During the Master Food Preserver training, we learned about vacuum sealing. I did not own a vacuum sealer but was intrigued by the idea. When I checked out the Food Saver machines, I decided that they were too pricey for the amount I thought I would use one so I let that idea go. Food Saver had a little rechargeable unit that you could use with their own brand of zip top bags. I liked that idea better as you could wash out and reuse the bags. So, I bought the little handheld pump and some of their bags. What a waste of money – the one way valve on the freezer bags came off the bags in the freezer and so the bags lost their air tight seal. Then the handheld pump refused to hold a charge. Bummer.
Then, I came across a Ziploc vacuum sealer at the store. A simple hand pumped device and better bags (they actually hold the seal in the freezer) for about $4. Then, this little pump got a whole other life when I purchased some cleverly designed tapes from www.pump-n-seal.com. Pump-n-Seal also sells a hand pump but I already had the Ziploc one and so I did not order theirs. Now I can seal Mason jars. I punch a hole in the lid of a canning jar with a pushpin and cover it with a piece of the tape. Fill the jar, place on the lid, screw on the ring, and pump! An airtight jar that is so sealed that I often cannot get the lid off unless I loosen the tape.
We now use this system all of the time. Pantry items are well-sealed. Dehydrated items stay fresher. Freshly roasted coffee can de-gas with this small one way valve. I also have use this system when fermenting because the gasses that are emitted during fermentation can escape and then the little tape seals back down and acts as an airlock.
Last November I attended a class on Pig Butchery where we learned how to seam butcher an entire side using just a knife. I came home with an entire back leg (the ham) but knew that I would not be able to cure and smoke such a large piece of meat. Chef Paul Buchanan told me I could follow the natural muscle lines and separate the ham into smaller sections. I did that the next day and froze the meat.
Last week, I decided it was time to do some curing. I defrosted one ham, made a brine, and cured the ham in the refrigerator for three days. After the curing time, the ham was removed from the brine and put on a rack in the refrigerator and allowed to form a pellicle. The pellicle is the dried outside of a piece of meat that allows the smoke to adhere.
This morning I put the ham in my stovetop smoker for a little over an hour. It needed to get to an internal temperature of at least 140°. It came out beautifully and tastes great – now if only the pan looked good!