Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Adventures in Charcuterie - Episode II: Makin' Bacon

Bacon is one of the world's truly perfect foods.  So versatile, it can be eaten as a part of any meal.  So universal, some version of it is featured in every culture that has figured out how to grow pigs.  So delicious, there are entire religions built around not eating it.  It's also gluten-free, so Liz can eat it too!

It should go without saying that having tried my hand at making sausage, that making bacon would be the next logical maneuver.

Mise en Place:
5 lbs of pork belly, skin on
¼ cup dry cure mix (see note at the end of this post for details)
½ cup brown sugar

I like my bacon a little bit sweet, so I decided to go with a brown sugar cure for this first batch.

Step 1: Curing

Making bacon is so damn easy:

  1. Combine the dry cure and the brown sugar. 
  2. Cover the pork belly liberally with the cure/sugar mixture, trying to get a thick, uniform coating over the entire surface
  3. Put the pork belly in a big Ziploc bag
  4. Put the bag in a baking dish to catch potential leaks/spills.
  5. Put the pork belly in the fridge

Seriously, that’s all – I’m still in awe at how simple that is, especially in comparison to making sausage…

Step 2: Waiting

The curing process takes 7-9 days.   
Every 2nd day, pick up the bag, and flip it over to ensure even contact with the liquid that the cure leaches out of the pork.  
The pork will gradually get firmer as the cure progresses.  I let my bacon cure for the full 9 days, with the end result being a touch saltier than I was going for.  Will probably go with 7 or 8 days next time.

Step 3: Rinsing

You don’t want to eat all the curing salts, and other stuff that have leached out to the surface of your now-cured pork belly, so once your cure is done, take the pork out of the bag, and rinse it thoroughly. 
Pat it dry with paper towels for the next step.

Step 4: Low-Temp Roasting

I don’t have a smoker <sad trombone>, so in lieu of that, I roasted the now-cured pork belly for 1 ½ hours at 200F.

Congratulations! You have just made Bacon!

Step 5: Skinning

Immediately after you bring it out of the oven is when you want to remove the skin from your pork. 
It is way, way, WAY easier to do this while the fat is hot and slightly melty.  
Use the longest, sharpest knife you’ve got for this task.  I used my high-carbon steel, Japanese slicing knife for this, but any good, sharp knife will do the job just fine.

Step 6: Slicing

Once the bacon is cool, it is time to slice it.  Slicing bacon by hand is a huge pain in the ass: Not that challenging to do; Just challenging to do well.  I think I need to buy myself a deli slicer for the next time…

Must... purchase... deli slicer...

Step 7: Cooking

Here’s a great tip for cooking bacon:

Prep a pot of simmering water, and before placing the bacon in the frying pan, blanche it in the simmering water for 1 minute before pan frying.  For whatever reason, it reduces shrinkage, and curling, while promoting crispness, yielding great pieces of bacon.

Note that if you use a sweet cure as I did here, the extra sugar creates some char risk in the frying pan, so be careful with that.

Step 8: Eating

I can only liken the experience of eating bacon you have made yourself to that of drinking beer you have made yourself.  Your self-satisfaction score will go off the charts.

Note on Dry Cure:

Making up a batch of dry cure is pretty simple:

1 lb kosher salt
8 oz sugar
2 oz Sodium nitrite (often sold as “pink salt”)

Now, I already hear some of you thinking “Can I maybe get away with not using the Sodium nitrite”?
And the answer is NO!  SERIOUSLY, NO!
The one concern with any cured meat is botulism, and just a small amount of Sodium nitrite botulism-proofs your food.  Don’t try to skate by without it.  Yes, there are studies suggesting that Sodium nitrite isn’t very good for you, but the health risks you assume by eating a small amount of Sodium nitrite in your bacon are miniscule, whereas the health risks you assume by leaving it out are substantial.

Sodium nitrite is inexpensive, and can be procured here:

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