Meat curing fridge controller

Curing chamber controller

To control the environment in a fridge for air drying meat, I wired together 2 controllers, one for temperature, and one for humidity. Once I find a suitable fridge, I will use this until Matt and I can find the time to resume work on the Arduino based fridge controller.

First I wired them up to see if they actually worked. Here’s the mh1210 temperature controller hooked up to a lamp to test it

And here’s the WH8040 humidity controller being tested

So far so good, time to wire them up together.

Howard being helpful as usual
Howard being helpful as usual

I cut out a plastic project box to house the controllers and the electrics:

Front panel of enclosure
Front panel of enclosure

Initially I was going to have 2 mains power inputs (one to each controller) but after I’d cut the holes I decided to have a common power in, so the power socket on the left is not in use:

Rear Panel
Rear Panel

It seems that most people buy the STC1000 temperature controller, and that’s what I thought I’d bought when I ordered this one. I also thought I’d bought from a UK Seller, but hey ho, that’s eBay for you. The STC1000 does both heating and cooling, the MH1210 only does heating or cooling. Not both. But that’s fine for my purposes.

I started on the wiring. The manuals for these controllers are written in fluent Chinglish, and are utterly useless, so I hunted down some instructions on the internet (yes I know). I found the wiring diagram for the humidity controller on Ben Starr’s blog. Thanks Ben, that was very useful. He also goes into more detail on that page than I’m doing here, including how to set the controllers up from the “intuitive” menu system. Have a read, it’s a good post.

I found the wiring instructions to the temperature controller on a homebrew forum post. Sweet. Just needed to amalgamate the two.

So. Using my newfound “manuals”, and my almost complete lack of electrical wring knowledge, I set about wiring it all up. And here’s what it looked like when I’d finished:

Final fridge controller wiring
Final fridge controller wiring

The power comes in through the socket on the bottom right, into the blocks (which go to both controllers), then the power out from the humidity controller goes to blocks 1&2, and the power out from the temperature controller goes to blocks 3&4. The appliances are hardwired into these blocks.

That’s it! Pretty simple – however – if you do this and hurt yourself, it’s your own stupid fault, not mine. K? K.

So I plugged in my RCD into my surge protected socket, pulled on my wellington boots, closed my eyes, held my breath and flicked on the mains power with a broom handle. Much to my surprise it booted up fine first time, and here’s a quick video of it in action – apologies in advance for filming it using a potato.

Pretty pleased with that! You may also have spotted the fact that there’s no earthing going on in this wiring, which is entirely true. When I finally come to wire the fridge into it, the fridge will need earthing, so I’ll do that at that point. Until then I’m just looking for a large larder fridge to use this with…

 

 

 

 

 

Bresaola

Sliced and plated

Bresaola is cured, air dried beef, which is usually served in wafer thin slices, and served with olive oil and lemon juice.

It’s normally made using an “eye of round” cut – a muscle in the rear leg of a cow. It’s low in fat, so not great for roasting, but good for curing and hanging. This is the first time I’ve made it, and not wanting to spend lots of cash on expensive meat – I went to the supermarket butcher counter.

Me: “Hello, could you do me an eye of round please?”

Supermarket butcher: “Never heard of it mate”

That’s what you get when you go to a supermarket I guess, so I bought a small piece of silverside instead – a good substitution.

I trimmed it down and weighed it, then scaled all the cure ingredients. I’m using the recipe from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book.

silverside trimmmed
Trimmed
weighing the meat
Weighed

It’s only a small piece – 1/3rd the weight in the recipe, and it calls for very accurate measurements, so I used the scales I got from the local head shop as they’re accurate to 0.1g – I hope my neighbours don’t get the wrong impression!

I worked out the cure ingredients for my 454g piece of meat:

  • 7.5g Portuguese sea salt
  • 9g sugar
  • 1.2g Curing salt #2
  • 1.5g ground black pepper
  • 1.8g fresh rosemary needles
  • 1.8g fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 fresh juniper berries

 

Weighing the thyme
That’s thyme, not weed, mr neighbour
Cure ingredients
Cure ingredients

I blitzed it up in my coffee / herb grinder. It went quite moist due to the herbs, so I had to make sure I got it all out, didn’t want to lose any after measuring everything down to .1g

cure ingredients after grinding
cure ingredients after grinding

I use a vac bag to cure the meat in as it keeps the cure on the meat better, but I’ve used zip-top food bags for curing and they work fine too.

Ready to rub into the meat
Ready to rub into the meat

Rubbed half of the cure mixture into the meat when it was in the bag – didn’t want to lose any.

well rubbed in
well rubbed in and ready to vac
nicely vac packed
nicely vac packed

It spends a week in the fridge, then it’s rinsed off and the remaining cure is rubbed in. Then it’s back to the fridge for another week.

Here it is after a week in the cure

After one week in cure
After one week in cure
Revacced after rubbing the rest of the cure mixture in
Revacced after rubbing the rest of the cure mixture in

And here it is after 2 weeks curing, having been rinsed and dried off. Smells fantastic at this stage.

After 2 weeks in the cure, rinsed off and dried
After 2 weeks in the cure, rinsed off and dried

Ruhlman says tie it up with string, but I thought I’d use this elasticated netting I bought instead as it’s easier. Next time I’ll try to get some ox bung or collagen casings.

Elasticated meat netting
Elasticated meat netting
After another 2 weeks vacced in the fridge
After another 2 weeks vacced in the fridge

With it being elasticated it was easy to stuff into the netting. I tied it up and weighed it.

Netted, tied and weighing
Netted, tied and weighing

At this time of year (January), my understairs cupboard holds the perfect temperature for drying meat, and it has an air brick for a bit of airflow, so I rigged up a plastic bucket to hang it in, with a bowl of salty mush to help regulate the humidity. Stuck my min / max recording thermohygrometer in there too.

Temporary drying "chamber"
Temporary drying “chamber”

It hangs until it’s lost between 30-40% weight. I took it out to check it every few days, just to make sure there was nothing untoward happening, and to weigh it.

It only took 16 days to lose 37% in weight. I guess the humidity was too low, as that seems far too quick.

After hanging
After hanging

I sliced it straight through the middle to have a look:

Finished bresaola sliced through the middle
Finished bresaola sliced through the middle

As you can see, the outside edge of the bresaola dried much quicker than the inside, which is a bit of a shame.

Sliced and plated
Thinly sliced

Overall – it’s not too bad for a first attempt without a proper drying chamber setup, but I was a bit disappointed with the unevenness of the drying. I think that stuffing it in a beef bung would really help smooth the drying out, so I’ll do that next time and compare the results.

Taste wise, it’s really good – all herby and beefy, and it’s great drizzled in olive oil and a bit of lemon juice.

Update:

I wasn’t totally happy with the way this turned out, so I vac packed it again, and put it back in the fridge for 2-3 weeks to see if it would equalise the moisture and soften the case hardening. I pulled it out again last night, and it seems to have helped a fair bit. The edges have softened up somewhat, and the overall mouthfeel is much better:

After another 2 weeks vacced in the fridge
After another 2 weeks vacced in the fridge

I also did a taste test against some bresaola I bought Beedham & sons as a benchmark. His is on a completely different level, and I can’t say I’m surprised – he’s been curing meat for about 30 years 🙂

 

 

Beef heart pastrami

Sliced beef heart pastrami
Beef heart pastrami
Beef heart pastrami

A delicious, underused cut of beef – either cooked in strips very quickly over high heat, or stewed very slowly. It just begs to be made into pastrami.

I bought this heart from Johnny Pusztai – the award winning sausage meister and all round nice guy who runs JTBeedhams butcher in Sherwood, Nottingham.

I treated it exactly the same as a normal pastrami except I only brined it for about 30 hours as it was smaller than a normal brisket joint I would use for pastrami. I then smoked it for about 5 hours over apple wood dust, using the proQ on the cold smoker and finished it off in a low oven, over an inch of water in a foil tent until it hit 160C in the center.

I doubt it’ll last too long as I can’t stop eating it 🙂

Some pics:

Captain beefheart
Captain beefheart
Needs a bit more trimming at this point
Needs a bit more trimming at this point

 

Brining mise en place
Brining mise en place
After smoking and cooking
After smoking and cooking
Sliced beef heart pastrami
Sliced beef heart pastrami

 

I know what I’m having for munchies tonight!

A horse dinner

Boucherie Chevaline
Boucherie Chevaline
Boucherie Chevaline

I was invited to a horse dinner a few weeks ago.

I don’t very often dust off the dinner jacket, especially for midweek shenanigans, but I wasn’t about to turn this down. A meeting of the Buckland Dining Club, which meets twice a year. It’s named after a Victorian chap called William Buckland. To quote the Guardian’s article

“Buckland’s obsession with the animal kingdom knew no bounds. As President of the Royal Geographical Society he published the first scientific study of a dinosaur skeleton, while his role at the Society for the Acclimatization of Animals allowed him to import all sorts of creatures into the UK in order to study their suitability for the dinner table. Rather conveniently, this coincided with his lifelong personal ambition, which was to eat an example of every animal in existence, like some kind of crazed, bloodthirsty Noah.”

A man after my own heart, so to speak.

Anyway, here’s what we had

Before the off:

A selection of Canapés, served whilst we milled about drinking fizzy stuff.

Hay smoked horse tartare – About as horsey as it gets, surely? Served on some kind of wheat biscuit, with a tiny dollop of something on top. I would have actually preferred it dollopless. But the meat’s lovely. Really lean and tender, spot on.

Horse vs. Beef carpaccio – The first of the evening’s Equine / Bovine showdowns. Horse was a clear winner here, it’s just perfect served as carpaccio. The beef was very nice also.

Wild mushroom roulade – horsemeat rolled with horse mushrooms and parsely. Really very good indeed.

On the Course:

Horse d’oeuvres – A shot glass containing a raw oyster and warm smoked bacon broth, with itty bitty cubes of veg (itty bitty is the official French term). It was outstanding. Shame it was just one each, I could have gone for a couple more quite easily. Served with Brewdog’s superb “Dead Pony Club” IPA.

Under Starter’s Orders:

Horse mackerel with cucumber, beetroot and textures of horseradish – The chef said that horse mackerel is just normal mackerel. I mentioned this to my friend, who’s a bit of a fish expert and he said that was nonsense and that it’s a completely different fish. It turns out that “horse mackerel” can refer to all sorts of fish, but in the UK it normally refers to the Atlantic Horse Mackerel – which wasn’t what we were eating that night.

Anyway – it was a delicious starter. A warm mackerel fillet served on thinly sliced beetroot discs, with a small, but beautifully pickled pile of cucumber, horseradish cream and what I can only describe as, “a line of powdered horseradish”. All very nice. I would have liked more cucumber, but hey.

It came with a a ‘Sirius’ 2012 Bordeaux blanc.

The Main Event:

Boeuf Bourguignon v. Cheval Bourguignon – the evening’s second horse v. cow showdown. Served with mash and greens, we were invited to guess which meat was which. It was really very obvious, and the beef was the clear winner tastewise. Horse seems too lean for long, slow cooking, and was a bit dry as a result, whereas the beef was fattier and therefore perfect, all fork-falling apart loveliness.

Beef – 9/10
Horse – 4/10

It came with a Domaine de la Chevalerie 2009 ‘Les Galichets’ – which I assume was chosen because it’s red and has the word ‘cheval’ in the title. I could say that it has a full aromatic dark cherry nose, with blackcurrant and gravelly notes throughout, a midweight palate and dancing fruity tannins. I could say that, but I’m not a massive wine ponce so I won’t. What I will say however is that it was very bloody nice.

The Final Furlong:

Apple & Pear Tarte Tatin with White Horse Ice cream – Tenuous horse link, but a good tarte tatin which I wolfed down. Served with a superb, citrussy dessert wine.

The Finish Post:

Hazelnut horseshoes and Red Rum Truffles – by this point I was feeling like I was about to give birth to a foal, but in for a penny, as they say. These were good, but nothing to write home about. Served with a 10 year old Tawny port, which was very nice indeed – I didn’t even know those existed. Might have to buy a bottle for Xmas.

It was a really enjoyable meal – I didn’t take any pictures as it didn’t seem appropriate, but you get the idea.

Try horse meat if you get the chance. It’s bloody delicious!

Horse dinner menu
Horse dinner menu

Cider day 2013 – part 2

Cider press

After our cider day the other week, I went to my next door neighbour’s new house this weekend to help out with their cider pressing, which has been a regular weekend event for a few years now. This year he’d bought a metric ton of cider apples (40 sacks) from a farmer somewhere in the south west of England. So we spent the day sorting the bad ones out (there were a fair few bad’uns), washing, scratting and pressing.

He has some proper kit. The scratter is a really superb piece of kit, and makes light work of any apples – here’s a quick vid of him using it.

So once that’s nicely pulped, it’s off to the press:

Cider press
Cider press

We got through the apples surprisingly quickly. About 3/4 of them on Saturday, leaving the rest to finish off on Sunday. We ended up with about 95 gallons of deliciously sweet apple juice:

Final yield
Final yield – 95 gallons, or about 800 pints

Then we tidied up and kicked back with a glass or two of cider from last year 🙂

Will put in 1 campden tabled per gallon, and they’ll have airlocks fitted, then it’ll sit fermenting in these containers for a few months before being put into barrels or bottles. The original gravity was ~1050 which should make the final product come out at about 6.5-6.7%. Not bad for a couple of days work!

Cider day 2013

Scary brown apple juice

It’s been a bloody good year for apples – something to do with the weather, and we’ve had an awful lot of weather. I spent the last week begging, borrowing and scrumping apples, and ended up with quite a few different types. A VW Golf full, in fact:

Some of the donor apples
Some of the donor apples

So I took them over to Matt’s house (of sausageBot fame) – and he’d gathered a load too. Crucially he has a cider press, and a scratter to mulch the fruit down for pressing. We spent the day washing, chopping, scratting and pressing them. And drinking. Bloody hard work it was too, but exciting to see how much juice we could get.

The final yield was about 120 pints – of scary looking, very brown, very delicious juice which we put into sanitised demijohns and other brewing vessels. We added 1 crushed campden tablet per gallon to kill most of the wild yeast, and put some airlocks on. After 48 hours we pitched cider yeast into it, 24 hours after that and it’s started to ferment.

Starting to ferment
Starting to ferment

We’re planning to decant it into other containers in about 2 weeks to remove most of the sediment, then leave it in the cellar for a few months to work its magic. After that, we can bottle condition it (I’m told that glass bottles are best), and we’ll see what we have after another few months. Hopefully something worth drinking! It’s a bit scary, doing all that work and hoping that nature will take its course and not end up with a load of mouldy gunk.

I still ache from the scratting process we ended up with. Matt’s scratter was a long metal drill bit with a blade on the end, which fitted into a plastic bucket, but the bucket smashed after a few goes, so we ended up using a plastic covered co2 canister to pound them into mush. Exhausting! We have hatched plans to build a proper apple scratter for next year which should make the whole thing a lot less arduous.

Here’s a quick video of Matt’s press in action

Also – this coming Saturday it’s Gladstone 101 Cider day again. A few friends and neighbours get together to make cider (and drink last year’s cider) It’s bloody good fun, but a bigger affair – we made 1200 pints last year. I’ll post some pics next week, once the hangover’s faded 😛

Testing the curing chamber controller relays

Wiring the relays

Just a quick curing chamber controller build update – because I’m excited by this – we’ve got the relays wired up now, so we can control everything from the Arduino. We uploaded some test code to cycle through them all, to check that they turn on and off as expected. They do!

Still a bit of wiring to do (potentiometers, leds, grounds, etc) and then it’s pgrogramming and testing time 🙂

Curing chamber controller – wiring the electrics

Powered up!

Matt Spandex and I finally got some time to do some work on the curing chamber controller (sausageBot) on Wednesday night, after a very tasty Korean meal at Saranchae in Nottingham. Will definitely go there again.

Anyway, we spent a while working out where all the relays, power supply and arduino should be seated on the base of the enclosure

working out the layout
working out the layout

Then we glued everything in place using an epoxy plasticine like material. A bit like Sugru – it takes about 5 minutes to cure, and once done, it’s rock solid. When that was cured we (and by we, I mean Matt) started soldering it all together. Got the live feeds onto the relays, with some shrink tubing on (not shrunk in the following picture)

Wiring the lives to the relays
Wiring the lives to the relays

Then started soldering the neutrals

Neutral wires soldered
Neutral wires almost done

We went from the AC input (bottom left in the pic above) to the switch first. Then we tested it to see if it would explode.

Powered up!
Powered up, no smoke, lights on, and 5v to the Arduino power cable. Happy days!

So far so good! There’s a fair bit more soldering to do but that’s the most scary stuff done the mains electricity – we already have all the headers for the arduino ready, so they just need hooking up, then we need to wire the fuses and relays to the outputs on the back panel, wire up the grounds, add resistors to the LEDs on the front panel, connect the potentiometers, connect the senors, and then we can start on the programming and testing 🙂

Guanciale

Guanciale. A cured pig jowl
Guanciale. A cured pig jowl
Gianciale – face bacon!

Face bacon. That’s basically what it is. Cured and dried unsmoked pig jowls which you can eat sliced super thinly, or use in place of bacon lardons or pancetta – for example in a traditional Roman Spaghetti alla carbonara.

Fun fact: “Guancia” is the Italian word for cheek, hence the name.

So:

  • Obtain a pig’s head – If you can’t get one, ask your friendly local butcher for the jowls. But it’ll likely cost more, and it’s less fun.
  • Use the rest of the head, ears and tongue for other recipes like brawn, or crispy pigs ears
  • Carefully remove the cheeks, then trim out all the creamy glands, they’re pretty easy to spot and remove. Leave the skin on the jowls, but shave them with a cheap razor, or blowtorch the hairs off.
  • Once you have your cheeks prepped, assemble the dry cure ingredients. For a 500g cheek you want the following:
    • 15g sea salt (or other salt without any anti-caking agents. Kosher salt for example) – this is exactly 3% the weight of the meat – an equilibrium cure method
    • 15g sugar (same amount of sugar to salt)
    • a clove of garlic, sliced super thinly
    • some black peppercorns, crushed. I used about 10 per jowl, it’s up to you really.
    • fresh thyme (or sage and bay, I did one of each)
  • Put the cheek into a vacuum packer bag (or zip-top freezer bag) and rub all the cure ingredients over the meat really well.
  • Get the air out and seal the bag.

 

vacuum packed with the dry cure ingredients
I did one cheek with sage and bay leaves, and one with garlic and thyme to see which I preferred
  • Put the bags into the fridge for about 5-7 days, they should stiffen up a bit during this time. You can’t over cure them if you use the 3% salt to meat ratio, so don’t stress it too much.
  • Once they’re cured, take them out of the bags, rinse under a tap and discard the dry cure ingredients. Pat dry with kitchen towel. NOT toilet roll. It’ll stick “like shit to an army blanket” and you’ll spend the next hour trying to get it off your nicely cured cheeks. Not ideal.
  • Once that’s done, stab a hole in the corner, pass butcher’s string through and record the weight exactly.

 

pass the string through the hole
Pass the string through the hole
Record the weight
Record the weight
  • Hang them up in your all-singing all-dancing dry curing chamber. Or in the fridge like I did with these. The fridge is OK for these as they’re so thin.

 

hanging guanciale
Hanging guanciale
  • They should take about 2 weeks to get to about 20% weight loss, depending on how large they were in the first place, and the humidity of your hanging area. They should be nice and firm but not rock hard.

 

Guanciale cross section
Thickly sliced and ready to dice for carbonara

It’ll freeze really well if you need it to, but also it’ll last for ages in the fridge without going bad.

Some thoughts:

  • I prefer the garlic and thyme version to the sage one, maybe I didn’t use enough sage.
  • The fat is just amazing (hamazing?), which is a good job really as it’s pretty much all fat.
  • I wish I had a picture of it sliced wafer-thinly.
  • I’ll try to get a pig’s head with a much fatter cheek next time, these are super thin once they’re dried and I’ve seen other preparations where it’s much thicker, which I would prefer.
  • I think I was a bit overzealous with the trimming, this being my first time making it. I didn’t want to risk leaving any glands in there, but there is some translucent marbled tissue on the back of the cheek which I trimmed away. I’ll leave those next time as I’ve seen other guanciale prepared which has that on so I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Feel free to correct me!

 

 

 

 

Dry cured pork fillet

Sliced thinly
Sliced thinly
Sliced thinly

A dry cured pork fillet, or tenderloin (filletto).

Because it’s a smallish, single muscle it’s easy to cure properly without a super-duper dry curing chamber. I wanted something to have “on the go” so I cured one.

Ingredients:

  • A pork fillet, trimmed of excess fat, preferably organic – this one was from the local farm shop at Long Whatton
  • Black pepper
  • Fennel seeds
  • Fresh garlic, sliced super thinly
  • Sea salt (3% the weight of the meat) – don’t use table salt as it contains iodine or other anti-caking agents

Method:

  • Toast some black pepper and fennel seeds in a dry pan until aromatic, then crack them in a pestle and mortar
  • Slice a clove of garlic so that it’s wafer thin
  • Put the tenderloin in a vacuum pack bag (or a zip-lock bag) with the black pepper / fennel mixture, the garlic, and the salt
  • Rub it all into the meat really well and get as much air as you can from the bag, then seal it up

 

Filetto curing in the vacuum bag
In the vacuum bag
  • Put the bag into the fridge for a few days, turning it every day and rubbing the cure in. I waited 6 days as I was using exactly 3% salt.
  • Take it out of the bag, discard the juice and cure ingredients, rinse the bits off the meat and dry it (you can use white wine to rinse it if you like)
  • Tie the meat up with butcher’s string and hang it in your fridge

 

Tie the fillet fairly tightly with butcher's string
Tie the fillet fairly tightly with butcher’s string
Fillet ready to weigh, label and hang
Fillet ready to weigh, label and hang
  • Weigh it on your electronic scale – record the weight in grams. Label the string with the date, weight, etc.
  • Hang it up in your curing chamber (or fridge) until it’s lost 30-40% of its weight, which should take about 3 weeks, depending on humidity

 

Hanging with some guanciale
Hanging with some guanciale
After a month in the fridge
After a month in the fridge it has lost 39% weight

 

Slice it as thinly as possible
Slice it as thinly as possible

So. This being the first time I’ve tried making this – I would say the following:

  • It tastes pretty good. It’s heavy on the garlic, with fennel in the background. I would have liked a bit more fennel-ey and a bit less garlic-ey.
  • The texture is soft, and it’s not at all chewy.
  • I think another week’s worth of drying would be ideal – I’ve hung the rest up for now to see how that works out.
  • A slower, longer drying period in a “proper” curing chamber setup would make for a better end result. Once the sausageBot is operational I’ll do another one. I just wanted to see how this would work out in a normal fridge.
  • Overall – it’s a 6/10. It would go nicely on a mixed charcuterie plate, or with some olive oil on a salad, or maybe some figs. But it’s not a showstopper on its own.

 

As luck (or not!) would have it – my meat fridge stopped working the day after I took this out to slice it, and I caught it before things went bad. Good job it wasn’t a couple of weeks ago really. I still think it needs another week in the other fridge. Will review it again then…

 

 

 

 

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