During the XXth century, the Romanian peasants preserved their meat by smoking it. Fresh meat was consumed only one week after the sacrifice. Although they now have different ways of preserving it, the traditional smoked meat is still preferred for it’s flavor. It earned the place of honor at the table each Christmas.
The Traditional Methods of Smoking Meat in Romania
The pigs are sacrificed on the 20th of December, on Ignat Day. A part of it is refrigerated and consumed in the next days, other parts are frozen, and the rest is smoked: the pork butt, lard, bacon, tenderloin, sausages. The meat is placed in barrels, and completely covered in kosher salt. This will help preserve the meat and kill bacteria. After 24 hours, the salt is wiped off, or washed away.
Cold Smoking Meat The Old Fashioned Way
The cold smoking is used as a flavor enhancer. The meat is stored away from the source of heat. The smoke from the stove is draining into the smoker through a tube buried in soil. In the past, peasants would build their houses in ways that made it easier to smoke meat during winter, by just hanging it to dry off in the attic. The fumes from the stove escaped inside the attic through two vents built in the ceiling.
The First Time I Ever Ate A True, Well Cooked Smoked Meat
The hot smoke will not only smoke the meat, but also cook it at medium-high temperature (194 F). If you ever traveled to rural areas of Romania, you probably saw some of these small wooden huts in people’s yards.
The meat is smoked inside these temporary constructions, called afumatoare. You don’t want to know how tasty the meat is. How it melts in your mouth. Last month was the first time I ever ate a true smoked meat, when we met this amazing family from North Romania, Bukowina. We came looking for a loom weaver, and instead we found these good people carrying smoked meat.
As he explained, beech is the wood of choice, one of the best wood for burning and producing good heat output. The meat is hung inside the smoker.
He lights a strong fire somewhere outside, takes the embers and places them on a metal disc, underneath the meat. He does this five times in that day. Peasants don’t take any temperature, they just know when the meat is ready.
The next day, it is carried and stored in the refrigerator, or in the attic. The meat is well cooked, with a nice taste of smoke, and it melts in your mouth.
They were so courteous to us, allowing us to film their food, then inviting us to taste it. The taste of smoke wasn’t too intense. They even gave us a large cut of meat and a tenderloin to take home.