Considered by some as the king of dry-cured meats, prosciutto is a whole leg cured in salt and air-dried over months to produce its trademark aroma and distinctive flavour. Ideally you need to cure a large, fat leg, as this means it will have more chance to air-dry properly. Small legs tend to dry too quickly.
- 10 kg free-range pork leg, boned out to reveal ball joint
- 2–3 kg salt
- lard, for smearing
- coarsely crushed black pepper
- fine cloth, for wrapping
- a swag of patience
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Makes 1 leg
Curing time 1 year
Trim the pork leg well, so it doesn’t have any dags hanging off or deep cuts. Cut it so it is rounded at the base. We like to give the meat a good beating at this stage, but a solid massage also works. To soften the meat, I give it a decent walloping with a wooden rolling pin for about 30–40 whacks, trying to give all the leg a bit of a seeing to, and avoiding the bony bits.
There is likely some blood in an artery that runs down the leg, and you can squeeze this out by pressing from the foot end up along the bone and towards the hip joint. Only a teaspoon or less will be there, and we mop it up using a bit of absorbent paper. Some people inject the artery with a brine solution from the foot end, to flush it out, but we find that hard to do and the pressing method just as successful.
Take a large plastic tub, preferably with a lid, and put some salt in the bottom. Place the leg in the tub and rub salt liberally all over, particularly around the exposed meat and ball joint area. Massage salt in all over, lay the leg skin-side down in a bed of salt, and cover the exposed meat with more salt. Place a weight on top of the leg (if you’re curing two legs, let one weigh the other down, and swap them over each day); about 5–8kg of weight is good. You could use a flour bag or water containers, anything really, protecting the leg from the weight using plastic wrap.
Keep the leg in this salt for about 15 days at 12°C or below (allow 1 ½ days per kilo, up to 2 days per kilo), turning it and rubbing the slurry of salt over it as you go.
Once the leg has cured, rinse the salt off and pat dry. Smother the open cut side with a fat layer of lard and it’s good to sprinkle crushed black pepper over this bit, too, for flavour and to deter pests.
Push a spike through the Achilles tendon, and hang by a strong cord or hook in a cool, moist place such as a cellar (at 12°C or below). You want it to be airy but not breezy. In some areas you might need to cover the meat with fine cloth and find a place that is away from rodents. Hang for at least 6 months, preferably 12 months. Ideally, it would get a bloom of white mould in 3 weeks.
When ready to eat, scrub off the mould and the lard, perhaps trimming the outside of the meat. Carve off the skin and discard. Cut into very fine slices.
• Home-cured meats aren’t for the pregnant or those with immature or weak immune systems. If there’s any obvious bad odour, colour or texture, discard the meat. If it smells and looks wonderful, you can simply carve off slivers as you see fit to gobble down raw, or use in cooking for those who do have compromised immune systems.