Tradition, science & sorcery

In issue one, Steven Lamb explores curing and smoking – an age-old process fuelled by salt and flame. Here's a short extract to whet your appetite...

Photo: Gavin Kingcombe. River Cottage Handbook No.13: Curing & Smoking.

Photo: Gavin Kingcombe. River Cottage Handbook No.13: Curing & Smoking.

Curing and smoking, in the simplest of terms, is preserving and flavouring. However, it also encompasses craft, tradition, science and sorcery. Anyone can, and should, produce simple cured products as a matter of course because they offer so much value to the keen amateur cook. It will expand your knowledge of food and increase your repertoire of dishes, as well as taking you on a journey of discovery touching on almost every corner of the globe. You can take good ingredients and turn them into elevated versions of themselves, with minimum intervention.

Time plays an important part, and anyone who embarks on this age-old process fuelled by salt and smoke will understand how deeply connected the methods are to food history and the earliest fundamental cooking techniques. 

It is the antithesis of fast food. It can be traced from the discovery of fire through to ancient civilisations, right up to the present day. It is impossible to know for sure how it came about but the significance is clear. It developed from circumstances as real as evolution and survival. It has been honed through times of economic necessity in order to creatively preserve and store food. 

The rewards for your dedication are immense. Curing meat or smoking fish doesn’t only result in a delicious end product; the gift is much greater than that. These are processes that unlock the secrets of some of our best-loved, most useful ingredients. They give you the keys to the citadel of smoky, salty-sweet-savoury moreishness: the hallowed place where bacon, air-dried ham, smoked salmon and kippers dwell.

For more on the history and practice of curing and smoking – as well as a cracking recipe for dry-cured streaky bacon – download issue one of Ernest Journal at the App Store

Alternatively, pick up a copy of the River Cottage Handbook No.13: Curing & Smoking, Steven Lamb, Bloomsbury (£14.99) – the go-to guide for anyone who wants to smoke, brine or air-dry their way to a happier kitchen

Steven Lamb is Head of Brand at River Cottage and has been involved in the project since the beginning. He was the resident smallholder at HQ but now teaches courses in curing and smoking. He's a regular on the TV series and online.