I know this photo looks a bit like a science experiment, or as my Dad said in his best Marty Feldman voice, Abby Normal’s Brain. All joking aside, this science experiment will give your Red Beans & Rice impeccable, authentic flavor that will be hard to match.
Before the days of refrigeration and commercial curing plants, Pickle Meat or Pickled Pork was a staple in the Creole Kitchen. Some Creole cooks still will not make Red Beans and Rice without it, and I have to say, the best pot of Red Beans that I’ve made, was made with Pickle Meat (I can’t wait to make them this Monday with this new batch of Pickle Meat.) The meat is so tender from the brine, that it just breaks down in the pot, leaving behind all of that wonderful flavor. It’s a cinch to make, now that we don’t have to prepare 25 pound batches. Long ago the pork from a very recently butchered hog would be cured in large batches, and kept in barrels. Here is what The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook of 1901 had to say on the subject, along with the process:
Pork should be pickled about twenty hours after killing. It is pickled always in sufficient quantity to last for some time, for if proper care is taken, it will keep one year after pickling; but it may also be pickled in small quantities of three or four pounds at a time, reducing other ingredients in the recipe according to quantity of pork used. To twenty-five pounds of Pork allow one ounce of saltpetre. Pulverize thoroughly and mix with a sufficient quantity of salt to thoroughly salt the pork. Cut the Pork into pieces of about two pounds, and slash each piece through the skin, and then rub thoroughly with the salt and saltpetre mixture till the meat is thoroughly penetrated through and through. Mash the cloves very fine and grind the allspice; chop the onions. Take a small barrel and place at the bottom a layer of salt, then a layer of coarsely chopped onions, and sprinkle over this a layer of the spices and minced bay leaves. Place on this a layer of Pork; pack tightly; then place above this a layer of salt and seasonings, and continue with alternate layers of Pork and seasonings until the Pork is used up. Conclude with a layer of the minced herbs and spices and have a layer of salt on top. Cover the preparation with a board on which a heavy weight must be placed to press down the meat. It will be ready for use in ten or twelve days.
Here is a more modern version, which is more of a brine than the version in the old text. I love the slight acidic flavor that it lends to a pot of Red Beans. Spare rib tips are a common cut used to make Pickle Meat.
Pickled Pork or Pickle Meat Recipe
2 lbs. Very Fresh Pork (I used Spare rib tips, boned and cut into strips 3″ long by 1″ thick)
1 Qt. White Vinegar
1/2 Cup Mustard Seed
6 Each Whole Cloves
6 Each Whole Allspice
1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper
3 Fresh Bay Leaves
6 Whole Garlic Cloves
1/2 of a Medium Onion, Coarsely Chopped
1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
1 Tbsp Black Peppercorns
1 pinch Pink Meat Cure
Add all the ingredients except the Pork to a 2 qt Saucepan. Bring to a boil. Boil for 4 minutes, then place it into a container to cool in the refrigerator. When the mixture is completely cold, add the pork.
Very important: Make sure the pork is completely covered with the brine; gently stir to remove any air bubbles.
Cover and place in the refrigerator for 4 days before using.