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The Cure and a Recipe for Spinach Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette

Charucutepalooza #11: The Cure – Air Dried Pork Tenderloin

I knew the mini-bar had a purpose. There is a funky mini-bar downstairs in our home which serves no use except to take up space – that is until now. This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge is curing (which is another way of saying hanging and drying) a whole piece of meat. The trick is to hang the meat in an environment which maintains a steady temperature and humidity level. The professionals might use a curing chamber which will do all of this in a sleek, shiny, high tech manner. For us newbies we must rely on a basement, garage, wine cellar, and lots of faith tempered with caution. Of course, it would be helpful if we actually had a basement or wine cellar, or that the mild California climate would guarantee a steady cool temperature.

Enter the mini-bar fridge, which sits quietly forgotten, occasionally stocked with an overflow of party beverages, but usually empty. After reading a post by Michael Ruhlman, I realized that this appliance associated with my college dorm room could, in fact, house my meat. All I had to do was clean it and turn it to its warmest setting, and suddenly our clunky relic from the previous owner’s jacuzzi parties morphed into a handy dandy meat curing chamber.

Since I had no idea how any of this would turn out, and mindful that I might possibly produce results that could sicken my family, I decided to keep it very simple and cured two pork tenderloins. The process took all of 3 weeks, with no hands on attention except to remember to check it. My husband gamely offered to taste the finished results, and loved them, affirming – once again – that Charcutepalooza is making him one happy meat eating camper.

The meat is delicious to eat as is, but I also love to add dried ham to pizzas, pasta, eggs and salads. It’s salty, chewy texture gives just the right oomph to this winter spinach salad.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette, Toasted Pinenuts and Cured Pork

The warm balsamic dressing will lightly wilt the spinach greens as they are tossed. If you don’t have any air dried pork, oven dried prosciutto is an excellent and easily accessible alternative. Serves 4-6.

3/4 pound baby spinach, washed and dried
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, slightly smashed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cured pork or oven dried prosciutto (see below), broken in pieces
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Place spinach and shallot in a large bowl. Combine garlic, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook until vinegar is reduced by half. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Slowly add oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. Remove and discard garlic clove. Pour half of the warm dressing over the spinach. Toss to combine. Add more dressing to taste. Divide salad among individual plates. Scatter pork and pine nuts over the salad. Serve immediately.

To oven dry prosciutto:
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place 8 slices of prosciutto on a baking tray in one layer. Bake in oven 15 minutes. Turn off oven; do not remove prosciutto. Let it sit in oven 15 more minutes. Remove and break into shards.

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and partnering with Food52 and Punk Domestics. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman’s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie.