Venison Prosciutto and the perils of charcuterie mistakes

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. photo (30)

 

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 mistakephoto (31)

 

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. photo (32)

 

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. photo (33)

 

Upon completion of the salting stage, the meat was rinsed thoroughly and patted dry. I  trimmed any of the oxidized fat off, most of which was inedible parts anyway (surface fat and silverskin).  photo (34)

 

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. 

About Go Carnivore

Lifestyle of Meath Enthusiasts
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9 Responses to Venison Prosciutto and the perils of charcuterie mistakes

  1. Tyler Moore says:

    I tried (and failed) to make venison prosciutto two years ago. Last year would’ve seen attempt #2, had I been hunting Western Washington instead of loafing the beaches of Thailand. However, the opportunity arises once more, having harvested a beautiful two point blacktail this morning.

    My initial undertaking went very well through all the steps until eventual disaster in the curing/drying stage. The meat was hung and aged, as normal. I decided to use the recipe from “The Hudson River Valley Cookbook”. It seemed to be the most prevalent and had a few positive reviews with successful results. This recipe used a brine. The idea was to leave the leg whole (lower leg and hoof included). In my journeys abroad, I found myself gawking at a newfound glorious specimen of which I’d never seen: real prosciutto (leg and hoof attached). I found it in supermarkets, delis, izakayas (where it was sliced fresh as ordered, to accompany your parmesan crumbles). It was suddenly an ubiquitous miracle of meat destined for my palate. Immediately, I wanted not only to eat what was in front of me, but also to make my own, and why not from venison rather than pig. Come deer season, research had begun, materials and equipment were acquired, and a hugely exciting project was soon underway.

    The brine was quite fun to make. I had high hopes using pure, natural high quality ingredients. I went to the far end of the spectrum with the salt (Morton, Kosher Salt [maybe not so high quality after all], not curing salt; mistake?) to ensure a full cure. The leg laid in the brine, fully submersed, for a little over 2 weeks. Then following directions to pull the salinity back out, soaked it in fresh water for three or so days, replacing with fresh water everyday. All was going to plan beautifully.

    I then applied my black pepper/juniper berry rub, wrapped it in a few layers of cheese cloth, tied it tight, and let her hang. I moved it to the shop to make sure it was cool enough. I think the temperature was fine, but for the life of me I couldn’t get the humidity down. Winters in Western Washington are WET. The moisture wasn’t releasing. This ended up being the destructive factor. Not having any experience whatsoever, and only reading this recipe, a few others and some other general charcuterie techniques, I soon began grasping at straws. I ended up with a full size dehumidifier inside a fully enclosed plastic curtain. Experiments with various venting and drafts didn’t help. In the last gasp, I brought it inside, cut it into half-pound or so chunks, slabs, slices (all experimental at this point) and threw it in the dehydrator. The thought behind this was “it’s been cured, it just needs to dry”. By now, the meat is seemingly as exhausted as me. It formed an extremely tough skin which kept the moisture in still! I ate as much as was emotionally possible. It was still much too salty, and nowhere near the texture desired. After just a couple days it began to spoil. That which was vacuum sealed also spoiled quite quickly after opening.

    This year will receive even more research, and stricter practice of processing, all on a much smaller (and much less bereaved if lost) piece. While butchering, if I’m feeling confident, I may stash away a front shoulder, whole, and give it another shot if my test case results come positive.

    I’ve never seen or eaten venison prosciutto. Never in any restaurants, specialty shops, anywhere. Perhaps it would be easier to find in Europe. It is one of those rare, mystical, culinary morsels that one may never enjoy unless one makes it themselves, or have very clever and passionate old-world friends.

    What are the specifications of your “curing chamber”? Also, what is the purpose of the lard? Protective coating?

    Best of Luck!
    Persistent, Patient, Psalivating,
    Tyler Moore

    • Go Carnivore says:

      Tyler,

      Excellent comment. Based on what I have learned thus far, it seems an initial mistake might have been the use of Kosher salt. Curing salt is not entirely necessary for a whole, large muscle, though a minute amount of it might be advisable. What you do need for sure during the salting stage is unrefined sea salt. Sea salt contains traces of nitirite which are imperative to the curing process. Salting stage should be approximately 1 day per kilo of meat.

      The coat of lard is also not necessary, though it does protect the meat over time. As for my curing chamber, it is simply a secondary refrigerator unit turned on its highest setting and has a small fan blowing indirect air over a bowl of salt water. Ideally, I should be monitoring and controlling humidity, but I have not yet installed those controls. If you can find a wine refrigerator on Craig’s List, that is ideal since humidity controls come installed. You also want to keep light off of the meat.

      Similar to the high humidity you experience in the NW, the Southeast provides unstable temperatures during the Fall and Winter. My plan has been to hag this prosciutto in our back laundry room which is cool and drafty in the winter as it does not receive direct heat from the house, however, temperatures have fluctuated over 40 degrees in the last couple of days and we often get warm spells during the coldest months of the year, Last year, it was over 70 degrees for 10 days of December, for example, and I am unsure if the prosciutto will be stable in those fluctuations.

    • Go Carnivore says:

      Oh, and recent conversations with some charcuterie experts has had me thinking about my home practices and realizing that, at least for whole muscle charcuterie, you want to use meat that has not been frozen. So, this Fall, I plan to start some whole muscle charcuterie projects using fresh venison and waterfowl rather than freezing them for the post season.

  2. Cory Baughn says:

    So you couldn’t do something like this with a frozen whole deer leg? I recently shot a buck and froze the entire rear legs whole. Was gonna roast one and maybe do this with the other, but I’ll just save it for another roast if I can’t salt cure and dry a frozen leg.

    • Go Carnivore says:

      Cory,

      You certainly can make a prosciutto with meat that has been frozen. The leg pictured was frozen before this process began. Ideally, you would start all charcuterie processes with fresh meat because of the molecular changes that take place when freezing meat, however, I simply lack the extra time, focus and curing chamber space during deer hunting season to get involved in Charcuterie projects. I usually do most of these experiments during the summer months. Let us know how it turns out.

  3. Josh says:

    if you are going to make a prosciutto, best look toward the experts of Italy and Spain. no where do you find ham better. There is plenty of information out there. If it is cured properly it should not spoil unless there is too much moisture in the air. Just follow it to a tee. No brining just salting (no curing salt is ever used in Italy), time, temperature control, diligent and patients. The only tricky part is the lack of skin and fat on a venison quarter. My solution is to lard the whole thing. I used rendered deer fat from stock that I made from roasted trimming and carcass. Then infused it with herbs. hope it turns out well. now waiting for another 10 months. Good Luck!

  4. anamericanhomestead says:

    Pardon me for saying so but there is so much error in this post. Please let me explain. First, go to someone that has experience in making prosciutto. You can find these skills in Italian neighborhoods of most major citys. New York, St.Louis on “the hill”, etc.

    1. Never use previously frozen meat. A real prosciutto is always a fresh kill. Never frozen.
    2. Never use a brine. All real prosciutto is packed in salt with time based on weight.
    3. Never soak your newly cured prosciutto in fresh water…you’re just leaching out the salt that you just put in it and opening up to all sorts of aging problems. This is never how real prosciutto is done. Just simply rinse off…pat dry and then hang and/or cold smoke and hang.

    As of this typing I have two venison prosciutto packed in heavy salt with celery powder for nitrate. This will cure for 30 days with draining any liquid away each day and then re-packing with salt. You’re going to need a lot of salt. Truth be told, you only need salt with no additives. You don’t have to use any fancy sea salt or kosher salt. Go to walmart and pick up a 40lb bag of Mortons pool salt for $5. It has NO ADDITIVES, NO ANTI-CAKING AGENTS, NO CHEMICALS AT ALL. Its just pure sodium chloride salt. The celery powder I use has plenty of nitrates that will be drawn in with the salt to be converted to nitrites during the aging process.

    4. ALL real prosciutto is aged for at least 9 months. Some argue it has to be a year. No cheating!

    Please understand that artisan meats like Prosciutto are began with a process that starts in winter. Why? Because this was how you preserved meat for the upcoming year without refrigeration in times past. You butchered or harvested your animals and game in Nov-Jan and cured and hung to age. The initial aging and drying must take place in the cold months. Then by time spring comes around, the meat has lost so much moisture that hanging in 70+ degree temps is no problem. It can go through summer still hanging in any room of your log cabin and not spoil. We today are so far removed from these concepts that we try to attempt these artisan practices with our modern climate controlled homes and wonder why we have failures. It’s possible to achieve a good venison prosciutto but you must adhere to the time tested methods of the ancients.

    Good luck! 🙂

  5. Martin Skrivanic says:

    Keep it simple dude! Wait until it’s consistently under 50 degrees outside. Just get a rubbermaid tub (just big enough to fit the leg) drill 4 1/8″ holes on 1 side to drain the fluids “clean all surfaces with white distilled vinegar. Put the tub on top of the lid and propped up on the non-hole side by a piece of 5/4 decking board or equivalent. This serves as a perfect fluid catcher. Go to home depot and buy 6 bags 40lbs $4.50ea. of course water softener rock salt. No additives! Put down a bed of 3-4 inches of salt in the tub. Then add a 1/6″ layer of real brown sugar. Put your leg in with the open cut side down and towards the side with the holes in the tub. (keep it 1-2″ from the sides of the tub). Next, add salt around the sides until flush with the top of the meat. Add 1/16″ brown sugar to the top of the meat. Cover the rest with 3-4″ of salt. Make a plywood board that fits inside the tub with 2” of gap on all sides. Then put 4ea. 60lb. retaining wall bricks on top or 240lbs of equivalent weight. (the plywood properly distributes the weight) and that is the most weight for the $$$. Use a turkey baster to suck the juices out of the lid (fluid-catch) in the following weeks. “Wet meat will spoil”! Wait 1 week then scoop the salt out into a clean cooler or buckets (plastic scoops for dog food from the pet store work well) flip the meat, add the salt back, ensure 3-4″ coverage. Put weights back on. Wait 1 week. Flip meat again! Wait 1 week…pull them out of the salt and brush them off. Use nylon cord to pierce the hoof side 2″ under the joint or however you please to hang the meat. Move to a dry, garage or basement and put a drip pan under it. Use a small fan to circulate air around it if you have damp or confined space issues. Wait a few weeks until the fat has tanned and then add either crisco or olive oil & Heavy pepper slurry to the exposed meat parts and (anywhere cut) i.e.. hoof removed cut. Store in a cool dry place for 12 months. The times stated are good for 20-25lb legs Bone-in! I adjust +/- 1-2 days depending on bigger or smaller than 20-25lb pieces. Note: I also built a cold smoker and smoke mine for 1 week. 3 pans of apple & cherry wood per day. NO HEAT! If you are worried about spoiling, take a chopstick and whittle it into a point, pierce the meat end close to the bone and deep. If it smells wonderful, then you succeeded! Pour a few drops of olive oil in that hole to seal it. Start cutting away! I hope this helps! I’ve made 4 Prosciuttos a year for 10 years+ this way and never had a failure.

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