Fresh Bacon

This post is part of my ongoing charcuterie project. See my original writeup for further background.

Bacon is the most obvious example of charcuterie and a pretty good place to start for this project. Everyone loves bacon, though I personally find the obsessive bacon sub-culture that has developed around it a bit tired. No, bacon does not make everything better. No, I don’t want to make a bacon weave, put it in my deodorant, or congeal it into Jell-O. Used appropriately though, bacon’s appeal is obvious. It is the perfect combination of salt and rendered fat seasoned with smoke. I’ve seen it single-handedly thwart a number of people’s attempts to go vegetarian. Bacon is good, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. Fortunately for me, it isn’t very complicated to make at home.

fresh bacon

I bought 4 and a half pounds of pork belly from the Paulina Meat Market which was then dry cured with kosher salt, sugar, and pink salt. I used basic table sugar instead of dextrose, which isn’t quite as ideal. I used to buy dextrose in huge quantities during my brewing days, but I unfortunately didn’t have any when it came time to formulate the dry cure. As for the pink salt, there is a bit of controversy here. Pink salt contains sodium chloride and more importantly sodium nitrite which can in some cases produce carcinogenic nitrosamines.

I gave nitrites a pretty hard look and decided that they are safe for me to use and consume, in reasonable quantities. For one, pink salt is vital in protecting against lots of bad things, like botulism, that are prevalent in air-dried foods. Secondly, nitrites are produced in the largest quantity naturally by your own body ,well ahead of their second most common source, vegetables, which account for an average 93% of ingested nitrites. Any sort of “nitrite-free” diet you see is a farce. You cannot avoid them, and your body can handle them.

No, you should not consume pink salt in large quantities (it is colored pink to deliberately alert you to this fact). But used sparingly, it plays an important role in food safety, while simultaneously enhancing the flavor and color of your meat. Much more can be said about this, but if you want to learn more, I will direct you here or here.

Anyhow, the instructions were to cure the belly for 7 days, but I was careless and forgot and let it go to 9. That was a mistake that I didn’t notice until I fried up my first piece and was pummeled with salt. Bacon is typically smoked, but since smoke isn’t introduced until chapter 2, this recipe didn’t call for it. Because I have such a sweet smoker setup, I went ahead and smoked it for 2 hours with oak. I had to deal with the salt though, and the Internet suggested I could fix it by blanching it. This worked great, but the downside was that I also drew out a bit of the smokiness. It made the bacon once again edible, so whatever.

I bought a nice slicing knife and got the hang of slicing bacon after a number of failed attempts. Despite botching the cure, I think I can say that this is the best bacon I have ever tasted. I serve it sliced thick, as it should be. None of this paper-thin microwaveable nonsense. The belly was cured with the skin on, so after smoking it I removed it and dried it in the oven for 8 hours to make some great dog treats. Nothing was wasted, and all humans and canines involved are happy.

The encouraging part of this was how forgiving this process can be. I am very pleased with the results despite my best efforts to sabotage it. I probably won’t be singing the same tune once I am aging and fermenting meats in a very tight range of temperatures and humidities. But for now, I’ve had my first taste of success.

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