Speaking of Patience

Alaska, Girdwood, Mt Alyeska and the Hotel Alyeska ski resort

You wouldn’t think patience would be as big of a virtue in a professional kitchen, at least not if you watch any of the hundreds of reality TV shows. You know, the ones that glorify the chaos, cacophony and stress that inherently go hand-in-hand with four-star service.

Well… you’d be wrong.

Everyone needs patience on some level. Chefs need to have patience with their staff and co-workers. The staff needs to have patience in order to be attentive of our guests. And, the cooks need patience in order to execute the chefs’ dishes properly (aka let the food realize its maximum potential). Without patience, a braised cut of tough meat could never transcend its humble beginnings, plates wouldn’t reach the pass together, and guests would always be left wanting.

Of course, the team at Seven Glaciers is an exception to the rule.

Let me tell you another story about patience. Enter our air-cured wagyu. What is that, you ask? Wagyu is a Japanese word that literally translates to ‘Japanese beef’. Probably the most famous Wagyu is Kobe beef, named after the area in Japan where the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyū cattle are raised according to strict tradition in Hyōgo Prefecture. The process is very similar to the way wines (and champagne) are produced with great regard for regional heritage and quality control. Each beef has different characteristics depending on region and even adheres to a specific list of criteria dictating where it is raised, breed, diet, fat content and meat quality.

Back to the topic of patience… we decided to give curing our own meats a try after much reflection and observation. The foodstuff that was the inspiration for this experiment/endeavor rests in Spain’s Jamon Iberico de’ Bellota. Similar to Kobe, this finest of all cured ham comes from a specific breed of pig, fed a very strict diet from a specific region. We truly use the highest quality and couldn’t imagine otherwise.

Meet our butcher Emerson Delucia. He butchers all of our whole strip loins in-house (y’know, as in ‘New York’ Strip). Ours come from Snake River Farms “Gold” Wagyu. At the end of every strip loin is a thick piece of elastin that starts at the far end all the way through down to even the last couple of steaks. Emerson has tried everything. Cutting it out, cutting the remaining steaks a little thicker, but we couldn’t figure it out. So, we decided to cure ‘em.

Curing is a process that has been used for centuries to preserve meat from spoiling and ultimately, a more portable subsistence item. Since necessity was the driving force, the first cures were simple – air-drying in the elements—or using salt from evaporated sea water or smoke from campfires. The end goal was always the same: to remove water, inhibit bacteria growth thus preserving the meat.  It was discovered that the chemical changes that occurred inside the meat had a secondary benefit.  There was a more intense flavor and change in textures.

So, taking a basic curing recipe from Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure, we rub the beef in a mixture of salt, curing salt (sodium nitrate) and sugar. After a week, we rub them again. And then again, for another week. At the end of the final week, we rinse them in ice water, tie them in butcher twine and hang them from a rack in our walk-in cooler for 90 days. This is where the patience comes back into play.

The curing salt we use in the curing mix is called curing salt because it contains sodium nitrate. While aging, nitrate breaks down the meat and fat and transforms into nitrite. This transformation, aside form keeping the meat from spoiling, is where the layered intense flavor of cured meats comes from. For example, the Wagyu we use when eaten raw or cooked tastes very beefy and rich due to its high fat content and wonderful meat quality. However, after 90 days of aging, the meat tastes like butta… literally. If you could make a deli meat that tasted like pure beef on a piece of fresh baked bread with rich European butter and a hint of salt… this would be it! Did I mention it just melts in your mouth?!

The results of this three-month curing process can be enjoyed as a lunch starter or après ski treat on the new winter Seven Glaciers Lunch Menu. The plate features homemade giardiniera, stone ground mustard and a samploe of three (out of of four) house-made cured meats. And throughout the winter, keep an eye out pork liver terrine, smoked trout and elk sopressata. Remember, this all takes patience (aka 90 days of curing perfection) and the cured selections may change on you, so just think of it as a box of chocolates…

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