This is one of the few methods of preservation that does not require a cure of the foodstuff before hand, so please excuse the title, continuity and all that.

There are two very traditional methods of extending the life of meats and fish by using fats. The first is the French method confit. Originally confit would be a meat, usually a waterfowl, that was first poached in it’s own fat and then stored in the same. This would be kept in jars and could last for over a year on the shelf. The second method is potting as in Morecambe Bay potted shrimps. The food is first cooked and then covered in melted, clarified butter. This seals in the shrimps and again drastically extends shelf life.

A more modern method of preservation is to keep food in oil. This can be to either preserve the food such as in canned tuna or to flavour the oil. Both of the techniques leave a flavoursome oil but neither are without their dangers. Oil does not necessarily carry any toxins but it can help anaerobic organisms thrive on other foods. A pathogen like botulism can be carried on garlic that has not been prepared properly. Basic food hygiene eliminates such risks, so keep it clean and happy preserving.

 

 

Salt

Lack of salt would have wiped out the human race centuries ago. Not only does it provide the essential electrolyte sodium it also preserves food. Without the ability to preserve food, we would not have faired as well during harsh winters and seafaring would have been a challenge. Salt does get a bad rap as it is can be unhealthy in large doses. In moderation, it’s a very good thing.

Salt does two things for food preservation. First it helps to dry out the meat and bacteria do not flourish in these acrid conditions. Secondly, it forms a hostile environment which could effectively implode simple organisms.

One of the after effects of curing with salt is the sticky key left on the meat. This is called patina and is pretty much undercoat for smoking. Without this cling the smoke will not hold.

So next time you hear someone decrying the health properties of salt, remember that is saves lives too.

 

If I was to say that we are going to inflict death by imploding cell walls, exposure to acid, gassing, rubbing in salt or poisoning, you would possibly be fair in thinking of medieval executions. The truth is that every day, food curers and charcutiers do just these things to preserve food. All of the processes are natural and most of them have been around for centuries. When ships set sail across the oceans a staple dish was salted cod. All the moisture had been drawn out of the cod and it could be reconstituted and cooked up months into the journey. It is also rumoured to be one of the origins of “Salty Dog” as a reference to an experienced sailor. What would have happended if the same piece of cod had not been preserved?  How long would it have lasted in the ship’s galley? Also, how heavy would the food supplies on board have been?

Over the next few blogs, we are going to look at how some of these techniques work, the science and maybe some history to go along with it. If you have ever tried fresh pastrami and enjoyed it’s rich flavours, then you will have experienced the benefit of at least three of these tactics of chemical warfare.

 

We often think of a vacuum as something that occupies the space between a politicians ears, essentially a complete lack of anything. A true vacuum would be a difficult think to achieve as you have to clear a space inside of an atmosphere that would essentially crush the vessel. A food vacuum packer works on evacuating air from the bag leaving just the food behind. This provides a long storage for the food left inside. Canning has used this principle for years, but does rely on a few other basics; a sterile vessel (the can), food heated beyond the bacterial killzone or otherwise safe, a device to pump out the air and seal the can. Canned food will live on a shelf almost indefinitely.

As a modern method of food preservation, the vacuum does have it’s merits. Maybe those plastic vac-packed soups on the shelves of the supermarket could eventually replace the can?

A big disadvantage of vacuum packing is that traditional food preservation methods, especially the ones still in use today, created unique flavours. In addition, once the vacuum is breached, it’s fresh food on the clock. If you open an aged cheese or an air dried ham, these still have a long shelf life ahead as the food itself is preserved and not the stasis it is kept in.

Traditionally preserved foods contains a certain honesty, unlike the vacuum that replaces the power hungry thinking space.

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