August 17 1998
"Careful with that Saltpeter, Eugene"
"Never match wits with a sausage maker when death is on the line"

The task of the day:


This week, I'm going to be making sausages, and other smoked or cured meats. There are lots of steps to many of these processes, often with a day or two of waiting for something to finish. Because of this, the journal will be a bit fuzzy. I'll try to keep an ongoing product list, and at the end of the week, let you know all of what I made.

* * *

Today was about curing meats. Because smoking meats takes place at a pretty low temperature, the meat can turn sickly and bad while this is happening. To prevent this, you cure the meat first, either by brining in a salt solution, or by rubbing a salt mixture on the meat. In either case, the cure has to sit on the meat for as long as several days. After this, the meat can be safely smoked without anyone dying. Except.

In order to make the meat turn a nice red color, and also to help keep botulism or other sicknesses out of the meat, TCM is added. TCM stands for Tinted Curing Mixture, and is 94% salt, 6% Potassium Nitrite, and some red food coloring to turn it pink. This is so that you don't think that it's salt and add it to food. Why would that be bad?

Well, Potassium Nitrite binds with the myoglobin/hemoglobin in meat/blood, preventing it from binding (later) with oxygen. In meat, this keeps the meat from reacting and turning gray/brown. In your body, it can cause a lack of oxygen in the blood. You can pass out, or even die, if you get too much. In lesser amounts, it can cause "performance problems" in males of the species. Moral of the story? Measure twice.

In the bad old days, Saltpeter (Potassium Nitrate) was used. The problem with using either pure Potassium Nitrite or Potassium Nitrate is that it's very difficult to measure accurately, and you can get too little (and get a bad cure) or too much (and get dead). Because of this, the cure mixes are now cut down with salt, making it much easier to measure for small batches of meat. For example, you use 4 ounces (about half a cup) of TCM for 100 pounds of meat.

* * *

We started cures today for:

  • Pork Loin
  • Chuck Roast
  • Scallops
  • Smoked Salmon

* * *

Today was a bit slow. Measure some stuff, mix some brine, inject said brine into some meat, and place in fridge. Out team probably would have been done in 10 minutes, except that chef used our Mise en Place for demos.

I did use a new piece of kitchen equipment, however. It only served to make things even faster. It's called a steam kettle, and is a large (4 gallon) stainless steel bowl with a jacket around it into which very hot steam can be introduced. We brought three gallons of water to a boil in under five minutes. All of our stoves also have a steam kettle. We just haven't had an excuse to use them yet. Now that I see how hot they get, I think I'll be looking for excused in the future.

Tomorrow we'll start making some fresh sausages, which we won't be curing with TCM. Should be fun, because we'll actually get to stuff them into casings. Mmmmm, intestines...

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Copyright 1998 Tom Dowdy