|Make Bacon, Not War!|
Mr. B, when necessary, can let loose a volley of expletives to match the seriousness of any situation, but rarely, is he rendered speechless. Fearing the worst, I flung my dish towel aside and made haste for the dining room and there I found Mr. B, tightly clutching the newspaper, his eyes wide in disbelief.
"What is it," I implored, fearing some terrible news.
And then he began with the most dreaded of openings, "You're never going to believe this..." and commenced to read the article on the page in his hand. With each sentence and paragraph the story became more grim and sinister. By the time he finished, I could only shake my head in disbelief.
The article? There was a fight going down in San Francisco. Make no mistake, this was a brutal fight that resulted in a restaurant being shut down—indefinitely—until matters could be resolved in City Hall. The restaurant Bacon Bacon was under fire because a couple of neighbors complained about the smell of bacon. WTH? I don't know anyone—vegetarians included—who doesn't like the smell of bacon.
Anyhow, once I got over my disbelief, I made my way back to the kitchen. I still had a pound of the homemade bacon that I'd cured for my article, "Pork Belly, My Love," back in the fall, and I was determined to show my support for the cause—Mr. B and I were going to eat a pound of bacon in solidarity!
That got me thinking. The county fair starts this week, which means there's soon to be a lot of locally raised pork belly on the market. That means it's about to be bacon season again. So, here's my recipe for making bacon. Won't you join me in the cause?
How to cure bacon
Curing bacon is an easy and rewarding project, but before you can get started, youʼll
need two important ingredients that arenʼt readily available from your grocery store. The
first is called ʻpinkʼ salt, a sodium nitrate concentration that prevents botulism by
inhibiting the growth of bacteria. Pink salt is also called DC Cure or DC Curing Salt and
can be ordered online. The second item youʼre going to need is a pork belly. You can
easily order a pork belly from the butcher at your local grocery store, but if youʼre going
to go to all the trouble of making your own bacon, itʼs really worth the extra effort to seek
out a butcher who can order you a local, pastured pork belly. Pastured pork means that
the pig lived and grazed on the land, most likely locally. An average pork belly is
between 5 and 7 pounds, so plan on cutting your belly into three even pieces.
Once you have your pink salt and your pork belly, youʼre ready to make bacon.
4 ounces Kosher salt
1 tablespoon pink curing salt
8 tablespoons fresh cracked pepper
1 tablespoon fresh grated nutmeg
8 Bay leaves, crushed
1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
8-12 peeled and crushed garlic cloves
pure maple syrup
In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients together, except for the crushed garlic cloves and
the maple syrup.
You will also need one 2 gallon zip top bag for each piece of pork belly.
1. Find a clean space to work. I wash my utensils and wipe down my countertops with a
weak bleach solution before beginning. Prepare your spice mix and get any other
ingredients you plan on using before you start working with your pork belly.
2. Trim your pork belly. You can ask your butcher to remove the thin, white skin, or you
can remove it yourself with a sharp knife. Once removed, save the skin to add flavor
to a pot of beans or soup.
3. Cut your pork belly, lengthwise, into 2-3 equal pieces.
sugar mixture evenly on top. Gently massage the mixture into the meat, pushing it into
any crevices, cracks or folds and along the sides.
5. Flip the bellies over and do the same to the second side; use all of the mixture.
6. Place each individual piece into an extra large plastic zip bag and top with 2 smashed
garlic cloves; drizzle with maple syrup.
7. Carefully flip the bellies over and add another 2 smashed garlic cloves and drizzle
with additional maple syrup.
8. Using your hands, massage the bellies through the plastic bag, pushing the garlic
cloves into the meat.
9. Pat the plastic bag flat against the meat and then roll the air out of the bag; seal and
zip the bag. Check to make sure there are no air pockets.
10. Set the plastic bags into a plastic container, making sure that the each of the pork
bellies and the bags are flat and not folded. Stack on top of each other.
11. Place in the refrigerator on a bottom shelf where they will not be disturbed.
12. After two days, massage each belly, through the bag, and flip it over so that it is on
the other side. If the belly was on the bottom of the stack, move it to the top, so that
each belly is massaged, flipped and moved accordingly.
13. Repeat step 11 again on days four and six.
14. After one week, itʼs time to finish the process by either smoking your bellies or slow
cooking them in an oven.
15. To smoke the bellies, prepare a kettle BBQ or smoker. For the best flavor,
incorporate local applewood and pecan shells. Smoke curing usually takes several
hours, and should be tailored to your individual tastes and preferences.
16. To finish the bellies in the oven, preheat oven to 200°. Place the pork bellies on a
rack, on a sheet pan, taking care to make sure they do not touch each other. Bake
for 2 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 150°.
17. Let the pork bellies cool and then slice into strips. The best way to accomplish
uniform slices is to use a slicer, but a sharp knife, patience and a steady hand can
work just as well.
18. Cook bacon strips. The best way to cook bacon is to lay strips flat onto a sheet pan,
without any overlap, and bake in a 350° oven. Turn once; bake until crisp.