The world of Chinese cured meats is incredibly diverse, with flavors ranging from sweet to spicy. This our guide to the best salted meat in China.
Unlike with Italian ham and sausage, there isn’t much knowledge about Chinese cured meats in English.
They’re hard to find even in specialty supermarkets due to import restrictions. Some varieties, like Jinhua ham, are entirely banned from export to the States.
But the world of Chinese cured meats is exhilarating. There are so many flavors and regional variants—from sausages flavored with sweet rice wine in Guangdong, to rabbit cured in its own blood in Sichuan.
In cities across China, it’s not uncommon to see chunks of homemade sausage and pork belly hanging outside individual apartment windows alongside rows of crisp laundry.
In Chinese cuisine, cured meats are like sidekicks. They’re seldom the main attraction, instead used as flavoring to enhance a dish.
In Hong Kong, for example, sausage is thrown into clay pot rice with a motley of vegetables and spices. In Yunnan, preserved goose is cut into pieces and tossed in a broth with Chinese yam and ginger.
Each region has its own specialty. Here’s our guide to six of the most well-known varieties.
Pork sausage 腊肠
There are many different varieties of pork sausage. Generally, they are stuffed with ground pig meat and fat and then smoked over an open fire.
But each region adds its own seasoning to the mix. The Cantonese variation is sweet, flavored with sugar, rice wine, and soy sauce.
In Sichuan Province, the sausages tend to be spicier. It is seasoned with chili pepper and Sichuan pepper powder, and smoked over cypress boughs.
Cured goose 板鹅
Cured goose is a specialty of the Hui people, a Muslim minority in China that generally follows a halal diet.
The goose is slaughtered, butchered, and rubbed with baijiu—a high-alcohol Chinese spirit—and salt, which dries out the meat and stops bacteria from growing on it. This is a process called salt curing.
(Read more: Why Sichuan pickles are a class apart)
The carcass is pressed for a day, and then propped open with chopsticks and dried in a cold, well-ventilated place. The fatty parts of the goose can be rendered into fat, and the lean parts are great in a stew.
Jinhua ham 金华火腿
This ham comes from the city of Jinhua in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang. It usually comes out quite smoky, and is used to flavor stews and braises, or to make stock. Some believe the European process for dry-curing ham came from Jinhua via the Silk Road.
A fat chunk of pig thigh is marinated in salt for two months, washed, and then dried for up to eight months in a low-temperature room. Traditionally, a local breed of pig called 兩頭烏 liangtouwu was used to make this ham. The pig is prized for its petite size and high fat content.
Nanjing salted duck 盐水鸭
In the nearby city of Nanjing, duck is an everyday affair. It is estimated that the city itself goes through 200 million ducks a year.
The most famous dish is a cold, salted duck. It’s first brined in a bath of salt and peppercorns, and then hung up for three days.
The salt brine draws out the natural flavors, and the final product is a supple but ghastly white piece of poultry.
Red rabbit 红兔
Rabbit is a common ingredient in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, where 60 percent of the country’s rabbit meat is consumed.
On the outskirts of the capital city of Chengdu is a town called Guanghan, where red rabbit is rubbed in a mixture of its own blood and spices, and then cured.
It’s then stewed in broth, which deepens its flavor and gives it a bouncy texture.
Ganba is a yak jerky that’s especially prominent in southwestern Yunnan Province. It’s a lean cut of beef that’s salted and spiced and then air-dried for several weeks.
The cut is then rubbed with fennel, Sichuan peppercorns, chili, and fennel.
This is a delicacy in subsistence communities throughout rural Yunnan because it stores well and packs in quite a bit of flavor.