Home-made Bacon, The Perfect Gift.
I am ready to give you a recipe for bacon. What's that? You already have one? I mean curing bacon, at home, and I want to put the bacon hoopla to rest right now: You're going to make this with the cheapest piece of meat you can find and cure it with ingredients you have in the kitchen right now. And it's gonna taste like bacon which means it's gonna taste great.
Over the past few months I have cured nearly forty pounds of bacon. I have brined it, dry rubbed it, used nitrites, not used nitrites, forgot sugar, hot smoked, cold smoked, no smoked, and then fed it all to my family and friends. So far nobody has complained.
But let's forget get all that for a moment. I want to talk to you about bacon, I want to make sure you know it's okay to strip away all the hype surrounding bacon and pork belly right now. Long after the Baconfests and BaconCamps and the "Current culinary couture (that)centers on () pork and farmers," go away, bacon will still be here for you. I want assure you that you can find bacon happiness in your own kitchen. So go head and chuck the rock star chefs and their rumaki redux, cancel your mail-order of double applewood smoked artisinal bacon from Oklahoma, it's time to take bacon back.
Bacon is our American heritage. Mariani reports in the Dictionary of American Food and Drink that "Bacon has long been a staple of households because of a long history of pork consumption and hog butchery."
Waverly Root, in the encyclopedic tome, Food notes "America was built by pioneers and pigs. The covered wagons which started west, even before the Gold Rush usually carried seventy-five pounds of bacon per adult."
Now I could go on quoting sources stressing the historical importance of salting and smoking pork as a matter of preservation and economics, but I think that would miss the most important connection between us and bacon, the taste. Salt, sugar, smoke, and fat. Are you ready to make some bacon?
As I have mentioned in a previous post the hardest part of the bacon operation is procuring pork belly. Grocery stores usually don't carry the cut so you got to be creative. I get mine from a small meat packer that sells retail, look for a packer in your area. You could check with your favorite pork purveyor at the farmer's market. Also stores specializing in Asian or Latino food are good bets. Last week I got pork belly already cut into 2-1/2lb pieces at CAM Asia Supermarket in Columbus. When choosing a belly go for the thickest you can find, that'll make the best bacon. At the meat packer I have to buy a whole piece which can be 10 to 12 pounds and I have written the recipe for that amount. In terms of price I pay 1.39/lb at the packer, CAM charged us $2.25/lb, the price will go up from there.
Sugar, salt and belly and you got bacon, the rest is icing. But icing is good sometimes, no? I have come to favor a combination pepper mustard, coriander, allspice, and bay (AKA pickling spice)to cure bacon and ham. But really salt and sugar is it; I used to believe that sugar (especially for brining) was not necessary but after side by side comparisons, sugar balances the salt.
Another important ingredient is curing salt. This ingredient goes by different names such as Insta cure #1, Prague Powder #1, DQ Cure, and it is 6.25 percent sodium nitrite. You can get this stuff mail order, but I buy mine at The Spice House.
Top piece cured with curing salt bottom piece without.
I have no problem using this stuff, it contributes to flavor, color and it substantially increases self life. Plus, since I'm certified in food service sanitation by the state of Illinois, I can't recommend cold smoking meat without using nitrites. But, back to what I said in the beginning, do you have pink salt in your kitchen? Do you need it to make bacon? Let's move on.
There are two ways to cure bacon,
applying a dry rub
or pickling in a brine.
I've done dry rub lots of times it's quick to start and it doesn't take a whole lot of room in the fridge. The first bacon I made was with a recipe from Charcuterie which procribed a dry rub. But I have come to like the pickle because the cure time is shorter and the cure is more thorough than the dry rub.
Smoke is a visceral obsession. It is an olfactory memory that has collected and compounded in the human being for millions of years. The smell stands for warmth, safety and prosperity. Taking in this memory welted to fat, salt and sugar connects us to all who have come before us. It's the smile at the corners of our eyes.
So, is it important?
If you have a grill of some type then you should be smoking bacon. I have smoked bacon in many different ways, and I have always come away with the same conclusion: I don't like making a big production out of it. Please understand I am not some sort of artisinal baconphile, I don't dial my recipe on single grains salt or handfuls of hand hewn sawdust or multiple days of cold smoking. Minor tweaks I cannot do. I'm big picture: Look like bacon? Taste like bacon? Too salty? For finishing bacon I like hot smoking. I set an fire in the grill/smoker at 250F and cook until the bacon gets to a internal temperature of 150-160F. In terms time, it's usually two hours. Get some wood chips from the hardware store, cut up any sort of hardwood that you may have laying around, Two hours of gentle smoke makes a fine bacon.
Bacon finished in the oven without smoke is a perfectly delicious endeavour. In England cured belly without the smoke is called green bacon.
The recipe for Bacon
1 pork belly 10-12 pounds, skin on
5 L water
50g Curing Salt*
16g Black peppercorns
10g brown mustard seed
4 bay leaves
*You can substitute an equal amount of regular salt for curing salt.
Mise en Bacon: Find non-reactive container(s) to brine belly. Trim into manageable squares. Save scraps for sausage, lard, or just throw them in the pickle.
Combine water, salt, sugar and pickling spices(if using, remember they're icing) and boil for one minute. The brine needs to cool (Not in the fridge) to 70F.
Make an ice bath in the sink or use ice paddles to cool quicker. I made ice paddles by freezing water in one quart milk jugs.
Immerse belly into cooled brine in non-reactive containers, refrigerate. Cure for three days.
The bacon needs to dry before smoking. Pull it from the brine and let it rest on a rack or dangle for a day. The stainless steel hooks pictured above came from an IKEA pot rack.
When you are ready to finish the bacon heat Smoker/grill/oven to 250F. Cook bacon to Intemp of 150F. About two hours.
Allow the bacon to cool, but while warm remove the rind (skin). You can save the rind for flavoring soups or beans.
Once cooled wrap and refrigerate. You can fry some up now, but it tastes better the next day.
I can't tell you exactly when bacon goes bad, I have kept bacon (cured with nitrites) in my fridge for months. For the stuff cured with just regular salt I start noticing change after a couple of weeks. Therefore I recommend you freeze this bacon after ten days.
SO you got all this bacon what are you going to do with it?
You could enter a BLT from scratch contest (or not)
Eat it for breakfast,
Or you can make bacon bratwurst.
Bacon works great in a supporting role too: Stews, beans, chili, meatloaf, pate, pizza, quiche. Bacon goes everywhere.
If you can't get you hands on pork belly, you can try a fatty piece of pork shoulder in the brine, I've done it a couple of times, it works well.
Whatever you do, make bacon, make it yours. If you have any questions please ask, I'm here to help.