15 January, 2009

Making Capicola - A Short Q&A Post

On another online forum, Jim Weller of Yellowknife NWT had some questions related to the preparation and aging of my capicola. He's given me permission to reprint the questions and answers here.

Q:
. . .the excess salt has to be removed before they can be aged. . .
a cup or two of cheap white wine over them (the stuff they sell
for six or seven bucks a gallon is perfect.) Bathe the loins well
in the wine, wiping down the loins with the wine to be sure the
salt is removed. After each couple of loins are cleaned, dump the
salty wine down the drain and use fresh wine to clean the next pair.
As even cheap wine here is $12 per 750 ml bottle, can the used wine not be retained for cooking purposes? Would a mild (diluted) vinegar work?

A: Personally, I would not retain the wine. The salt is pretty concentrated, and it becomes fouled with pork blood that has been drawn out of the meat by the salt. When I was pouring the used stuff down the drain, it was a milky pink in color and pretty disgusting.

That being said, however, a full gallon of wine was sufficient for us to wash 10 whole pork loins. You'll need vastly less to do a single loin, or even two loins - just a couple of cups.

I don't see any reason why a diluted vinegar wouldn't work. To tell the truth, the wine doesn't add any flavor to the finished product. I have a feeling Mike learned to use wine in the old country because they used wine for everything - and produced their own, actually.


Q:
To age the capicola properly, you need a cold, dry place to hang them. A cold attic is ideal. . . It takes 2 to 3 months for the capicola to age completely. A good guideline is generally to hang it in mid-January and cut it down on Easter weekend . . .
How cold does it get in Connecticut in January? How warm in early April? How well is your attic insulated? Is it heated indirectly through the floor boards and does your capicola ever freeze? And does that harm it?

In other words what is the temperature range inside your attic?

A: According to climate data from the Connecticut State Climate Center, the mean temperatures at the official weather station closest to me are:

January - 25.4 F / -3.7 C
February - 28.7 F / -1.8 C
March - 37.7 F / 3.1 C
April - 49.0 F / 9.4 C

This doesn't take into account the frequent cold snaps we have in January and February - for example, the outdoor temperature here for the past few days (12 January - 15 January) has been about 15 F ( -9.5 C) with nighttime temps even lower (single digits.)

My attic is a "semi-finished" walk-up. There is no heat up there or electricity save a couple of pull-chain light fixtures, but there are two rooms with closets and lathe-and-plaster walls. Parts of the attic under the eaves are walled off as crawlspaces and have some insulation, but I have no reason to believe that there is any insulation between the ceilings in the attic rooms and the roof sheathing. It is heated only indirectly through the floorboards, and a bit up the stairway (but I keep the door closed.) It is generally cold enough up there to see your breath but not cold enough to freeze anything. Last night when I was up there tightening the straps on the cappie, I brought a thermometer up with me and it showed the temp to be about 36 F.

Even though the outside temperature will be on the rise over the coming months, my attic maintains a cool temperature until daytime temperatures start creeping over 60 F. Then, of course, in the summer it becomes unbearable up there, even with windows open. By that time, however, there aren't any more capicolas hanging. (And that's the reason why I've never tried making my own prosciutto - I don't have a spot that remains at the proper temperature for the 18 to 24 months that a proper prosciutto would take to age.)

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