Cured-bacon-3

Homemade bacon is easier to make then you think. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

 

It’s bacon time again! I don’t know why but I’ve been getting a lot of bacon questions in my email recently, so thought I’d address a few issues I haven’t before. Of course, I’ve long commented on the fact that curing your own bacon is no more difficult than marinating a steak. Mix all the ingredients together and put them in a plastic bag with the meat. Use the recipe below. The aromatics, the bay leaves and everything else below can be considered optional.

But there are other strategies. You could make a brine if you feel more comfortable with that. For those of you concerned about reaching the right salt and pink salt levels, you could use a technique called equilibrium brining, which I first read about in Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine. To do this, combine the weight of the meat and the weight of the water, then add 2% of that weight in salt, and 0.25% pink salt, in addition to aromatics. This can cure from seven days up to twenty-one days (and maybe longer). This way you will never have bacon that’s too salty, since 2% is what you’re striving for. It also gives you great flexibility on how long you cure (say you’re traveling or something comes up the day you intended to cook it).

The most common question I get is, “My bacon is too salty, what can i do?”

Answer: Slice as usual, cover the slices or lardons in water and bring to a simmer. Drain the water and continue cooking.

If, before you smoke or roast it, you fear that it might be too salty. Cut a piece from the center of the bacon, cook it and taste it. If it’s too salty, submerge the belly in water for 8 to 24 hours. Then proceed with the smoking or roasting.

The recipe below is a concise primer and step-by-step for curing your own bacon. Follow it and you should have perfect, delicious home-cured bacon every time.

 

Home-Cured Bacon

(adapted from Charcuterie)

  • Five pounds of fresh pork belly (skin on), from your grocery store, the pork guy at your farmers market, or from a local butcher shop
  • Buy a box of 2-gallon zip-top bags if you don’t have a container big enough to hold the belly.

Mix the following together in a small bowl:

  • 2 ounces (1/4 cup Morton or Diamond Crystal coarse kosher) salt
  • 2 teaspoons pink curing salt #1 (I use this DQ Cure from Butcher-Packer, $2)
  • 4 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 4 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar or honey or maple syrup
  • 5 cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat side of a chef’s knife
  • 2 tablespoons juniper berries, lightly crushed (optional)
  • 5 to 10 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
  1. Put your belly in the zip-top bag or on a sheet tray or in a plastic container. Rub the salt and spice mixture all over the belly. Close the bag or cover it with plastic wrap, and stick it in the refrigerator for seven days (get your hands in there and give the spices another good rubbing around midway through).
  2. After seven days, take it out of the fridge, rinse off all the seasonings under cold water and pat it dry.
  3. Put it on a sheet tray and put it in the oven (put it on a rack on a sheet tray if you have one) and turn the oven on to 200 degrees F./ 93 degrees C. (if you want to preheat the oven, that’s fine, too). Leave it in the oven for 90 minutes (or, if you want to measure the internal temperature, until it reaches 150 degrees F./66 degrees C.).
  4. Let it cool and refrigerate it until you’re ready to cook it. But I know. You won’t be able to wait. So cut off a piece and cook it. Taste it, savor it. Congratulations! It’s bacon!

Notes: If you don’t have five pounds of belly, either guesstimate salt based on the above or use the equilibrium technique I mentioned.

Pink curing salt means “sodium nitrite,” not Himalayan pink salt. It’s what’s responsible for the bright color and piquant bacony flavor. You don’t have to use it, but your bacon will turn brown/gray when cooked (you’re cooking it well done, after all), and will taste like pleasantly seasoned spare ribs, porky rather than bacony.

If you have a smoker or a grill, you can smoke the bacon (strictly speaking, it needs to have the pink salt in the cure if you’re going to smoke because, in rare instances, botulism bacteria from spores on the garlic could grow; pink salt eliminates this possibility; but I never worry about this, you’re going to cook it again in any case).

You can also, instead of roasting it or smoking, hang it to dry, in the manner of pancetta.

 

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© 2016 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2016 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.