Category Archives: Pork

Further Fine Food From Fat: BLTs with Locally Grown Tomatoes and Sprouts with Maple Cured Bacon

A friend of mine from Canada came to visit a couple of years ago and brought me one of those souvenir sets of typical Canadian condiments. You know, the kind of gift set you might find in a shop at the airport? Well, the present was well used. The condiments included two different bottles of delicious pure maple syrup and though I am not a lover of maple flavored things myself, the syrups were quickly consumed by the younger members of my family. The third item however went unused. It was a bottle of tiny lumps of maple sugar. Until a few weeks ago I must confess that had absolutely no idea what I was going to use this for. (I tried it on oatmeal and it didn’t do the trick for me.) Not being really suitable to put in the box for the next canned food drive, I stuck it in the back of the cabinet with the other sugars, salts, etc.

Then recently, when it was time to fortify my bacon supply, while hunting in the cupboards to find the ingredients for the cure mix, I came across the odd bottle of maple sugar. Serendipity is a wonderful thing! What could be better than maple cured bacon smoked over apple wood? Now I told you all about bacon curing in my post here, so I am not going to repeat myself. All I did differently was generously sprinkle the curing bacon with the maple sugar. (FYI, I could just as well have used regular real maple syrup.) As the bacon cured, the sugar dissolved and the meat was infused with the flavor. After an 8 day cure, a couple of days drying and an afternoon in the smoker where I used apple wood for the smoke, the bacon was ready to meet some delicious, locally grown, heirloom tomatoes. My yield was about 5 pounds of bacon which I sliced up into serving sized packages for the freezer.

(Sorry for the crappy photo – look at the earlier bacon post for some much better porn.)

Finally around mid-June, at the Maplewood Farmers’ Market, I spied a few first-of-the-season heirloom tomatoes. The farmer knew that he had gold that week. They were ridiculously But my bacon was waiting and my patience was non-existant. I had to have one, even though I cost me my right arm. Ugly, but perfect in texture, color and flavor this expensive tomato did not disappoint us.

Bacon and tomatoes this good, have to have just the right bread, don’t they? Since coming back from the CIA last spring, inspired by my new found bravery in the face of yeast, I have been making our breads at home. I learned several breads in class but the one I prefer by far is the one my classmate Jessica told me about. Apparently everybody in the world knew about this bread before me. But since I was leavening-challenged, I had been clueless before that class. The bread I am talking about is Jim Lahey’s No Knead bread. If you have always fantasized about homemade bread but didn’t have the desire or guts or both to deal with an involved multi-stepped process, I would urge you to take a look at this recipe. I have made many different variations on the basic no-knead version and I swear it never fails. Add herbs, dried grated cheese, chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes and the basic bread yields to your creativity. I even made a rye version (I used a fine ground flour) that came out fantastically.

Looks like it came straight from a Paris boulanger, doesn’t it? This loaf comes out of the oven moist and yeasty on the inside and crisp and chewy on the crust. It is an amazing bread that makes for some truly ecstatic eating. Bob always likes his toasted and this bread is both crunchy and soft out of our Dualit.

Summer dinners have regularly consisted of a big, thick, well stuffed BLT. For the “L,” we use baby lettuce from my little hydroponic garden supplemented by fresh radish sprouts from that same farmers’ market. These lovelies add an element of spice to our sandwiches. I would show you how beautiful one of these gourmet dinners is but we never seem to be able to wait to take a photo before devouring our meal.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Baking, Bread, Cooking, Farmers Market, Pork

Ah, there’s the rub…for pulled pork, that is.

A couple of my wonderful readers have recently asked me for my “recipe” for pork rub. You will find the recipe below and I want you all to know, that if ever you want a recipe from me, just write me and I will be happy to help out.

Actually, I have been meaning to have a discussion with you on the subject of recipes, so I am going to take this opportunity now.

You may have noticed that I do not generally post recipes. This is definitely NOT because I keep these things secret or because I am stingy in this way. I am more than happy to tell anyone how I prepared any particular dish, sauce, etc. and to give enough details to enable a person to duplicate my effort. The real truth about why I don’t post formal recipes is because I don’t very often use them! My cooking is an ongoing experiment and I always think it is a delightful miracle when I can duplicate a dish perfectly a multiple of times. My mom taught me how to cook early on and it was always about being there, at her side, watching. “A little bit of this and a handful of that” she would tell me. Taste and adjust, taste some more. This explains why I am not much of a baker – precision is my nemesis.

When I research how to cook something, I look at multiple sources. The internet is invaluable and I also have a sizeable cookbook collection (I can always use more). I try to find two or three recipes for something I am thinking of preparing. From these, I get ideas and guidance. I look at a recipe as a set of suggestions for seasonings, proportions, etc. Of course, I also get assistance about methodology – what is the right temperature to cook something at, should I braise or roast it, and so on. But, it is rare for me to really follow a recipe closely, unless I am baking. But, I don’t bake much! 

I do like to think of myself as a big time locavore. By limiting my cooking to mostly what is local and seasonal, often times something has to give with the ingredients, right? Ok, I admit, that is a bit of a cop-out. With many recipes, you can at least figure out what to substitute for what is not available. Certainly in this case a recipe can provide good guidance.

Ok, ok, no more chatter. Here is the pulled pork Rub:

  • 1 part ordinary chile powder
  • .5 part each of Ground cumin, good fresh smoked paprika
  • .25 parts each ground coriander, granulated onion powder
  • .12 parts each granulated garlic, white pepper, a combo of dried herbs including parsley, rubbed sage, cilantro, basil and oregano
  • Kosher salt, cayenne to taste – a little of each though be careful with the heat.
  • A teaspoon or two of dehydrated/granulated lemon zest – entirely optional

Mix or shake up these ingredients and give the mix a smell. Adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle the spice mixture generously on and rub into any kind of pork  for barbeque, crock pot or of course, sous vide cooking.

A couple of final notes: the smoked paprika I bought lately has a whole lot of heat so I left out the cayenne in my recent batch. But I have used some weaker stuff in the past so I pick it up with the cayenne. The rub mixture will keep for a year – I make it in batches of about 4-6 oz.

Someday I will realize my dream of having a bona fide recipe section on this blog. Until then, please don’t hesitate to let me know if you want any other recipes.

2 Comments

Filed under Baking, Cooking, Education, Pork, Recipes, Seasoning

Pork Belly Divine

Every once in a while I am able to get my hands on a whole pork belly from my local pig farmer, without having purchased the whole animal. This may seem like a simple matter, but it is not. Our local restaurant chefs and artisanal (local/retail) charcutiers always get first dibs. The short supply for us ordinary folks is also due to the fact that pork belly has become one of those “it” foods I have talked about before (here). The stuff is being roasted, braised, and sautéed. I’ve even seen it make an appearance  breaded and deep fried. On many of the more modern or experimental restaurant menus, said pork belly is showing up increasingly more often and it is being used in a greater variety of ways: it’s not just your mother’s bacon anymore. 

In the summertime, when the tomatoes are at their best, we can go through a whole mess of bacon here. So, for my family, it takes a lot of fortitude to resist curing every last drop of fresh pork belly I am able to get my hands on. A fresh whole belly weighs about 17-20 pounds with the skin on. When all is said and done, you will probably yield about 65-70% of that weight as  home cured, smoked bacon – maybe 12 pounds in all. Bacon is easy to make, too – have a look here.

This time, with this belly, I was ready to try making something other than bacon with at least a portion of the slab. By the time I recieved word from Colby Jones (Farrar Out Farms) that he had a whole fresh belly for me, I had chosen my strategy. I sliced off two (approximately) 1 1/2 pound chunks of meat and took off the skin with my great big chef’s knife. (I reserved and froze the skin. Eventually I will smoke it and use as seasoning for greens and other vegetables.) I made a brine using 6% salt and 3% superfine sugar. The superfine sugar dissolves very well in tepid water, as does the salt. Adding a touch of pink salt to the brine helped to maintain the pink color of the pork. To the brine I added two bay leaves, some fresh thyme, several whole garlic cloves, and some peppercorns. I made the brine directly in a jumbo zip lock bag and put the hunks of belly in the brine. This was left in the fridge for a day.

Once it was ready to be cooked, I took one chunk of the brined meat, dried it off and put it in a vacuum packing bag. I added a good half of a cup of local honey to the bag – enough to coat the meat, once the vacuum was applied. Now this is somewhat difficult to do with the Food Saver machine I have, since it is not the greatest with liquids. But there is a good trick that I use to make it work. Use a bag that is large enough so that the meat and the liquid hangs about a foot or so over the edge of your counter after it is inserted into the mouth of the machine. This means that your bag will need to be about 18-20 inches long. With the help of gravity, the Food Saver will pull out the air and seal up the bag without sucking out the liquid or creating a faulty closure.

The belly went into the Sous Vide Supreme water oven which was set at 79C/175F. I left it in the bath for 14 hours. When the time came, I took it out of the water oven and quick chilled it to stop the cooking. This is done with a large bowl filled with half ice and half water. Once the meat cooled down, I removed it from the bag, dried it off with paper towels, wrapped it tightly in plastic and popped it in the fridge. I reserved the sweet honey flavored pork juices for a sauce.

The next day I took the belly out and brought it up to room temperature.

Just before it was time to sear and serve my fatty and hopefully delicious treat, I cut the belly into two inch cubes.

Searing was no job for my good old Iwatani torch, however. Instead, I placed the meat into a very hot skillet. As each side of a cube of pork crisped and released, I turned it until all sides were very well caramelized. This took less than a minute per side and by the time all sides were crispy, the inside was nice and warm.

I was able to make a wonderful sauce out of the juice that I had reserved from the bag. I took some apple juice (pure, organic and unsweetened) and reduced it by 50%. I added a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, some cloves and the stuff from the bag that was already highly concentrated with porky, honey flavor. Before thickening the mixture with a little cornstarch, I strained the liquid. My meal was now ready for plating. As sides, I served whipped parsnips and glazed sous vide carrots.

This dish is a real keeper. I would happily serve this to guests. Because of the use of a relatively high temperature in the SVS, the fatty part of the belly was rendered well enough to leave just the right balance of both meat and fat. The pan searing process gave the chunks of belly exactly the right crispness and a perfect texture. The unctiousness of each bite was beautifully counter-balanced by the  mildly sweet and sour, apple flavored sauce. No doubt, this is an incredibly rich and calorie filled meal that can’t be consumed too often without dire consequences to the waistline. However, as a special treat…well all I can say is “everything in moderation.” Actually, my husband’s enthusiastic “wow” said it all.

5 Comments

Filed under Charcuterie, Comfort Food, Cooking, Farmers Market, Food Trends, Pork, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

Braunschweiger: How can something with such an ugly name taste so fantastic?

I have mentioned to you previously (here) about the great group of folks who get together every so often to buy whole animals. When you do this, you get all of the animal including the offal. Yes, say it just like you would say “awful” – an unfortunate coincidence to those of us who love the stuff. The word is derived from the expression “off fall” (hence the pronunciation, you see) which describes that which falls out or off of the animal, on to the floor of the abbatoir when the carcass is hung and sliced up by the butcher, thought of by many as the stuff nobody is willing to eat. People also call these parts “specialty meats.” I guess that is perceived as a little nicer. A rose by any other name?

Well, I am a big fan of offal – I cannot tell a lie. I am one of those weirdos who absolutely adores well prepared beef liver (with carmelized onions, especially). I drool over sweetbreads and dream of a well prepared torta de lengua from my favorite taqueria. So, when nobody else wanted the livers from our first Berkshire pig and later from our Red Wattle pig, I happily volunteered to take them home. A pig liver is about 2.5 pounds – not small! But from a pure, organic, well fed, all natural, free and happy pig, you can expect pure and tasty eating.

Being a person who makes it a habit never to eat mystery meat, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with that liver. Pig liver, you see, is the main ingredient in braunschweiger (aka liver sausage that is usually smoked or has a smoky flavor). Since I gave up mystery meat (about 8 or 9 years ago after reading Molly Ivins, but that is another story) I had not tasted said sausage. I grew up on the stuff and truly loved it all my life. Who thought about it being made of anything questionable back in the good old days?

Come on, there is just nothing to compare to a sandwich made on a couple of slices of good, light rye bread, a generous slathering of mustard or mayo, fresh lettuce and tomato, and some generous slices of braunschweiger. The stuff is spicy, unctuous and just plain delish! Nevermind the fat, cholesterol and (after a few tough years in college) heartburn. This food is well worth eating and, after all, all things in moderation. When I saw the recipe for Braunschweiger in several of my charcuterie cookbooks and realized that ordinary humans could make the stuff, I decided to give it a try.

The recipe I settled on came from my recently acquired book on garde manger from the Culinary Institute of America. Being who I am, I couldn’t resist a few little, tinsy, weensy adjustments, but the basic technique I learned from this book was essential. Sausage making of any kind requires very meticulous mise en place – gathering and measuring out everything that you need for your recipe and making it all ready before you begin the actual production. Emulsified sausages, such as braunschweiger, hot dogs, bologna, etc. (i.e., those with a fine texture) also require extremely careful adherence to technique. Truthfully, it is not easy and is best done with two people.

Unfortunately, all I had was little old me – my darling was off to China on business. Nevertheless, being the pioneer woman that I am, I was bound and determined to get it right on this, my second try. My original effort (with the liver from the earlier pig) had resulted in a product that I was only willing to serve to Sadie (my wonderful and now departed furry little, 7 pound companion). It tasted fine but the consistency was just terrible. This is because the emulsion “broke” meaning that the fat cells did not get bound in the protein, resulting in a grainy product with a mouthfeel that was just plain wrong.

Well, all of my concentration and attention to detail this time paid off. Truthfully, I have never tasted braunschweiger so perfect in consistency and flavor. I am convinced that two main things are essential. First is to keep everything, including bowls and all tools as cold as possible while you are working. Second is to religiously follow the proper order of operations: cut up your meats and fat into one inch pieces, including liver, well smoked slab bacon, and pork shoulder. Put the liver and pork mixture and the fat on  separate cookie sheets (parchment lining helps). The pork and liver combination is first tossed well with the salt, tinted curing mix (instacure #1) and sugar, prior to being set in the freezer to become slightly “crunchy.”  The bacon is also put in the freezer. When just barely frozen, all of these things are put through the grinder using the 3-4 mm disk. The minute it comes from the grinder, the meats are put back into the freezer on the cookie sheet to become crunchy again. The bacon is put through the finer disk a second time, and again, put back in the freezer. Once everything is good and cold again, the other spices (white pepper, nutmeg, ground cloves, allspice, marjoram, mustard and thyme, rubbed sage) are sprinkled over the ground meats. This is placed in a food processor with some crushed ice and  emulsified. My food processor is on the smaller side so I had to do it in two equal batches, keeping the unused portion of the meat and fat in the freezer until the moment it was ready to go in the processor bowl. Every 30-60 seconds you take the temperature of the mixture while processing. When the temp gets down to 32F, you add the bacon, emulsifying until the temp rises to about 42-45 F. It is pretty amazing to see the gloppy mess that results but you can see it working correctly right before your eyes.

By the time the emulsion was ready to be stuffed into the casings it was the consistency of very, very gooey dough. I wish I had remembered to take a photo for you because it is a little tough to describe. I used large collagen casings  which I am able to purchase locally instead of beef middles which are very expensive and only available on the internet. After all, you just peel off the casing anyway and it does not make any taste difference.

The next step, which can be eliminated, is to smoke the sausage for about 2 hours at 175F. I chose to skip this step because it was raining like a mother and my smoker is not supposed to get wet (due to its digital circuitry). My bacon was very, very smoky anyway and this flavor seriously comes through in the end product. So skipping this step did not make much difference in my opinion.

For the final step I was instructed to poach the sausage in a water bath at 165F until the braunschweiger reaches an internal temperature of 150-160F. But how? How do I control a water bath at that temperature? Sure, I can turn the burner way, way down but even still, 165F is far less than even a bare simmer. Restaurant kitchens have flat tops on which they can accomplish this task fairly well (this is where they often keep the stock and other hot liquids at the ready). Commercial kitchens have way hi-tech equipment for this, not to mention immersion circulators for controlling the temperature in water baths. Wait….

DID I HEAR SOMEONE SAY SOUS VIDE SUPREME????? What a perfect opportunity for the use of my trusty water oven! I heated her up to 165F/74C. I took the stuffed pieces and placed them in zip-lock bags. It is fine to use these in the SVS and, because I would need to take the temp of the sausage during the cooking process, this was the most practical thing to do in this application. When you use this kind of bag, you leave it open while you lower it into the water. The pressure of the water pushes the air out of the bag and just before the bag is fully immersed, you zip it up. When the internal temp of the sausage reaches 66C (definitely well done meat) it is ready to come out and be plunged into an ice bath to stop the cooking. This also serves to help avoid the multiplication of bad microbial spores which could cause spoilage or illness.

When the temp is reduced to below 17C/60F in the ice bath, it can go into the fridge where it will keep for at least two weeks. Also, you can easily freeze it for a very long time, due to the generous fat content. I vac packed it with the Food Saver before freezing, which also goes a long way toward keeping things for a long time in the freezer.

 

 

Well, as I have said, the finished product was better than I any version of braunschweiger I ever recall eating. I am thrilled that I get to enjoy this delicacy for many months to come – I cut and packaged it in small portions to ensure our long-term enjoyment. It was a lot of work but worth it and I learned tons.

Next up: Come back soon for the pork belly I promised you!

7 Comments

Filed under Charcuterie, Cooking, Offal, Pork, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

Pulled Pork Preeminent

One of the justifications I used to talk myself into buying the Sous Vide Supreme was that it would replace my crock pot. Now those who know me are aware that it is my intention, in just a little more than two years (781 days, but who’s counting), to move to New York City. So this rationale is no matter of little importance. I am going to have to fit a s#%tload of rooms worth of all my important stuff into a shoe box apartment in order to become happily ensconced in the Big Apple. Thus, until such time arrives, I have come up with a rule to live by: anything new which is brought into the house must give rise to the throwing or giving away of something of equal or greater volume. The crock pot, while being shorter than the SVS, definitely has a bigger footprint, i.e. takes up more space in a closet or cabinet.

I have one friend who has an SVS and when he heard this, he said “nooooo, the SVS will not replace the crock pot.” I took that as a challenge. Actually, my friend should have asked me just what I do with the crock pot. All I do with the crock pot is (1) make soup, and (2) make pulled pork. Try though I might, I have never found anything else to do with this appliance that can’t, just as well, be done on top of the stove.

“Slow cooker” you say? Oh no, that is just not so. The darn thing simmers the bejeebers out of everything. I can braise just fine in the oven and I can cook soup on the top of the range, thank you very much. But for pulled pork…well I bought the SVS and so it was time to put up or shut up.

Lets just say that something magical happens to a fatty chunk of pork shoulder or boston butt when it goes into the crock pot for 6 or 8 hours. Even my darling, adolescent, loving, sweet, wonderful, adorable brat of a  step-daughter asks for this dish regularly. Rubbed with a beautiful spice mix I have developed (mild chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, ground mustard seed, granulated garlic & onion, ground coriander seed, and salt) this relatively cheap cut of meat becomes an intensely flavorful pile of porky deliciousness that my family adores. Most often, we stuff it into fresh tortillas with refried beans, spanish style rice, sauteed veggies and other favorite condiments. I call it our “make your own fajitas” meal.

So I had to prove to myself that pulled pork would make the grade coming out of the SVS. For this experiment, I just happened to have a beautiful chunk of Red Wattle in my freezer, perfect for the main ingredient in our fajita fest. I thawed that chubby chunk-o-piggy out and rubbed my spice mix all over the surface of the roast with abandon before bagging it up with my Food Saver. Many sous vide recipes talk about how you have to use a little restraint with spices when cooking by this method but I have found this applies to only a limited range of items. This includes some herbs, especially bay and rosemary, and garlic (which I am, alas, unable to eat much of anyway). I was not worried about overdoing my pork rub. I set the water oven on 60C (140F) and put the sealed up meat in to cook for 48 hours!

 

The results were, if I may say, award winning. Better than out of the crock pot, by far, the pork was tender, exceptionally moist, just the right doneness and orgasmically flavorful. There was not a trace of dryness as is often the case with the slow cooker. The meat pulled away from the fat very easily so that in the end we were left with a much more low calorie version of our old crock pot standard. The spice rub gave the meat a wonderful, smokey, complex flavor that was exactly what we had come to love. One interesting thing is that we poured a couple of cups of spicy meat juice out of the cooking pouch. I froze this wonderful liquid figuring that it will make a delicious sauce for a chop or tenderloin in the future.

Say bye bye, crock pot!

5 Comments

Filed under Cooking, Pork, Shoulder, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme, water oven

This little piggy was eaten…

Ok, if you have not yet figured it out, I LOVE pork. What’s not to love? There is nothing dull about a good piece of pork, even if it is served sans sauce. Perfectly simple, mildly seasoned, high quality pig requires little if any fanfare, so long as it is properly cooked (and not overcooked, of course).  Sure, it is nice when encrusted, enrobed, ensauced or enstuffed (I made that up) but, my point is if it is good meat in the first place, it can stand on its own four trotters.

Thus, when I looked in my freezer and found a beautiful package of inch thick Red Wattle pig loin chops, I decided to keep it very basic. After I thawed these gorgeous ladies, I placed them in a brine of 7% kosher salt and 3% sugar. In the brining solution I placed a bay leaf and a couple of allspice berries. (If you had x-ray vision you could see these under the chops.) I covered the dish and placed the meat in the fridge for a couple of hours. The point of the brine is to cause a chemical reaction in the meat that aids in the retention of the natural juices in the muscle. If you do it right, it is not at all salty and protein that is brined stays very, very moist.

 Once that time had passed, I took the chops and dried them off real well with paper towels. Then, into the sous vide bag they went. Not wanting the chops to be lonely, I added about a teaspoon of bacon grease per chop. Yum, yum, yum, I love pig fat with my pig!

I heated the SVS up to 59C (138.2F) and sent those beauties swimming for 45 minutes. In the meantime, my husband cooked up a mess of what we call “home fries.” These are diced, par-cooked waxy potatoes that are fried up in a little lard with some onions and herbs. Home fries are pretty much his specialty (i.e. the only thing he knows how to cook) and he makes them as good as any I have ever eaten.

I tossed together some watercress and arugula with a tiny bit of olive oil and apple cider vinegar to add some tang to the plate. I also put a bowl of chunky organic apple sauce on the table cause where I come from, a pork chop without apple sauce is just plain wrong.

When I took the chops out of the bag I torched the surface to give them that pretty look and to crisp up the fat. I probably should have trimmed the fat better before they went into the brine. I am still learning and fat and sous vide – it does not cook the same way in there because the low temperature cannot get it to render or crisp up. I also could have been a little more aggressive with the torch but I am new to this trick – next time!

It was a fabulous albeit very simple meal but I really didn’t want it to be different. The meat was slightly pink throughout the entire chop. Only the outside edge had that white port color as the result of the torching it took. This Red Wattle pork is more naturally flavorful than any other I have ever had. Not gamey or at all strange tasting as some pork can be. Rather it is intensely “porky” and delicious.

The brining process causes the meat to become even more tender than it already is and it also helps the natural juices to stay in the protein. The sous vide, slow and low cooking process prevents any part of the pork from becoming overcooked. All of this translates to exceptionally moist, evenly cooked, dense meat that is tender and incredibly flavorful. Given that it is so perfect in these ways, I just was not in the mood to go saucing it up or adding any other flavors to distract from the rich porky taste it already had.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cooking, Pork, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking, Sous Vide Supreme

The Finest Food From Fat

I know people who don’t like chocolate, I know people who don’t like cake. I know people who don’t like tomatoes and I know people who don’t like steak. (Sounding a bit like Dr. Seuss here, I am!) These are things I cannot imagine disliking. Amazingly, I have met more than one of each. But I have never met anyone (vegetarians don’t count) who doesn’t like bacon. I am certain no matter what that if a carnivore exists who doesn’t like bacon, they are a unicorn.

So bacon lovers, here’s the deal: if you have never eaten homemade bacon, do whatever you must to get some. It being homemade, you can’t buy it. That does not mean that you can’t buy incredibly great bacon but the bacon that is homemade defies description.You can’t imagine what you are missing.

Happily, it is fairly easy to make, there are just a couple of little tricks.

Trick one: you are going to have to get some “pink salt,” otherwise known as Instacure #1 or tinted curing mixture. (In Europe, they use saltpeter which is potassium nitrate.) Pink salt is a mix of plain salt (93.75%) with nitrate (6.25%). The reaction of nitrate with certain bacterias in meat, produce nitrite. Nitrate can be toxic if ingested in a large quantity. On the other hand, it is the nitrite that kills the bad bacteria and otherwise helps to transform the meat into the desired end product also contributing to the desired rosy color of the meats in which it is used. By mixing the nitrate with a ton of plain salt , it is diluted substantially so that you would have to eat an awful lot of just plain salt to get to a meaningful level of toxicity.  Assuming you are not a complete dufus and you follow the simple instructions for combining your pink salt with your other ingredients which go into your bacon curing mixture (kosher salt, sugar, and herbs and/or spices of your liking), you really have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Nitrate and nitrite got a really bad rap in the 80’s and ever since then some people have been avoiding the stuff. It was believed that in large enough quantities, the chemicals might cause cancer. But according to Harold McGee, the guru of food chemistry, if you don’t eat a huge bunch of food with these chemicals in it, you really don’t need to be concerned.  The amount that you are going to use for your bacon really is miniscule especially compared to the size of the risk you are significantly minimizing with its use. That risk, the one you are minimizing, is botulism and you don’t want it (unless, in the form of Botox, you have it injected in the right places by your qualified medical professional). But you do want homemade bacon, so just get over your concern about the pink salt. Everything in moderation.

Trick two: You have to obtain some pork belly. The higher quality you get, the better. Get thee to your sustainable, local farmer and order some. How do you find your farmer? There are plenty of ways, but one is to go to www.slowfoodusa.org and follow the links through to your local chapter’s web site. There you should find a list of farmers’ markets and possibly even some links to specific purveyors of good pork in your area. Of course, you can just do an internet search and you should come up with other resources as well – here is a great site to check. You can even order some over the internet from various gourmet purveyors. (For example, Food52 has a New York resource through its online store.) Here in the St. Louis area we have Prairie Grass Farm, Farrar Out Farm, Greenwood Farms and Hinkebein Hills, among others. If you can Red Wattle Belly or other heritage breed type pig meat, this is even better.

Trick three: If, like me, you prefer your bacon smoked, you have to find a place and a way to do this. A barbeque grill will work – just know that you have to keep stoking the smoke for a couple of hours until the bacon gets up to temperature. You will want to heat up the grill, get some wood chips smouldering with the coals or heat source being only beneath the wood or otherwise indirect, and put that cured belly on the grill. If you want, you can buy a cheap smoking gizmo to set in your grill at most hardware stores and this time of year you can even buy the smoking wood there. Choose the flavor of wood chips that most please you. I prefer a mix of applewood and hickory. Hickory is very strong and applewood is sweet. If you have a line of any other fruit woods, go for it! Soak some of the wood in very hot water for at least an hour before you put it over the fire. Add back some dry chips to get the smoke going and go to town. Leave the meat on the covered grill until the belly reaches an internal temperature of 150F.

Once the belly has been refrigerated and is thoroughly cold, it becomes easy to slice. Hand sliced bacon is rustic and likely to be thicker than the store bought stuff. But, if you are like me and you put tons of sugar in your cure, the thick cooked bacon will have a fantastic chewiness to it. OMG TDF! It will keep in your fridge for a good long time – up to a couple of weeks if you keep your fridge nice and cold (I keep mine at 34-36F). Mostly what I do, however, is slice it and package it up in serving sized freezer packages.

Basic bacon cure (per Michael Ruhlman):

  • 1 pound (450 grams) of kosher salt
  • 1/2 pound (225 grams) sugar (use superfine sugar if possible)
  • 2 oz (50 grams) pink salt

It is really important to use a scale for these ingredients and it is best if you can do it in grams, for greatest accuracy. Salts and sugars vary in volume substantially. If they were smushed in the course of getting to your pantry, the crystals are broken, etc., etc. You get it, right?

Mix these ingredients together very well so that the pink salt is thoroughly distributed throughout. This will take care of about 5 pounds of pork belly. Now is the creative part: figure out what you want to season your bacon with. I use a palm full of juniper berries and a teaspoon of so of black pepper corns which I crack with a rolling-pin. I also toss in a sprig or 4 of thyme per chunk of bacon. After I have thoroughly coated the meat in the basic cure and sprinkled on the seasonings, I top it off with a generous sprinkling of brown sugar on top. Other possibilities include pouring a mess of maple (instead of brown) sugar on top, leaving out the sugar completely and using lots of herbs or tons of cracked pepper. I have even heard of people using Jack Daniels (yuck).

All this gets put into ziplock bags (one piece of meat per bag), closed up and put in the fridge for about a week. Each day I turn the bags to redistribute what will become a liquid in the bag.

 

Now I’m going to tell you this: there are many different ways of doing this and I myself have tried it a number of those ways. For me, this is the easiest, most effective and thus my favorite. I have never gotten bacon that was too salty this way. Nonetheless, I invite experimentation!

Because of the high sugar content of my bacon, when it cooks it caramelizes beautifully giving the finished product a texture that can’t be matched. The sugars come to the surface and out into the bacon grease so you have to be a little careful with your heat – fry the bacon a little more slowly than you might the store-bought stuff. Another thing is that homemade bacon does not have a lot of water in it. It will render more evenly and quickly as a result. But, the most striking thing is that it tastes so much more heavenly. Can’t you just smell it?

 

2 Comments

Filed under Comfort Food, Cooking, Pork, Preserving, Uncategorized