|Homemade Applewood Smoked Bacon|
|Features - The Craft of Cooking|
|Written by Jon Ross-Wiley|
"Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." -Chinese Proverb
I love bacon. If you are a meat eater, I'd confidently wager that you do as well. The combination of smoke and salt complements so many dishes, and certainly allows bacon to stand on its own, albeit generally on the "side." Now, when I love something I've eaten at a restaurant or at someone else's home, I generally mentally catalog the flavors and ingredients that made the dish a success, and, at some point down the line, I usually try to recreate the dish. Rarely, though, do I ever think to recreate one of the ingredients in the dish.
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For example, I wouldn't taste a delicious vinaigrette and run home to start cold-pressing olives.
Recently, however, I saw a post on Michael Ruhlman's blog about curing bacon at home. That's really all it took. It sounds silly, but I had never contemplated making bacon. With Ruhlman's inspiration and recipe at my back, I forged ahead and learned how to make my own bacon. This article is in our Craft of Cooking section because I believe that this is now part of my toolkit, and if bacon is something you enjoy, should be in yours as well.
Homemade Applewood Smoked Bacon
(adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn)
This recipe calls for 5 pounds of fresh pork belly. I was conservative and tested this recipe out with roughly two pounds and cut the ingredients below in half. My suggestion: Go with 5 pounds...you're going to want it!
5 pounds of fresh pork belly (I purchased mine [sustainably raised in VT] at Savenor's in the Beacon Hil neighborhood of Boston, but many butchers can have it for you if you call ahead)
2 ounces kosher salt
4 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
4 bay leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup brown sugar or honey or maple syrup
5 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons juniper berries, lightly crushed (optional...I did not use them)
5 to 10 sprigs fresh thyme (optional...I did not use them. I probably will next time, however)
Mix all of the ingredients aside from the pork belly in a small bowl.
Put your belly in a zip-top bag or in a plastic container. Rub the salt and spice mixture all over the belly. Close the bag or seal the plastic container and put it in the refrigerator for seven days. Turn the pork belly over once a day, and, about midway through the process give the belly another rub with just the mixture that is already on the belly.
After seven days, take it out of the refrigerator, rinse off all the seasonings under cold water and pat it dry.
Ruhlman next suggests the following, but I used the smoking option below---see Note at the end as well regarding smoking ): Put the belly on a sheet tray and put it in the oven (put it on a rack on a sheet tray if you have one) and turn the oven on to 200 degrees F. . Leave it in the oven for 90 minutes (or, if you want to measure the internal temperature, until it reaches 150 degrees F.).
Smoking method: I opted to smoke the pork belly on my gas grill. To do this, you need to:
*Soak applewood chips--or other hardwood chips such as hickory--(enough to fill a smoker box) in water for an hour.
*Place chips in the smoker box
*Light the gas or charcoal (all charcoal on one side) grill and place the smoker box over the lit side and the pork belly on the side that is not lit. Ideally, you will want your grill, when cover is closed, to maintain a temperature of around 200 degrees F.. Smoke for 3 hours or until internal temperature of the pork belly reaches 150 degrees F..
Let the pork belly cool and refrigerate it until you’re ready to cook it. Once cool, I put the belly in the freezer for 2 hours to make it firm enough to slice thinly.
Notes from Michael Ruhlman (http://ruhlman.com/2010/10/home-cured-bacon-2.html)
*If you don’t have five pounds of belly, either guesstimate salt based on the above or, if you have a scale, multiply the weight of the belly in ounces or grams by .025 and that’s how many ounces or grams of salt you should use.
*If for any reason you find your bacon to be too salty to eat (it happens, especially if you measure your salt by sight, which I sometimes do), simply blanch the bacon and dump the water before sautéing it.
*Pink curing salt means “sodium nitrite,” not Himalayan pink salt. It’s what’s responsible for the bright color and piquant bacony flavor. You don’t have to use it, but your bacon will turn brown/gray when cooked (you’re cooking it well done, after all), and will taste like pleasantly seasoned spare ribs, porky rather than bacony.
*If you have a smoker or a grill, you can smoke the bacon (strictly speaking, it needs to have the pink salt in the cure if you’re going to smoke because, in rare instances, botulism bacteria from spores on the garlic could grow; pink salt eliminates this possibility; but I never worry about this, you’re going to cook it again in any case).