Elk Cappicola: The Ancient Art of Curing Meat
Courtesy of Chef John McGannon, wildeats.com
The technique of salt-curing meat has been around for thousands of years. Historical records indicate that the waters from the Mediterranean Sea were used to make some of the first salt brines. Soaking the meat in this saline solution then air drying it removes much of the internal moisture. In an age long before refrigerators, cured meats became a staple.
The following recipe is for a dry cure, and as the name suggests, there is no brine solution—just a dry rub and time. For this dish, I suggest using elk eye rounds, which is the eye or almond-shaped muscle located in the rump.
Traditionally made from dry-cured pork neck or shoulder meat, cappicola is similar to the more familiar prosciutto. Elk is a much leaner meat than pork shoulders, but what it lacks in fat it makes up in flavor. Keep in mind that curing meat takes time. In this case it takes three months to achieve a proper cure. This cure blend also can be used for curing bacon or any other meat that you will smoke afterwards: shoulders, shanks, bellies and hams.
Juniperberry & Peppercorn Curing Blend
1 quart kosher salt
1 cup insta cure #1
1 cup WildEats Juniperberry & Peppercorn Dry Rub (you can also add your own combination of seasonings, e.g. juniper, dried mustard, peppercorns, chili flakes, garlic, etc.)
2 elk eye rounds tied with butchers twine
1½ cups of Juniperberry & Peppercorn Curing Blend
1 cup smoked paprika
After tying the eye rounds, liberally rub the outside of the meat with the curing blend. Place in a ziplock or foodsaver bag and place in the refrigerator for 10-12 days. Turn the bag daily.
After the curing is done, remove the meat from the bag, rinse off the cure with cold water. Rub the smoked paprika all over the eye rounds. At this point there are a number of ways you can progress. The meat can be stuffed into beef casings, collagen casings or as I did for this particular batch, left unwrapped. I wanted to get a dense dry-cured finished product. So I placed the eye rounds on a stainless-steel drying rack and placed it in the refrigerator for 65 days. You can go a little longer if you want the meat to be very dense. At this point the meat is both cured and dried.
Cured meat like this has a very smooth texture and can be shaved very thin. You can use it as is or add to your favorite antipasto platter.
Cured meat will last for 3 to 6 months in the refrigerator. Now you can see why salt-cured meats were so important in civilization’s survival. In fact, there was a time when salt was traded equally for gold. All the riches in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t have food to eat.
John McGannon is a RMEF life member, host of wild game cooking seminars at Elk Camp and owner of WildEats Enterprises.