If you follow my blog even the slightest bit, you will know I love pork. Especially bacon. And my 4 year old loves bacon so much that given the choice between me and bacon, I think the bacon would win. Never mind that I gave birth to her.
I have always entertained the idea of curing my own bacon, but just never got around to it. Then Charcutepalooza happened. WHAT happened you say? Charcutepalooza is all about meat. Bloggers Cathy of Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen and Kim of The Yummy Mummy came up with the idea of a Year of Charcuterie, or curing your own meats, sausages, pate, etc. Being the meat lover I am, this was right up my alley! As I am always late to everything these days, I missed the January challenge of making duck prosciutto. I’ll make that one later, although here in Southern California I may be hard pressed to find a place cool and humid enough to actually cure it. I’ll worry about that later. . .
February is all about the salt cure. And I am all about the bacon. My Garde Mange classes in culinary school were some of my favorites, but I have been out of school for a long time so I needed a refresher on curing meat. I dusted off my old textbooks and got to studying. It was like riding a bicycle, or pig as the case may be.
First, I had to get a pork belly. I went to my local restaurant supply store and they had them by the case, which actually had TWO full pork bellies. I was in hog heaven! So now I have another belly in the freezer waiting to be cured.
Next I needed some Prague powder #1 or pink curing salt. Pink salt is a salt and sodium nitrite, which helps prevent the growth of botulism while curing your meats. I ordered some from one of my favorite spice purveyors The Spice House, but then got antsy and got a giant 5 pound bag from another wholesale restaurant supply place in the produce district of downtown Los Angeles. I’ll be curing meat for years to come with the size of this bag! And that’s all right with me.
What flavors did I want to infuse my bacon with while I cured it? I like my bacon pure, tasting slightly of smoke and sweet porkiness. Yes I know that porkiness is not a word, but it DOES exist in my vocabulary. I would cure the bacon with the classic combination of sweet and salty.
When you are chef, people tend to gift you with food related items. I had three or four kinds of different salts in my pantry that were given to me, on top of my staples of kosher and sea salt. And now pink salt, since I have so much it may as well be considered a staple now! I pulled about a bag of Hawaiian pink salt from the island of Kauai. The salt is tinted pink from the red clay found on the island. The salt actually has a bit of an earthy flavor too. I decided this would be a good addition to my bacon cure. The salty part was covered.
For the sweet side of things, I grabbed some maple syrup, since bacon and maple go together so well. Who doesn’t like to dip their bacon in the maple syrup while eating pancakes? I also wanted another type of sweetener, something a bit deeper. I decided to use demerara or unrefined cane sugar. The taste of demerara is like brown sugar, but with a hint of molasses. The crystals are large, very similar in size to the Hawaiian salt.
And lastly, lots of Tellicherry peppercorns, barely crushed, just enough to release their incredible, fruity heat.
Maple-Peppercorn Bacon Cure
4 ounces Hawaiian pink salt
4 tsp Prague powder or pink curing salt
1/2 cup demerara or turbinado sugar
1/4 cup cracked Tellicherry peppercorns
1 cup maple syrup
10 pound fresh pork belly, skin removed (save it for crackling – recipe post to come!)
Mix the salts, peppercorns and maple syrup together in a small bowl. Place the pork belly in a container large enough for it to lay flat. Because mine was so large I used an aluminium steam table insert.
Pour half of the cure over the meat and gently massage it into and all over the meat. Turn the belly over, and repeat with the remaining cure.
Cover your pork belly tightly, and place it in the refrigerator. Now wait. And wait. And wait.
Every couple of days I would massage the belly and turn it over. After seven days the meat will have firmed up considerably, and is now almost ready to smoke. I rinsed the cure off of the meat, and dried it. I then put it onto a baking sheet uncovered, and placed in back into the refrigerator to air dry for a day.
I borrowed a smoker from my next door neighbor, who doesn’t realize yet I am not returning it. I even got to see two black widow spiders up close, as they hitched a ride on the smoker as my neighbor passed it over the fence. After I screamed like a girl, and threw the water pan across the grass, I composed myself and assembled the smoker. I had bacon to make, and didn’t have time to fool with a couple of poisonous spiders!
After air drying, I smoked the bacon using mesquite hardwood chunks for charcoal, and applewood chips for my smoke flavor. The bacon smoked for almost four hours, and came out of the smoker a beautiful, burnished brown.
Oh the joy! I showed my 4 year old all the bacon her Mama had made, and she jumped around the kitchen. Most kids jump for candy, my kid jumps for bacon! She then demanded some for dinner, so we had bacon for dinner. And it was good. Damn good.
As God is my witness, I will never buy supermarket bacon again! (with apologies to Scarlett O’Hara)
My next post will be Bacon-Manchego Biscuits, which showcase the incredible flavor of this home cured bacon.