Head Chef Ross Stovold talks Curing
At the Torridon we cure a variety of products, most of which come from our resort’s Kitchen Garden and from our own herd of Tamworth pigs. We also cure some of our locally sourced fish.
A common misconception of curing is that the process aims to improve a substandard ingredient, however, if you try to make smoked salmon from a poor-quality fish, the end product will be of poor quality too – the process doesn’t magically transform an ingredient from something you wouldn’t want to eat to a gastronomic feat. The purpose of curing generally is to preserve the ingredient or to prepare it for a further process, for example smoking.
Curing has many uses, and before the invention of refrigeration, it was used to preserve meat to be able to use it for longer. Sometimes necessity can be the birth of an amazing product. The process removes water which in turn inhabits the growth of harmful bacteria. However, it also changes the texture and flavour of the meat. Beef jerky, once dried, has a fantastic chewable mouthfeel that you don’t get if you haven’t cured the meat first.
With the addition of spices, curing can add a great depth of flavour. Smoked salmon is one of my favourite foods; the fatty fish, hint of smoke and light cure flavour that the salt gives is perfect and adding spices such as fennel seeds and star anise to the curing salt can really change how the fish will taste. There is no limit to what you can do!
You can cure any readily available cut of meat, but the considerations are the opportunity cost and having to wait to eat it, however sometimes the wait is just as good! When we cure the meat from our Tamworth pigs, it takes up to 36 days in order for it to be ready for hanging, then it is dry-aged for 18 months, while a wild onion prior to being pickled will be cured for 24 hours, or a side of salmon for smoking takes 12 hours. The time depends on the ingredient you plan to cure and what the end product will be.
Size is also a consideration when curing. A smaller cut of meat will result in an even smaller piece at the end as it will shrink from the loss of water, therefore it’s best to begin with a larger cut like pork belly to practise on, especially as you get bacon at the end too!
We like to cure fish offal, like the livers and roes to make sauces, it really is delicious and there’s no other product like it in terms of flavour. In addition, we currently have a halibut dish with cauliflower, mussels and lovage that we season at the end by grating over frozen smoked trout to add a natural saline flavour. The trout is brined for five days to really intensify the flavour before we smoke it with dried onion, pine and heather.
Curing is a diverse process that allows us to use our local and seasonal produce throughout the year. By curing our meat, fish and vegetables, we can enhance and adapt flavours and create new textures without any waste. Join us at 1887 to sample some of our dishes that feature the curing process or request a walk with myself through the Kitchen Garden to find out more ahead of your dining experience.