Many people in the United States will read the title and make a face. In this country salt pork has largely devolved to mean a hunk of salty pork fat – something to be avoided. But it wasn’t always this way. Until fairly recently, salting was a common method for preserving meat both fat and lean. And once preserved, the product is shelf stable at room temperature making it ideal for feeding an army on the move.
Since this post is part of the continuing epic of Charcutepalooza, the first step to making this stew is making salt pork. The cut of pork I chose was half a picnic shoulder. Had it come from the other end, we’d call it a ham shank.
To simplify things and speed the curing along I removed the bone and cut the meat in two, perpendicular to where the bone had been. The halves where then liberally coated with a cure consisting of a pound a salt, half a pound of sugar and less than an eighth teaspoon of sodium nitrate (it doesn’t take much).
The pieces went into a gallon-sized ziplock bag which in turn went into a dish to catch drips and the whole lot went into the refrigerator for three weeks. Every day or two when I remembered, I’d flip the bag over to help redistribute the liquid.
The result of the process is very salty, very dense, fine grained pieces of meat which will be unfamiliar to many modern cooks including the author. I find myself in the position of the car-chasing dog who caught one – what do I do with it?
Fortunately my cookbook collection includes a copy of Ida Bailey Allen’s Money-Saving Cook Book (1). In it she gives a recipe for salt pork and potato stew which I mostly followed below.
Scald a half pound of salt pork in boiling water to remove some of the excess salt. Then dice the pork and fry it in a stew pot over low heat. You may need to add a tablespoon of oil depending on how lean the pork is. Once it starts to brown, add a pound of coarsely chopped onions and cook over medium high heat until they become translucent. Add two and a half pounds of peeled and cubed Russet potatoes along with six cups of water and a teaspoon or two of ground black pepper. Simmer until the potatoes are tender. Ms. Allen recommends adding minced parsley during the last few minutes of cooking and serving with croutons. I settled for fresh bread on the side.
Despite its simplicity or perhaps because of it, this is a very nice stew. The starch from the potatoes, the sugars from the onions and the soluble proteins from the pork yield a substantial broth. And the cooking process transforms the pork into sweet-salty morsels which are firm but not overly chewy.