Old homes are examples of inimitable craftsmanship and charm. Similarly, old world foods – specifically cured pork- are characterized by flavors of authenticity, uncommon tenderness, and a rich palate. More than this, old world food exhibits love.
But the artisanal approach to curing meat is not all Romance. There is an essential method. An unerring, mechanical, calculated, recipe to creating a masterpiece of cured pork.
I was lucky enough to learn how to create superb capicola from the gastro-mechanic himself, Lou Palma. If you’re the type of foodie to swoon at the sight of aged, cured pork hanging from your rafters, read on and follow these steps precisely, and watch the master at work in video that follows.
The first step to curing capicola is to obtain pork butts, ideally Berkshire. Why Berkshire? Because the black, Heritage pig is inherently more fatty and has a shorter muscle fiber than standard, commodity pork. The Berkshire is not as fatty as the Mangalitsa, yet it has intense marbleization that ultimately lends an incredible depth of flavor to the finished product. However, commodity pork, the type of pork that most commercial capicola is made with, will do just fine.
Once you’ve got your butt(s), they must be cured in salt brine for 3 days. A salt brine is created by rubbing the butts with coarse, Kosher salt, then placed in a plastic bag or container. The moisture of the meat will turn the salt into a curing solution, known as brine.
During the three days of curing, do not neglect your butt(s). Visit them at least once a day to “overhaul” them as necessary. This may mean that you toss them around in the brine, or perhaps add more salt if it appears more brine is necessary.
It is very important not to exceed three days of brine curing. This would cause the capicola to become much too salty.
On the fourth day, rinse the brine from the butts with water and pat dry. Then, roll the butts in a powdered spice mixture, one half “fancy” paprika, and one half Cayenne Pepper. As an added enhancement you may add a small amount of ground fennel to the paprika/cayenne mixture.
The next part is the casing. At a specialty butcher shop you could find large pork casings. Take the casings and turn then inside out and soak in a solution of water and citrus, oranges and lemons. This removes the odor and rinses off the cholesterol from the casing.
Now comes the fun (and possibly a bit of frustration). Open the casing and squeeze the butt inside.