This was our first attempt at doing a venison prosciutto. Recent Charcuterie successes (such as Venison Salami and Pepperoni) had our confidence ripe for a larger undertaking. With deer hunting season knocking at the door, all attempts are made to drain the freezer cache for what should be another bountiful season of Whitetail hunting in Tennessee. This venison leg was hiding in the bottom of the freezer from the late 2012 season. I had put it there along with another leg specifically for this purpose (the other leg got raided for Salami). With the September air cooling down, it was time to attempt prosciutto. I’ll tell you upfront that mistakes were made early on. Fortunately, we were able to correct them. On the subject of wild game charcuterie, there is not a whole lot of specific information out there. The best bet is to take Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s excellent book Charcuterie and adapt the recipes for game animals. This takes some experimentation and with experimentation comes potential failures.
Initial Salting stage: By “the book”, you should pack the whole muscle in 6% salt, 1 day for each Kilo of weight. From my experience with salting stages, I expected to get quite a bit of of moisture run off from this 13 pound ham. The first thing I did was pat the meat dry and then rub in 3% curing salt over the entire surface of both sides. I then put a thorough coat of sea salt on the meat as well. The plan was to thoroughly dry, re-salt, and turn the meat each day for the first 2-3 days and then pack the entire leg in salt. This plan turned out to be a mistake.
The first two days went seemingly well enough. There was a tremendous amount of moisture leaving the meat and I would wipe the leg of any excess moisture and re-salt with both curing salt and sea salt. However, by day 3, there was an obvious green tint on some of the surface fat. Green is not a good color for meat. I took to seeking advice from Ruhlman and Polcyn via Twitter and was immediately advised to get the leg packed in salt ASAP and trim the off color areas, if not discard the meat altogether. It turns out that some of the fat and exposed silverskin had oxidized due to prolonged contact with air.
If I was going to fail with such a large piece of meat, I intended to at least take the experiment as far as possible to learn from my mistakes. Once the meat was packed in salt, I continued to flip the leg each day until the salting stage was completed.
The entire leg was wrapped in in cheesecloth and hung in the curing chamber. Once the temperatures cool down a little more in October, I intend to place a coat of lard over the meat and hang it up in our (dark and cool) laundry room until sometime in March, when it should be ready to eat. So there it is, warts and all. The rule of thumb for large, whole muscles, is to pack them in salt and now we understand why.