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
- 2 oz coarse kosher salt (I like Morton or Diamond Crystal)
- 2 tsp pink curing salt
- 4 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 4 bay leaves crumbled
- 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ cup brown sugar or honey or maple syrup
- 5 garlic cloves smashed with the flat side of a chef’s knife
- 2 tbsp juniper berries, lightly crushed (optional)
- 5-10 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
- 5 lbs pork belly
- Mix the salt and spices together in a bowl.
- 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).
- After seven days, take it out of the fridge, rinse off all the seasonings under cold water and pat it dry.
- 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, if you have a scale, multiply the weight of the belly in ounces or grams by .025 and that’s how many ounces or grams of salt you should use.