Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Kojify All the Meats, Old is New Again

Curing meat with koji was on my list of for a long time. I first learned about this technique when I watched my friend Jeremy Umansky's TED Talk. It involves growing aspergillus oryzae (AKA koji-kin) directly on the surface of meats. The enzymes that are produced accelerate aging and dry curing to complete in much less time than traditional methods. A truly brilliant application that was literally unbelievable.

Mini Koji Cured Coppa
For our first crack at charcuterie, my friend Nicco Muratore had a coppa that just finished salt curing. He was happy to hand it over for the trial run. I followed Jeremy's method and it finished drying in 14 days. Truly amazing! To Nicco's palate, he didn't even really taste koji influence. I'd say that's a win.

If you're interested in trying to koji cure with a whole muscle cut, below is the basic step by step roll through. This assumes that you have already successfully made rice/grain koji. If not, I strongly recommend making rice koji first as a learning building block as to prevent ruining a nice piece of meat.

Whole Muscle Cut Koji Curing Method

Post traditional salt curing, rinse and pat dry your meat as you would prior to hanging.

Jon Broida of Japanese Knife Imports Rice Flour Coating a Ribeye
Set up a coating station that consists of two plates or bowls and a resting rack that will comfortably hold the size of the meat you are working with. The first plate/bowl will be for sprinkling a light coating of rice flour cut koji spores, what's normally used for koji making, onto the entire exterior of the meat. The amount you apply is as if you were seasoning the meat. You do not need very much so use it sparingly. The second plate/bowl is to coat and pack the meat with rice flour. The rice flour is food for the koji-kin to flourish. 

Koji-Kin and Rice Flour Coated Five Spice Guanciale
Once you have completely covered every surface with koji spores and rice flour, place the coated meat on the wire resting rack in a container that will fit in your incubator. 

Plastic Wrap & Kitchen Towel Cover (Photo by Andy Doubrava of Rustic Canyon)
In most cases, you will need to suspend a cover over the meat so condensation does not drip onto it. If you're using a cooler incubator setup, a simple solution is to plastic wrap around your container with a kitchen towel on top. Remember to leave openings on the sides to allow for the humidity to flow through.

Koji Bloom on "Koppa" (Photo by Jeremy Fox of Rustic Canyon)
Allow your charcuterie to incubate at between 80 to 90 F (27 to 32 C) at high humidity for 48 hours. I understand that these conditions may make you nervous, but keep in mind that the meat already has the advantage of having been salted. On top of that, aspergillus oryzae has an amazing ability to inhibit undesirable microbe growth once it takes hold. 

Koji Coated Five Spice Guanciale in Cheese Cloth
Once the meat has a snowy layer of mold bloom, wrap it in a couple layers of cheese cloth and hang it as you would under the conditions specified by the traditional method. Allow it to dry to the weight or other indications as specified in the recipe. Keep in mind that it may end up being half the time thanks to the crazy enzymes! 

Koji Cured Five Spice Guanciale
At the end of the day, I'm not claiming that koji accelerated curing yields the same product as the traditional method. It's just different and too freaking delicious to pass up. Get at it!

Before you get started, please watch what inspired me to head down this delicious rabbit hole. Jeremy Umansky's information packed lecture on koji aging and curing meat!

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.

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