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Cures and Brines

Cures and Brines

For larger cuts of meat, in this case a ham, brine is injected using a syringe-like pump to ensure complete and even brining in a shorter amount of time. (photo CIA)

Culinary Institute of America

Cure is the generic term used to indicate brines, pickling or corning solutions, or dry cures. When salt, in the form of a dry cure or brine, is applied to a food, the food is referred to as cured, brined, pickled, or corned. The term “corned” is less familiar now, but derives from the fact that the grains of salt used to cure meats and other foods were likened to cereal grains, or corn, because of their size and shape. Salt brines may also be known as pickles; this is true whether or not vinegar is added to the brine.

Although unrefined salt or sea water were most likely the original cures or brines, we have learned more over time about how the individual components of cures and brines work. Refined and purified salts, sugar, and curing ingredients (nitrates and nitrites) have made it possible to regulate the process more accurately. This means we can now produce high-quality, wholesome products with the best texture and taste.

Dry cures

A dry cure can be as simple as salt alone, but more often the cure is a mixture of salt, a sweetener of some sort, flavorings, and, if indicated or desired, a commercially or individually prepared curing blend. (Brand names of some commercially prepared curing mixes include tinted curing mix, commonly referred to as Insta-cure #1 or TCM, and Insta-cure #2 or Prague Powder II.) This mixture is then packed or rubbed over the surface of the food. It may be necessary to wear gloves as you apply the dry cure, as the salt might dehydrate your skin

Keeping the foods in direct contact with the cure helps to ensure an evenly preserved product. Some may be wrapped in cheesecloth or food-grade paper; others may be packed in bins or curing tubs with cure scattered around them and in between layers. They should be turned or rotated periodically as they cure. This process is known as overhauling. Larger items such as hams may be rubbed repeatedly with some additional cure mixture over a period of days. If there is an exposed bone in the item, it is important to rub the cure around and over the exposed area to cure it properly.

Dry cure time for meats

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