Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bacon is Healthy. Okay, Not Really. But It's Delicious.

We love bacon in this house, but we don’t eat it very often. I generally don’t feel guilty about most foods, but bacon is not one of them. The fat and salt is enough to induce heart palpitations just thinking about it. When I do buy it, it’s always from the deli counter so I don’t buy more than I need. Those deli guys must think I'm crazy buying two strips of bacon at a time.

Having said that, I must confess that we've already had bacon 3 times in the last 6 days. But before you do that disappointed health freak face, let me explain. We weren't just eating any old bacon. We were reaping the fruits of my labor, if you will. That's right, I made bacon! I'll say it was one of the most satisfying moments when I sat down to breakfast this past weekend and enjoyed my own delicious bacon.

You’re probably wondering why I would want to make bacon? I guess that’s just how I roll. I’m all about demystifying and doing it myself. Many commercial bacons are so salty that one bite is enough to send my blood pressure sky high. The thing I like about this bacon is that it didn't feel like eating a salt lick. Maple and brown sugar gave it a hint of sweetness and helped to cut the saltiness. I also used fresh cracked black pepper to give it a little subtle heat.

Seriously, it was easy. All you have to do is cure it for a week, then hot smoke it for an hour or two. The only difficult thing about it is the waiting. So no, I won’t be making this on a weekly basis, but it is a nice touch if we are having visitors or going to a special function.

This recipe I used comes from Charcuterie. According to the authors, you can use whatever seasonings you like because it’s the cure and smoke that give bacon its wonderful taste. So if you don’t want to use maple but prefer to use cloves or bay leaves or whatever else tickles your fancy, then by all means. The original recipe calls for 5 pounds of pork belly. As big of a fan of bacon as I am, I thought that might just be a wee bit much. So I only started with 2 ½ pounds. However, after the smoking, there was a 20% weight loss (the bacon, not me)! After giving some to my neighbor for letting me use his smoker (thanks again, Dennis!), I was left with only about a pound. Even though that will stretch for 4 or even 5 uses, for the amount of waiting and daydreaming that goes into the process, I want the yield to be a bit more. Next time, I’m going for gold and making all 5 pounds. It freezes beautifully, so none of it will go to waste.

Note: if you want to do the whole 5 pounds, just double the recipe.

Maple Bacon (adapted from Charcuterie)
yields approximately 2 pounds
  • 1 oz kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pink salt (1/4 oz or 6 grams if you’re doing it by weight, which you should be)
  • 1 tbs black peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • 1 tbs whole allspice, coarsely ground
  • 2 packed tbs light brown sugar (the original recipe calls for dark brown)
  • 2 tbs maple syrup
  • 2 ½ pound slab of pork belly (original recipe says skin on, but I did it with skin removed)
Start by combining all of the dry ingredients. You want to make sure the pink salt is evenly distributed. Add the maple syrup and stir to make a paste. Rub the paste over the entire surface of the pork.

Place the pork in a Ziploc bag large enough to hold it or in a non-reactive container that is just slightly bigger than the pork. During the curing process, liquid will be released and it will work to cure the meat. Keep the meat in the fridge, turning every other day to expose both sides to the brine. It should take about 7 days to cure. It’s ready if you touch the meat and it’s firm. Make sure you’re checking the actual meat and not the fat, because the fat doesn’t get firm.

Once you’ve determined the meat is cured, rinse it well under cold water. You want to get rid of the residual salt. Most of the spices will wash off too, and that’s okay. Their flavor will already be in the meat. Pat the meat dry and air-dry it in the fridge for at least overnight. When you air-dry it in the fridge, it needs to rest on a rack, uncovered, above a container that will catch any juices and allow air to circulate. The next day, hot-smoke the meat to an internal temperature of 150º. For me, this took less than 2 hours (I think) at 275º (the original recipe didn’t specify a smoking temperature). I expected it to take like 3 hours, but when I checked it a little after 2 hours, it was at like 160+. Yikes!!! Yet, the bacon turned out fine.

Once you remove the bacon from the smoker, let it cool a bit. If you started with skin-on pork belly, you should remove the skin before the bacon cools completely. I started with skinless, and the fat caramelized very nicely, so I think I’ll use skinless the next time as well. Do not try to slice the bacon into strips before it is completely cooled to refrigerator temperature. An extra half hour in the freezer might make it even easier. Unless you have Morimoto-sharp knives, you will just end up “squishing” the fat and the slices will be sloppy and too thick. Trust me on this. Once it’s cool enough to slice, you still have to fry it to get it crispy.

If you found this process interesting, you may enjoy making your own Canadian bacon. It’s just as easy as bacon, but requires only 2 days curing. It’s also a lot less fatty because it’s done with pork loin.


Manggy said...

Ooh, I was just about to ask you how you got your smoker :) Somehow, Alton Brown's chamber with a pipe leading to a smoke source, blah blah is just a bit too much work for me :)
I think maple is the only way to go for bacon, really! Your bacon looks perfect!

Dee said...

Thanks manggy! It really was a test in patience.

Alton Brown is the McGuyver of the cooking world and I love his innovation, but reading about it is quite enough. One day I WILL convert my charcoal grill into a smoker.

tigerfish said...

*applause applause* ...I like crispy bacon that is not so salty else I will shun them. I remember a time when I drizzled maple syrup on cooked crispy bacon and was yummy. The maple syrup actually mellowed the saltishness.

bb said...

Holy sh*t that looks awesome! I never knew one of my favorite cured pork products could be so easy. Nice job. Thanks for sharing. I've been meaning to pick up Ruhlman's I must!
Have you tried the applewood-smoked bacon from Zupan's? It's my go-to gold standard for by-the-slice.

dp said...

bb, I haven't tried it. I have a friend who lives near a Zupan's, so next time I drop by her place, I'll have to remember to pick up bacon. Thanks for the tip.

dp said...

Tigerfish, thanks! I used to put maple syrup on my bacon too. That's why curing with the maple syrup really appealed to me.

Wandering Chopsticks said...

I am so impressed you made your own bacon! Whoohoo! I was equally impressed when you made Canadian bacon before too.

Dee said...

WC, the hardest part is waiting a week for it to cure. I forgot to mention in the post that smoking is not mandatory, but gives it that extra something-something.

gaga said...

Wow, I'm super impressed. They look delicious. Making my own bacon has never even crossed my mind before. Everything is better with bacon =)

Jason said...

I'm afraid to make bacon, I think I would double the recipe and eat every last bit! I don't think I even have the power to get through the week long brining process.
p.s. have you been to the church of meat lately? (aka Gartners) I could just sit there and stare at their bacon! LOL

Dee said...

gaga, thank you! If you asked me a year ago, I would have never thought of making my own cured meats. I thought it would too hard, but it turns out to be quite straightforward!

Jason, I am going to double the recipe next time!! It freezes beautifully. I just slice it up and vacuum pack it into usable portions after it's smoked.

I will have to go check out Gartners. I was going to order my pork belly there, but can't remember why I didn't?? I think they required I come in for the special order and I didn't want to make the extra trip. Anyways, I ended up using Phil's because they let me put the order over the phone.

Just Cook It said...

This is awesome. I've been meaning to co this for ages but just haven't got round to it yet. And that book has been on my Amazon wishlist for longer than I care to remember. Great job. Looks delicious

Dee said...

Alex, thanks!

Forget waiting for someone to buy it for you. Treat yourself!

Mike of Mike's Table said...

This looks great! I've been wondering about this very subject lately...and it looks like a very approachable task. Granted, it would be trouble if I had ~5 lbs of bacon handy at any given time...

Mandy said...

You made your own bacon?! Does it travel well? :p

dp said...

Mike, it was very straightforward. I encourage you to pick up Charcuterie. It's perfect for the home cook.

Mandy, it doesn't last long enough to travel anywhere, except into my mouth :-)