Monday, February 14, 2011

Charcutepalooza: Homemade Bacon

See that there? That is a Big Darn Slab of Pork Belly. In my kitchen.

I've previously alluded to my Jewish baggage when it comes to pork, shellfish, and the like. Round one of Charcutepalooza, with its duck prosciutto, was a fun experiment in food preservation without any of the conflict that I knew would be coming eventually. I was secretly pleased, though, when bacon came up so soon. If I'm going to eat pork, it might as well be bacon, that darling of all the current culinary fads, that mascot of Portland cuisine.

I've made a few tentative forays into bacon over the past few months (including the recently mentioned maple bacon cream pie) and found the good-quality stuff to be a pleasure worth indulgence. So it was with a naughty excitement akin to a date at the swingers' club that I headed out into Portland last week and purchased that thick slab of piggy sin that you see above.

I also needed curing salt, and was fortunate enough to find a carrier here in town so I didn't need to mail order it. This salt has nitrates and nitrites added to facilitate proper curing; in small doses this is safe to eat, but it's dyed a frightening cotton-candy pink so no one accidentally cooks with too much of it. I only needed a couple ounces, but as it was so cheap ($1.50/lb), I went ahead and bought a pound of it in anticipation of future Charcutepalooza endeavors.

I had to go to a warehouse near the waterfront, in the Southeast Industrial District, to get it. As I stood at the counter waiting for the heavily-tattooed man to return with it, another employee came to the front to ring me up. "That's it?" he asked with perfunctory professionalism. "Just the pound of cure?"

With a Brysonesque smile I volunteered, "It's worth an ounce of prevention!"

He blinked, faltered for a second, and shrugged. "Uh, okay. That's a dollar fifty."

My cheeks remarkably similar in color to the curing salt now in my hand, I paid the man in quarters and dignity, and fled for my Kia and NPR. They'd get my jokes on NPR, I thought wistfully.

So I got my illicit pleasures home, consulted Michael Ruhlman's recipe in Charcuterie, and decided to try two kinds of bacon. After whipping up the "basic cure," a combination of kosher salt, curing salt, and sugar, I divided the pork belly into two chunks, one about twice the size of the other. About two thirds of the total went into a sweet cure with brown sugar, maple syrup, and a bit of nutmeg; the remainder went savory, with peppercorns, thyme, oregano, and rosemary, and I'm thinking of cubing that one into lardons when it's finished. Both are now curing in my fridge.

I've been turning them over once a day since Wednesday, and this Saturday they should be ready to smoke. They can be finished in the oven at low heat, but what's the point of bacon without smoke? I have a friend who owns a smoker and is keen to let me use it in exchange for some of the meat.

I think we'll smoke it this Saturday. After all, my friend works during the week, so that's when he's available. And if I'm going to be a bad Jew, I might as well go all the way; no point being half-assed about it. Bring on the Sabbath and let me light that fire.

This bacon better be worth it.

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