March 29, 2013

Curing bacon

Occasionally we get big chunks of pork belly with our meat CSA, and as I outlined in the pancetta post, this is one cut of meat which is not that good fresh but unbeatable when cured. I've done two pancettas to date, but I thought it might be fun to cure a piece as bacon.

Bacon and pancetta are of course both cured pork belly, but they differ in the typical spice mix and curing procedure. While pancetta is savory, bacon is often sweet though not necessarily so. After being exposed to a chemical cure in the fridge for about a week, pancetta goes in the curing chamber to dry for around three weeks, whereas bacon gets a one day dry in the fridge and is then smoked.

To start this bacon off, I mixed up a cure based on the bacon cure in Charcuterie, by Ruhlman & Polcyn, also reproduced at Ruhlman's blog, scaled for my piece of meat and with a lesser amount of honey swapped in for the sugar. I used garlic, pepper, and bayleaf as the spices.

I rubbed this all over the 1100g piece of thick belly.

It went into a ziploc, then a tupperware. It spent the next two weeks in the fridge, getting flipped every couple days to distribute the cure inside the bag.

When it came out of the fridge, I washed it off and patted it dry. At this stage it is much stiffer than it was when it was uncured. I applied some course black pepper after drying.

The belly went onto a rack in the fridge to dry for a day.

I dug up some applewood chips we bought years ago when we tried smoking our turkey for thanksgiving on the grill (turned out well, but lack of pan dripping for gravy was a problem). The chips got soaked in water overnight.

The next day, the wood chips were drained and the belly taken out of the fridge.

We built a tiny fire in the grill with a handful of hardwood lump charcoal. The fire was all the way over to one side, with the belly on the other side. We put on a handful of soaked applewood chips and closed the vents on top of the grill most of the way.

Putting a thermocouple down the vent of the grill indicated the inside was around 105C, perhaps a bit hot. It took a little over two hours for the middle of the belly to get up to 65C. This is faster than optimal, which can probably be attributed to the smoking being too hot, but it looked fantastic when we were done. We puttered around the backyard while the bacon was smoking, occasionally adding a little more charcoal or wood chips as needed.

When it came off the grill, Becky sliced the skin off the top.

We tried slicing it up and frying it for dinner, to eat atop some french bread we had baked that afternoon. It tastes good, but I think I may have messed up the measurements for the cure. The bacon doesn't get crispy in the pan but does burn very easily before the fat crisps, and is much too sweet. Maybe I made a mistake while measuring?

Taste testers are not happy about the charred state of the bacon.

It worked a bit better to constantly be turning the pieces in the pan and to just take them out before they burn, rather than trying to let them get crispy.

It is does have an intense and smoky flavor to it, which is delicious, but it needs some work to be more bacon-like at the texture and cooking level. We won't have any trouble eating it up, and we just got another piece of belly with the last CSA load so we'll have a chance to make refinements next time.

Update - 5/6/2013
Bacon slab #2. This 1050g piece of belly came from our meat CSA. I used the recipe at Ruhlman's blog, basically halving the proportions there to fit our chunk of pork. Buster helped me ready the spices for the cure.

I left it in the cure for 13 days in a ziploc inside a tupperware for secondary containment. Every couple days I would flip it over. Then it was rinsed, patted dry, and allowed to dry out in the fridge overnight. On Saturday we smoked it over applewood chips in the grill for about three hours, cut the rind off, and refrigerated it. I actually put it in the freezer for a while to firm up even more, then sliced it up with a sharp knife.

Buster was hanging out gobbling up pieces of this uncooked bacon like mad. He must have eaten like 5 pieces!

This bacon turned out nicely. It is still more prone to burning than store bacon, but not nearly to the extent we saw with bacon #1; I'm sure I must have made a mistake in calculating the portions on that one. The flavor is fantastic; deep pork flavor heavily tinged with smoke and spices. We probably ate 500g of it just on Sunday. One mystery is that it doesn't get crispy like store bacon does. Maybe this is just because I can't slice it thin enough with a kitchen knife?

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