with all animals in their shelters and plenty of dry bedding to last through the night. Here's hoping they're all comfy.
So far we've lost power briefly a few times, which has gotten me thinking I really need a generator for our walk in cooler and freezer! But, for those of you in urban areas where a generator may not be an option, it got me thinking about how to deal with extended power outages. Especially since we heard so many horror stories of DC area customers having to throw out meat this summer! The old school solution for a lack of refrigeration, especially this time of year, is salt. Quick and easy. So, here are some simple instructions on preserving your meat the old-fashioned way, which is our preferred method of preparation for turkeys and sometimes chicken: the brine. Luckily it works on all meat! Some of you may recognize this from our turkey handouts, and if not, you'll see it this year when your Thanksgiving turkey comes.
Science of the Brine (adapted from Harold McGee)
In addition to killing spoilage bacteria on meat, salt does a number of things when in solution. Salt disrupts the structure of muscle filaments, which makes meat more tender. A 3% solution dissolves the filaments that hold the muscle fibers together, and 6% will partially dissolve muscle fibers themselves. The salt-protein reaction creates a greater water holding capacity, which means that the turkey will take on any flavor that is in the brine. Hence the spices, aromatics, and things like wine and stock in most brine recipes. Sugar is usually added to balance the harshness of the salt, although with a brief rinse, the turkey will simply be pleasantly salty with the following technique, making sugar optional.
Find a non-reactive container into which your meats will fit - a 5 gallon bucket is perfect. Pull out any meat you wish to brine, Jane Grigson of nose to tail cooking recommends the following for any respectable English housewife's brine crock: "A 5 lb pork loin, A boned leg of pork and a hock, A 2lb piece of belly, A shifting population of trotters, ears, tails, and pieces of skin - anything the butcher throws in for a copper or two"
But for you meat CSAers, that means anything but ground meat: steaks, chuck roasts, shoulder roasts, legs of lamb, chicken, etc., will all do! Use enough cuts to fill the container you're using pretty well. The less space, the less salt you'll end up using.
6% Salt translates to 1 c per gallon of liquid. We usually use Celtic or Himalayan sea salt for nutrition and flavor, but any salt will do. Stir the salt to dissolve, and throw the meat in and place it in a cool spot. This is the equivalent of brine-curing, and will fully cure roasts in a couple days, which means they're preserved. Keep them in the brine in a cool area until the power comes back on, and when you cook the meats, give them a brief rinse in cool water and proceed as usual. You could also put the rinsed meat in large ziploc bags and refrigerate or re-freeze with no issues.
Good luck, and feel free to email with any questions!
Brooks and Anna