Ooh! OOOOH!

This is very exciting. 

Brace for geekdom, one and all: I just made bacon.  No, no, I didn’t prepare bacon, I MADE bacon.  From scratch. 

Ever since Teacherman gave me a book on curing meats (this one) for Valentine’s Day last year, I’ve wanted to make bacon.  I tried the recipe from that cookbook, and ended up with an inedible, metallic, throat-raspingly salty slab of greyish meat.  It didn’t even look like bacon.  I’m sure that the fault was mine and not the cookbook’s, but I was still afraid to try the recipe again.  (I don’t like wasting anything, even if it’s only $3.99 a pound).

Then, in April, Bon Appetit had a recipe for spaghetti carbonara with home-cured pork belly insteadof purchased bacon or pancetta.  The cured pork belly looked impossibly easy: one just rubs a pork belly with salt and ground coriander (1 tsp of each per pound of meat), then leaves it in a covered container in the fridge for 4 hours to 2 days.  I left it in for two days, hoping for the maximum amount of curing.  I wasn’t worried that it would get too salty, since I use about 1 tsp of kosher salt per pound of meat when I make sausage. 

After two days are up, one is supposed to braise the pork at 275 degrees for 2-2.5 hours, turning it every half an hour.  The recipe calls for braising it in a mixture of chicken broth and white wine, with an onion, carrot and celery stalk along side.  I was guilty of very little forethought concering this process: when it came time to braise the belly, I had no carrot or onion, just celery.  I didn’t want to have a celery-flavored bacon, so I decided to leave out the vegetables.  And my chicken stock is so powerfully chickeny that I was afraid it would overwhelm the pork flavor (bizarre, but true), so I decided to leave the stock out, too.  I upped the quantity of white wine, threw the stipulated bay leaf and whole peppercorns, and braised away.

After two and a half hours of braising the belly was still not very tender, and I was afraid that I had done something Drastically Wrong.  It was nearly 10:00 pm, though, and I was exhausted, so I just dumped the pork and its juices into a tupperware container, shoved it into the back of the fridge and went to bed. 

The recipe calls for leaving the pork belly in the fridge for 1-2 days, but I ended up leaving it there for 2.5, since I wanted to eat it for breakfast, not as part of a carbonara sauce.

When morning came, I recruited Teacherman to slice off the skin and most of the extraneous fat (leaving just a nice 1/4-inch strip on either side of the thick strips of meat), and then slice the slab into the thinnest slices he was able.  Given that his resources were a chef’s knife and a cutting board, the slices were thicker than supermarket bacon, but no thicker than premium thick-cut bacon.  There was a half-inch slab that he wasn’t able to slice anything off of, for fear of slicing his fingers as well, so we just froze it for future use as lardons. 

Half of the remaining strips of proto-bacon went into the fridge and half went into a big frying pan.  We fried them up exactly as one would ordinarily fry bacon, deviating from the Bon Appetit recipe, since their finished product (carbonara) was different than ours (breakfast).  The bacon was crisp, ruddy and, what’s most important, absolutely delicious.  The salt level was perfect, and the coriander gave it an intriguing sweet back note, unexpectedly reminiscent of maple-cured bacon. 

As I said before, this is exciting.  Not only did I make bacon and have it turn out well, but I have all kinds of ideas for making it a second time.  Next time I might substitute smoked paprika for some or all of the coriander.  Or I might throw in some cinnamon.  Or I might put juniper berries in the braising liquid instead of pepprcorns and a bay leaf.  Or I might rig up a smoker in our gas grill and see if I can smoke the belly instead of braising it in the oven. 

I think, though, that first I ought to find someone with a meat slicer.

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Published in: on August 19, 2007 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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