It seems like a day made for a Vanilla Maple Cinnamon latte.
It’s the cup that cheers.
So what have you all been keeping busy with?
I made some bacon! Want to see how? (Methodology from Cedar at Let’s Make Something Awesome)
First: obtain some pork belly. Mr. picked this lovely one up at Karpaty Meats & Deli.
In my research I was warned to not be alarmed to find a nipple or two on the pork belly. Ours was sans nipples. Is it awful that I was a little sad not to find one?
Second: mix up your cure! The piece of pork belly we were working with started out at 1.75 kg. I mixed together 1/2 Cup kosher salt, 1/4 Cup packed brown sugar, 2 Tbsp coarsely ground black pepper, and 3/4 Cup maple syrup. (This is more cure than you will need for a similar amount of bacon, but you want to ensure a good, solid coating of the cure on all surfaces, so you want to have more than you need!)
Third: Rub the cure over all surfaces of the pork belly, giving it a nice massage. You want a good coating of cure on all surfaces, including any nooks or crannies.
Fourth: Assemble your curing apparatus! Put a wire rack onto a baking sheet. A baking sheet with sides is essential here, as your bacon cures it will weep a lot of moisture, and the baking sheet will catch the forming puddle. The rack allows air on all sides of the pork belly. Place your proto-bacon onto the curing apparatus.
Fifth: Put the curing apparatus into the fridge. Refrigeration is important because botulism is not your friend!
Sixth: Leave the bacon to cure for a week. I flipped it over once a day, but this may not necessarily be a required step. It did help to quell my impatience, though! The first few days will see the most moisture weeping out of the proto-bacon, so you may also want to check the baking sheet to see if it needs tipping out should it threaten to overflow.
Seventh: Once the week of curing has lapsed, give your almost-bacon a good rinse with fresh, cool water. Pat it dry, and then put it back into the fridge for at least one more night (or 8 hour period) to form a pellicle. A pellicle is a tacky, tangled net of proteins on the surface of the meat and it soaks in and holds onto the smoke like a sponge.
Eighth: To the smoker! We used applewood (it’s my favourite wood to use for smoking so far!). Smoke the bacon until the internal temperature reaches 68.5 ºC (155 ºF). To do this, the smoker was kept at ~95 ºC for 2 hours. As with any time you use a smoker, addition or rejiggering of coals and/or wood chips, or adjustment of the fire may be required as time passes to keep the temperature at the right level and to keep it producing smoke. Smoking is also a useful tool for those not friendly with Botulism!
Ninth: Take the slab of bacon out of the smoker. It’s decision time: leave the skin on, or take it off? We ended up removing the skin. It takes a sharp knife and a little time, but upon conversing with Mr we decided we weren’t fans of the toughness along the edge.
Tenth: Slice it up! This can be done with just a knife and a cutting board, or if you are lucky enough to have a meat slicer you can breeze through this step easily. With either slicing method, though, life is made easier if you toss the bacon into the freezer for a little while to firm up a bit (don’t freeze it all the way through, though, the goal is firmness, not a brick).
Just look at that. My inexperience with meat slicers lead to some raggedy cuts, but practise improved my efforts as I merrily sliced away.
Of course, with excitement I couldn’t help cooking a bit of bacon up to see how it had turned out. It was certainly worth the effort! Much of the bacon bought at the grocer’s is wet cured in a brine, almost like a pickle. This bacon is dry cured, and so is quite intense and salty. I think next time I might adjust the cure recipe a little.
Also, I’ve been thinking a lot about the curing process and the skin on the outside of the pork belly. If the skin is going to be removed anyway, would it be a good idea to take the skin off before even starting the curing process? I would imagine that the cure would penetrate through the subcutaneous fat on that side of the bacon more easily instead of first passing through a layer of skin. Skin is a semi-permeable membrane after all… but maybe there’s a reason why the skin is left on (other than some people leave it on their bacon for eating). Needless to say, I’m going to have to do some more research.
In the meantime, we have bacon!
I’d really like to thank Mr for building me our smoker. It’s pretty fortunate to have a partner who is so handy.