Finally – curing salo, pork back fat.

After days, weeks and even months of telling everyone about the wonder I’ve been curing in my fridge – Ladies and gentlemen…

Ukrainian salo, or cured pork fat.

THE combination - cured salo and black rye bread.

If you know anything about me, you know I have a soft spot for a pig, in all its disguises (just see here or here). This porcine love of mine, combined with my Ukrainian roots (read here) meant making salo was inevitable.

Curing pork back fat is an activity of an iconic, almost sacred importance for khokhlov (a derivative but somewhat still a loving term given by Russians to Ukrainians). Although at the same time the love for salo is constantly taken piss out of, looked down on, ridiculed. Any post-Soviet person will be able to recite at least 3 anecdotes about Ukrainians and their love for salo and what this says about the nation.

'Real' Ukrainian peasants!

Dumb, peasant, slow, unsophisticated – they are all there, the terms given by a big powerful nation to a smaller ‘brother’ next door…Salo, of course,  is both a symbol of this village-ness and a quiet admiration for the alleged relationship Ukrainians have with their Chernozem, or spurting, fertile Black Ukrainian soil.

I am fascinated by the sheer difference between the way Ukrainian salo is treated as a cultural and gastronomic phenomenon, and the world-famous Italian Lardo di Colonnata. (oh please forgive me my dear Ukrainians) The two products are essentially the same – an ingenious way farmers use every bit of a pig to create something both delicious and nutritious. Lardo di Colonnata is too cured pork back fat, although the Italians have fought long and hard to create and protect Lardo’s unique properties: one would not be allowed to sell cured back fat unless it comes from a specific type of a pig, raised in a particular part of Italy, cured in marble containers.  Lardo now has a legal Protected Geographical Status.

There are, of course, some specific historic and political reasons why Italians have come to treat their Lardo so differently from the Ukrainians – in both cultural and physical senses. These reasons go back as far as 19th century notions of nation-building that spread across a large chunk of Western Europe. Linking a seemingly ‘inherent’ love for the soil to love for the nation built bonds between different Italian regions that were hardly there before (remember, Italy was not  a unified nation until a century ago, but a collection of independent states, regions). Ukraine is too now building its nationhood, away from Russia, towards Europe…

…what could be more symbolic of ‘Ukraineness’ than salo i wonder?

Ukrainian women in traditional, folk dresses - near Lviv, Western Ukraine.

Well, I might be able to tell you a lot more about salo, both its ‘story’, its meaning and, of course, the eating of it, in another few months as I’m travelling to Ukraine this summer for a bit of research (some people go to Cyprus to lie on a beach; others go to Ukraine to eat fat). For now a taster – my attempts at curing lard- dare to try it at home?

How to cure pork back fat, Ukrainian style

1. You need a good slab of pork fat to start with, preferably with skin still attached, about 500 grs will do.

Pork fat from my favourite farm in Sussex - Rother Valley.

A disclaimer: I didn’t give clear enough instructions to Rother Valley organics, where I normally buy my meat from, and so they sent various small cuts of back fat, not a whole piece. The result was still ok, but not as good in appearance. Salo should be a chunky square of glistening fat.

2. You will need what Americans call Kosher salt, or big grains of salt, not table salt. I got mine from a good old-fashioned Italian deli in King’s Cross. You will also need Sodium nitrate, only a teaspoon of it, apparently it’s a preservative that could be gotten from any butcher.

Preparing for salo-making.

3. Cover with a good layer of salt and nitrate, so that you can’t see the fat underneath, perhaps 5 mms?

Salo in snow of salt. Aahh, romantic.

4. Just put the damn thing in your fridge (or another cool place if you have one – I haven’t) for 2-3 weeks. Perhaps check on your salo once or twice, turn it over, making sure salt still covers it properly.

5. After a couple of weeks you will notice that the fat has hardened – salt has sucked out most of its moisture. You can keep salo in the fridge for a lot longer, dunno a couple of months if now more. However, at this stage of my initial research I suggest scrapping off the salt and transferring your salo into a freezer – this is where Ukrainians normally keep their , together with a bottle of Horylka, vodka, of course.

Lard pre-curing.

6. How do you eat salo?

Well, this is the ‘classic’ way if you like:

– take salo out of your freezer, slice thinly.

– slice thickly your black (rye) bread.

– spear your bread with a good layer of Russian mustard (hot but fairly sweet variety, similar to German in fact).

– alternative but strongly advised – get yourself a raw clove of garlic. you can slice it and put the slices onto your bread with mustard or just chomp on it as you go along.

– poor a shot of vodka.

– place salo on top of your bread and eat…..

7. I however started with a slightly different  version, since I was still waiting for curing to finish. So I fried salo – most comforting food ever. Sweet sweet fat with traces of salt on a robust slice of rye bread.

Warmed salo on rye bread with Russian mustard.

Another way – I used to love fried potatoes with little cut-up chunks of salo when I was a kid, eaten straight out of a frying pan, with some dill on top and ketchup.

This is just the beginning of my salo-journey – I will report soon on what salo was like after good 3-4 weeks under salt. And then other glorious ways of using pork fat.

How do you like your salo?

Posted in Cuisine: Ukrainian, Ingridients: fat, Ingridients: preserves/pickles, Uncategorized | Tagged as: , | 14 Comments

14 Responses to Finally – curing salo, pork back fat.

  1. Ken Albala says:

    OH,THIS is fantastic. I can’t wait to see what it’s like raw. Is it like you remember?? Ken

    • Katrina K says:

      Well, quite frankly Ken, salo is basically raw – now quite a few Ukrainians told me they just freeze fat, slice it and voila! Yep, it’s exactly how i remember – and admittedly, not as delicate as Italian Lardo I have tried;). that longer curing process (an in marble!) clearly does stuff

  2. ken Albala says:

    Right, but you haven’t tasted it raw yet? Did I miss that? You’re letting it cure longer? I still don’t get why it’s cut in thick slices, rather than delicate thin ones, which would make it easier to eat, no? xxoo K

  3. Katrina K says:

    oh I see what you mean – I have tasted it raw (well, after it’s been salted for about 7-10 days), but just let it cure for longer. now it’s been 3-4 weeks (I’ve lost count….), need to have another taster…will report!

  4. The Gastronomical Me says:

    […] to salo – Ukrainian ‘national’ product of cured pork fat (on which read more here) is not quite correct. Boris Berger, the mastermind behind this new glitzy and controversial […]

  5. The Gastronomical Me says:

    […] me in Lviv (West of Ukraine), fed me and arranged to take me to several of local Ukrainian foodies, salo lovers too of course – many around Alik’s and Lyuba’s breath-takingly beautiful […]

  6. eset nod32 says:

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  7. andrey says:

    many thanks for the salo recipe. i haven’t had any since i left siberia many years ago. i bought half a pig a month ago, and have about 4 pounds of back fat to play with. initially, i thought i’d just render it, but your idea of salting it is much more appealing. i will report on further developments. i hasten to add that should i keel over and give up the ghost due to acute cholesterol poisoning, i absolve you from any and all responsibility…

  8. sharon says:

    How is the Salo experiment coming along now? I’m getting some mangalitsa fat and just wonder if it’s worth it to cure it or just slice and fry… or eat raw? T’anks

  9. Katrina K says:

    Mangalitsa is apparently amazing for salo making. salo is essentially almost raw. many ukrainians would put a bit of salt, just for a day, and eat the following morning! let us know how it goes:)

  10. poldo says:

    Hi! I tried your recipe on 500g of pork belly that had been cut into strips. (Raw fatback is hard to find in Brazil) It did dry out like you said. The fat and meat became hard. However, the skin took on a greenish tint. Haven’t tasted it yet. Just wondering if this is normal? Thanks. LG

    • Katrina K says:

      wow, well done for trying salo making in Brazil! I will be honest – I don’t know. did you use the nitrate? how long did you cure it for? how does it smell? I – well, me being me, would try a piece! but of course don’t risk it if you’ve reservations.

      • poldo says:

        Hi! Thanks for getting back to me so quick. I did use nitrate and rock salt at a ratio of 1:9 (got that off another site). It cured in my fridge for about 2 months (I think, at least). It smells ok. Actually, it really doesn’t smell like anything. It’s out of the salt and in the freezer now. The fat and meat part looks right. It’s just the skin that’s tinted. I’ll try some later on and let you know. thanks again. LG

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    A Russian, living in London, writing about Soviet kitsch, sex in food and fat' - this would be the headliner, the reality of this blog is, I hope, more delicate’ [....]

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