Some folks already realize that I make sausage. From scratch. Yes, with the big long hog intestine casing and the ground up meat. That sausage. And it's delicious (or so says the many tasters who've been lucky recipients of said sausages).
Whereas sausage was a great entry point into the world of meat, it wasn't too long ago that I was surfing over to Butcher & Packer for some new natural casings when I saw this phenomenal looking book: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. And so began the journey into the art of charcuterie.
This week after obtaining curing salt, a remote probe meat thermometer, a Salter-brand scale (accurate from 1/4 of an oz up to 11 lbs!) and a fresh pork belly from El Toro Meats I have officially cured my own bacon. I made about a pound of standard cure out of nitrate-based salt (aka pink salt or curing salt), kosher salt and sugar. And then I spread it on that 3lb pork belly and flipped and waited and flipped and waited. 7 days.
The process was one in which I truly had to trust Chef Brian Polcyn. It's really quite easy. However the concept is counter intuitive to everything we've been taught. Why? Well, several reasons:
- Leaving a piece of meat in the fridge for 7 days usually means that your significant other starts to question your sanity and goes looking for green or blue fuzzy stuff on the meat.
- The amount of curing salt needed (that is, the salt with the nitrates) is so minute that one questions if this really is going to work (note: it does)
- There is a big thick skin on a pork belly. And though bacon has lots of fat on it, even a seasoned sausage-maker such as myself starts to wonder if this sucker isn't supposed to be trimmed in some way (it's trimmed post-smoking/baking)
After baking one can taste the belly warm; it really tastes somewhere between a fresh ham and a pork loin with salt (the curing salts are thorougly rinsed before baking, FYI). My girlfriend and I were doubting that it would really taste like bacon if cooked in a pan. After all, it was tasting like ham to us and why would cooking it render the taste changed?
Live and learn. I sliced the whole 3 lbs into slices of medium-thickness. Then I threw a few in a small All-Clad pan (no non-stick here) and turned on medium heat. The bacon started sizzling and as soon as the fat was liquefied I knew I had done good. The bacon strips become juicy. The fat rendered a smell that filled the house with bacon-ey goodness. As it cooked, the "ham-like" belly turned to lean and crispy strips. And the taste? Out of this world. I've made my own bacon as successfully as I made sausage. And I'm moving forward.
Mission Accomplished. From here on out it's time to make my own charcuterie. I'm shooting for nova lox, prosciutto, Italian dried sausages, etc.
And most readers might have the same skeptical reaction that everyone had when my buddy Rob and I undertook the sausage endeavor. Crazy? Maybe. Breakfast? Delicious.