Whatever some might say about the roast beef of old England, the pig is, in religiously amenable areas at least, the indisputed king of the eating animals. Although it arguably deserves this accolade for its belly meat alone, not to mention the succulent beauty of its shoulder, cheek, and plump double chins, a large part of the utility and therefore the beauty of the pig comes from its suitability for curing of all kinds, in nitrate-protected salamis, salted raw hams, chunks of smoked bacon and jowl, dry-cures and Suffolk-cures, treacle and beer and vinegar; its ability, in other words, to be charcuterised. Since time immemorial, or at least a short time after that, the pig has lent itself, from snotter to trotter, to the sausage-maker’s trade – and we should all be very glad of that.
Still, there are hams beyond the porcine. Turkey, which has a pickle culture to rival that of Poland, has the meats to match, the best known here being suçuk and pastirma, both made from beef, the latter related in etymology if not technique to pastrami, which has in recent years overtaken the simpler salt beef as the most famous cured meat product of the Ashkenazi Jewish deli culture which has brought dill pickles to so many disparate parts of this world. The beef being cured here is generally brisket, sometimes fillet; the parsimonious celebration of flesh gifted to the pig is, for the cow, mainly expressed in the search for ever-more niche cuts of steak, possessed of either odd French or quaint English names and cooked bloody as hell, bavette, onglet, hanger, butler’s, butcher’s, baker’s , and candle-stick-maker’s, though an honourable mention should go to the salted and pressed ox tongue, one of the few pieces of world charcuterie which requires its own, specialist device.
Where, though, is the cured lamb? Perhaps the climates where lamb is the main protein are ill-suited to the curing of meat; perhaps I am just extremely ignorant on the subject. Either way, I know of few traditional recipes for cured lamb. This is a shame, as it can be extremely delicious. I have made a Serrano-style ham with the leg of a hogget, which was a thing of beauty; you had the squidge and edge of a good raw ham, but with an almost overbearing sheepiness, not quite edging into rancidity … I can taste it now. It did, however, apart from the whole leg, take several kilograms of salt, besides space and time and probably, I suppose, quite a lot of luck; a charcutier of my acquaintance was surprised and jealous that I had managed to make a bone-in cured lamb leg without rot or mould. I suppose the chimney in which I hung it must have been a particularly hospitable environment.
Whatever the reason, it is not a recipe suited to repeating at home, and, indeed, I never have. We should be getting another sheep soon, so I will try again; until then, this is an excellent, and extremely easy, cured lamb dish. Lamb fillet can be pale and unappetizing, but a couple of days makes it as dark as a Carpaccio; if it looks like a Caravaggio, it’s gone off.
CURED LAMB, BROAD BEANS AND FENNEL
2kg lamb fillet
600g coarse sea salt
400g granulated sugar
zest of 4 lemons
2 tbsp fennel seeds
Mix the salt, sugar, lemon and fennel together, and spread a layer in a plastic or otherwise non-metallic tub. Nestle in the lamb, and cover completely with the cure. Leave in the fridge for two or three days, then rinse and dry. Slice thinly and top with
a handful of raw broad beans, from however many pods it takes to get a handful
2 bulbs fennel, sliced wafer-thin
juice of two lemons
200ml extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of salt
a good 6 grinds of pepper