A couple years ago Tina had some minor surgery that was major enough to require general anesthesia. After waking up, the recovery nurses told her that she had the biggest, silliest smile on her face when she started stirring. They asked what she was thinking about. Tina replied, “I’m makin’ bacon.”
That’s my girl.
At that point she was probably having sweet thoughts of our store-bought bacon gently frying away on a Saturday morning…or maybe on a Sunday afternoon for a monster BLT. What we’ve come to realize now though is that making bacon is almost as easy as makin’ bacon.
There’s a wonderful, wonderful book that goes by the name of Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Charcuterie is, as the subtitle implies, “the art of salting, smoking and curing.” It’s an old, old art that was practiced once to allow people to make the most of their food, and continues now mostly because it allows us to make our food damn tasty. There’s also a definite appeal in carrying on the “old ways.” The book is overflowing with information and recipes regarding all sorts of cured and preserved meats, poultry and fish and running throughout the whole thing is a deep, appreciative love letter to the pig.
I’m not going to present a bacon recipe here, first, because I think the book is worth it’s weight in
gold pork and second, because there’s a safety issue. The book discusses a bit of the science of curing and has key points on how to do this in a way that won’t send your family to the hospital. I’m not prepared to deliver that information – I’m just here to make you drool over photos of still-warm bacon. Actually, I’d like to show just how easy it is to make. You really only need two things that might require a little effort to track down, but I’m guessing that if you’re here, you’re willing to expend a little energy in the interest of porkiness.
1) Pink salt (also known as Instacure #1 and a few other names) – it’s regular salt with nitrites and pink color. The pink color is so you don’t use it as regular salt and end up ingesting a bunch of nitrites. Nitrites are bad to ingest? Well, too much is bad, like just about anything else. But some is good and necessary – it will help keep botulism away, keeping your bacon safe and delicious. I’m lucky enough to live around the corner from one of the sources listed in the book – The Sausage Maker has all kinds of curing supplies, does mail-order/internet business, and pink salt is just as cheap as regular salt. I’ve made bacon 3 times now, and I’m still on my first bag of it. Good news all around.
2) Pork belly – if you’ve seen a big slab of uncut bacon, you’ve seen pork belly – a “side” of bacon is really a big hunk of pork belly – the belly’s probably been trimmed some, but the shape and the components (the layers of fat and protein) are the same. I’m guessing you can’t get raw pork belly at most regular ol’ supermarkets, and that’s probably a good thing. If you’re going all out and making your own bacon, you might as well use good pork. The nice thing about pigs is that they are all over the place. I guessing you can find quality naturally raised pork somewhere nearby, and if you can’t, there are several places on the internet willing to overcharge you for it.
Once you’ve got those two, you’re all set. You mix a cure with regular kosher salt, pink salt and sugar. I’ve added both maple syrup and brown sugar to the batch pictured here as well. I’m a sucker for the salty, sweet and smoky. The first batch I did had coriander, bay leaves and some other more savory seasonings – also fantastic. Options are endless.
Above is the bacon with its cure and in its bag – it needs to sit in the fridge for about a week, until it feels nice and firm. You can flip it around and squish the bag to redistribute the cure nightly. It’s good – you can feel as if you’re taking part in the magic.
Once it’s firm, it comes out of the bag, gets rinsed, patted dry, and set back in the fridge, on a rack, for a couple days. At this point, it looks a lot like the original belly, just a little firmer.
At this point there’s a couple choices – you can just put it in the oven on a low temperature until it hits 150 internally, and you’ll have something that’s far and above your normal, thin, pre-sliced bacon (which we’ll all admit is still delicious). If you want your bacon to achieve nirvana though, the best way is to give it some smoke.
I don’t own a smoker, but I do have a charcoal grill (the trusty Weber Kettle) and that’s all you need. Heat a chimney’s worth of charcoal and fill half the grill, with a pan full of water on the other half. Take a couple big handfuls of wood chunks/chips that have been soaked in water for about an hour and put them on the coals. On the top grate, put the pork belly above the water tray, opposite the coals. Open all vents, close the lid. I got about 45 minutes of smoking time, flipping the belly every 15 minutes. After that, it can finish in the oven – with the added bonus of filling your house with the smell of smoky bacon.
This is after the smoke:
And this is after the oven:
So the results. You’ve got a big slab of uncut bacon. Possibilities: Limitless. You can cut out regular slices. You can make cubes. You can cut out little bacon octopi or even a big bacon Santa for the holidays.
Aside from bacon and eggs – there’s Spaghetti Carbonara (quite possibly the best pasta dish ever) and the obvious BLT.
More unusual options? I’ve had the pleasure of sampling both bacon cookies (wonderful) and bacon infused bourbon (interesting), if you need some inspiration.
The best? Well, it’s always goes back to the the simplest – make some eggs in your favorite style, a pile of toast, cook the bacon to a nice chewy, crispiness and never look back.