exploring the belly of the beast!

The other day, my wife and I were talking about an issue that’s near and dear to both our hearts…

B A C O N ! ! !

It was more so the idea of people going CRAZY about it. I guess I was a little smug at the attention it gets. Of course it’s good…it’s BACON! And as moderation goes, too much of it is not the best thing for one to consume in large quantities. At the end of the day, it is a [very] good thing! (Well..at the beginning and the middle, too!)

I’ve dabbled here and there when curing bacon. My first slab came out too salty — like salt pork which is sort of like bacon, but not. Salt pork is used to flavor stews and beans and the like. Eating salt pork by itself is well…a little salty for the average bacon consumer. If you do want to eat salt pork, you can blanch it first, by cooking it in simmering water for a minute or two and then going ahead to cooking it as you usually do.

The few I did after that were pretty good as well. I mean, it’s really hard to mess up pork belly. Almost any combo is good when pairing with the heavenly layers of meat and fat. And while we’re at it — bacon comes from the belly of the pig, if you weren’t sure as to what I mean by saying pork belly.

I had a wonderful day off this past Saturday and decided to run down to the local Asian market and snag some pork belly poundage. If you can’t find a market that sells pork belly, you may have to ask a butcher or order it online. I’m sure you can source it from a good farmer/butcher. Make sure it’s good quality pork. Luckily, the place I get it sells Carlton Farms pork products which is a known and respectable farm here in the PNW.

I use Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s book: Charcuterie. I’d say it’s one of the best when you find yourself in a culinary rut and want to try something new and at the same time, old school. After all, curing meat is a noble, necessary and delicious duty.

And this, my friends, is what your bacon looks like before it’s cured

:

Now, a basic cure for belly (just giving it that savory “swag”) is pretty simple, but you might need to order some pink salt, or sodium nitrite (Insta Cure #1). If you feel conflicted or find yourself in a pinch, feel free to leave it out. Your bacon will not last as long and it will turn gray on you. You can research sodium nitrite to see how you feel about it. My first cure was nitrite free and it tasted fine. Since then, I’ve been using it and it does add a noticeable (though tasteless) difference. It’s a surefire way to know you’ve gotten rid of any bacteria and allows your bacon to have a longer shelf life. Plus, it gives your bacon that nice pink color. And hey, did you know spinach naturally contains nitrite?? Neat. Okay, moving on.

1 heaping cup of kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
3-4 tablespoons of pink salt (Insta Cure #1)

Mix cure thoroughly and rub into your pork belly. Make sure you get every inch of that bad boy.

From  here, you can go almost anywhere. Today, I made a savory and sweet cure. The savory cure involves bay leaves, crushed garlic and peppercorns. For the sweet cure, I used a bit of maple syrup and brown sugar. Check it!



Smash the peppercorns gently with the back of a knife or heavy pan. Then, smash together remaining ingredients:

10 peppercorns
5 cloves of garlic
3-4 bay leaves

Rub it on your belly! (Not your own belly, unless you want to!)

Put it in a non-reactive container. I like using gallon sized ziploc bags. It helps to redistribute the juices that the salt pulls out of the pork. It looks a little somethin’ like this:

For the sweet cure, I just mixed together the maple syrup (about 1/4-1/2 cup) and a 1/4 cup of brown sugar and rubbed it all over, as I did the savory rub. I don’t have any cool pictures of what that looked like, but I think you’ll get the idea.

That wasn’t so hard, was it? Now comes the waiting part. You’ll need to let it sit in your refrigerator for about seven days, turning the bags over each day to redistribute the juices. It helps in the process.

But, unfortunately, since this takes time to do, and we’re all living in real life here, you’ll have to wait until next week to get the end result. I’ll also be going over a few methods of either smoking or cooking your pork in the oven.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask! It’s all a huge learning process for me as well.

Happy cooking. Happy belly. Happy bacon.

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