It is the time of year that hearty fare beckons us to the table. It is also the traditional time of year to harvest those animals that would supply meat through the cold winter months. For much of Europe and North America this meant hogs, a source of hams, roasts, ribs and bacon. Yes bacon, smokey, sweet and rich.
Some might question why bacon is a topic for The Gastronomic Gardener. To me, making your own bacon, being involved in the process, is nearly as important as growing your own vegetables. It is what I’ll call food intimacy. No, I don’t mean the art of the seduction meal, though that certainly has its merits. I’m talking about growing your own vegetables, or processing your own meat into products you love instead of chucking a shrink wrapped package into your shopping cart at the super-mega-hyper food market. Hunters get this, so do farmers. We are only a few generations past the point where most people had a better handle on where their food came from. It was in their best interest then and I believe it is our best interest now. If you think for a moment the few major food producers have much more than profit on their mind, then I think you are deluding yourself. It’s true, not everyone can grow their own hogs or chickens (I am eagerly looking forward to when I do) or even their own vegetables; but awareness of food sources, and taking small steps towards more involvement with your food by making home cooked meals are measures anyone can take. Be involved with what you eat.
OK, off my soapbox and back into the kitchen.
There are few things more comforting on a cold winter morning than the smell of bacon and fresh coffee. No matter what the day brings – at least it started well.
Making bacon is really quite simple, pork + salt + time +(optional smoke). We’re doing both pork belly for belly bacon and pork loin for canadian bacon.
I followed the instructions from Ruhlman and Polcyn in their seminal book Charcuterie . I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in curing their own meat.
These two bacons were to go into the smoker the same day but you need to plan as they have different curing times. The belly bacon takes a week, the canadian bacon about 36- 48 hours. Plan start times accordingly.
Refrigerate for 7 days, turning bags daily to redistribute any cure. Expect the pork belly to give up some moisture. In my experience the amount of moisture is quite variable from a few tablespoons to a cup or more. Don’t worry if there is not much liquid. It’ll be fine.
Once cured, place on a rack and allow to air dry over night in the refrigerator. The surface will become tacky – called a pellicle – this helps the smoke adhesion.
Canadian bacon is just pork loin that has been cured and smoked. The cure for this bacon is a wet cure or a brine. Water, pink salt, kosher salt, sugar, garlic, a bunch of sage leaves make up the brine. The recipe is in the book.
First make the brine, and chill it. I did this the day before.
It’s not very pretty.
After 1.5 – 2 days, take it out of the brine, rinse in cool water. If desired, soak in cold water for an hour or so, changing water once. Dry it off and put on rack uncovered in fridge overnight to also develop the pellicle.
You could smoke these in a hot smoker or a cold smoker. Hot smoke will simultaneously cook and smoke. You could hot smoke these at about 250 until internal temp reaches 140F.
I chose to cold smoke. I built a cold smoker about a year ago.
This adds flavor but does not cook the meat. Cold smoke for however long you want to get the taste you want – I smoked this about 8 hours. I also have other things in there – we’ll cover that in other posts.
Once smoked I roasted both the loin and the pork belly in a slow (200-250F) oven until internal temp reached 150F. Remove from oven. Look how the heat brought out the lovely caramel smoke color! The aroma is heady!
At this point, I trim the skin off the pork belly while it is still warm. This product is now pretty stable having been cured, smoked and cooked. It should be refrigerated or frozen until used. I chill it very well then slice it up, vacuum pack, and keep in freezer until the night before I want it.
I won’t be needing to buy bacon anytime soon! Granted it does take time, but it is not difficult, and the rewards are great.
Until next time, Eat Well & Keep Digging!