Saturday, November 07, 2009

It took a week, but it was worth it

Saturday was the most gorgeous of fall days. I ran 11 miles in the morning in a crisp, but comfortable, 47 degrees with clear skies.

A delightful run. Got to see the sun rising over the lake, and I encountered a few remaining fall migrants, including a northern flicker, a pair of northern shovelers, and several beautiful hooded mergansers. All of our leaves are gone, so there are really no fall colors that remain, but a great day to be a runner nonetheless.

But enough about that. I am here to talk about bacon - because I made some of my own.

This is a project that actually started a week ago Friday (longer if you count the ordering process). My local meat market procured me a really nice fresh pork belly, five pounds worth. My objective was to make the "Fresh Bacon" recipe from Ruhlman's and Polcyn's book, Charcuterie.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am not an expert at curing meats. If you want to attempt this, please do your research. I would highly recommend you read "Charcuterie," or seek out other books on curing meats for more information before starting any project. It is important to do this so you know what you need, and what you are doing!

To make the bacon recipe, I also needed curing salt commonly called "pink salt." I ordered this from Butcher-Packer, and it was dirt cheap. From there, I made my dry cure with kosher salt, sugar, and the pink salt. (See Ruhlman's recipe for dry cure here, as well as a nice overview of curing)

ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: It can be confusing, as "pink salt" often is called by different product names, such as "Prague powder #1," "DQ Curing Salt," and others. What this is referring to is a curing salt with a 6.25% sodium nitrite concentration, and it is tinted pink to set it apart and prevent accidental usage. It can be harmful if ingested in quantity, so follow any recipes that use pink salt precisely, and keep it away from the kids. Again, read "Charcuterie," or another authority on meat curing, so you know exactly what product you are using!

Some dry cure was spread all over the pork belly, along with brown sugar and maple syrup, as I wanted to make the sweeter variation from the book. The pork belly is tossed into a huge ziplock bag and placed in the fridge for a week. A lot of liquid is released during curing, and I turned it every day to distribute the cure evenly.

Pork belly on Day 1 - coated with dry cure, brown sugar, and maple syrup, ready for the fridge

After seven days, I removed the pork belly. It was rinsed under cold water to remove any excess cure. After patting it dry, I placed it in my roasting pan on a rack and ground some fresh cracked black pepper over the top on the bacon, just because bacon and black pepper is awesome. Since this is a fresh bacon recipe that wasn't going to be smoked, I also took a page from Stumptown Savoury and used a scant amount of liquid smoke (and I mean "scant," like less than a teaspoon - that is powerful stuff!). However, I applied my liquid smoke before roasting as opposed to after when the meat cools.

Cured pork belly on Day 7, ready for the oven

It went into a 200 degree (F) oven to slow roast. I inserted a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the cured belly and set it to go off when it hit 150 degrees. When it finished, this is what I had:

Bacon out of the oven after roasting

I removed the rind while the bacon was still hot, and then allowed to cool on a rack. Once cooled down, I cut it into large chunks suitable for slicing later.

You can see the meat is uniformly pink throughout, so the cure did its job

I fried up a few slices to go along with an omelette for my dinner. The slices were so long that they wouldn't fit in my pan, so I cut a section in half to make smaller slices!

Bacon in the pan

The great thing about any kind of artisan bacon is that it doesn't wither away to nothing when cooked. It remains dense and meaty. I am not one for ultra crispy bacon, so I fried these up just to get a little color on them. The aroma was fantastic! You could definitely smell the sweetness from the maple and brown sugar, and that aided in the browning as well.

The finished product - homemade bacon and eggs!

The taste? Oh, baby! You can definitely tasty the maple sweetness, and there is a tiny hint of smoke. The bacon was slightly salty, but what can you expect for something cured in salt? :) It has a great chewiness, and the sweetness mixed with the richness of the pork fat was really, really yummy.

So was it worth it to take a week to make my own bacon? Heck yeah! Other than taking a lot of time, it was ridiculously easy. This recipe only cost me about $12 and change to make, and I now have a few pounds of delicious homemade bacon in my freezer.

Alright, enough about bacon. Back to running tomorrow! :)

Who likes homemade bacon? Jean likes homemade bacon!

Until next time,

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