My family generally is pretty supportive of me trying to do various things. Sometimes they might think I am a bit weird for actually doing them, but when they get exciting things to eat out of the deal they don’t complain too much. Last year I got a copy of Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman, and I was inspired. I will admit that I love bacon. I have for a long time. I’m sure it isn’t the best thing I could eat, but I don’t eat tons of it.
Anyway, there are a couple of challenges to making bacon. The first is getting all of the required ingredients. Only two were particularly challenging. First you need to find “pink salt”. “Pink salt” is salt and sodium nitrite. It goes by a number of different names: Prague Powder #1, Instacure #1, DQ #1, etc.. This is an essential ingredient for curing any kind of meat. I was able to order mine online from The Sausage Maker. They have lots of interesting stuff for sale, and free shipping which is always nice!
The second ingredient that will be a little challenging to get is the pork belly itself. Grocery stores in my area don’t stock it, and most of them won’t even order it. I found one place that said they could get me belly from Berkshire pigs. (If that is actually true I will probably do that next time, but I will have to order it.) The place I got the belly from keeps it in stock all of the time. I ended up with 7 pounds. I know it sounds like a lot, but after curing and smoking you lose some. I’m not sure exactly how much though
. After reading through Charcuterie, I decided to go with the recipe that Michael Ruhlman posted on his blog. I would follow his instructions pretty closely. This is something that you really do want to get right, and he is far more of an authority than I am. The reason I say this is that you nitrites are something you don’t want to get too much of, and you really don’t want to skip. A big part of the flavor of bacon comes from the nitrites. But if you don’t have them, you can end up with botulism. Spores can end up in the meat from the garlic, and in the low temperature and low oxygen environment they can multiply. You don’t want that! I had more than 5 pounds of pork belly so I carefully followed the directions for adjusting the amount of everything in the cure. Instacure #1, kosher salt, brown sugar, dry thyme, black pepper, garlic and crushed bay leaves is what I had in the cure.
I then evenly rubbed the curing mixture over all surfaces of the pork belly. I realized pretty quickly that even though I had 2.5 gallon bags I was going to need to cut the belly in half in order to fit it in anything. Each half of the belly got rubbed and then put into a bag.
The bags got stuck in the fridge, and every day I flipped them over. I figured this would help ensure that all of the belly got cured. The mixture of salts and sugar draws water out of the meat through osmosis. Flipping the meat makes sure that the liquid covers the all of the meat pretty evenly.
Once the meat has cured, rinse the curing mixture off with cold water. Then, you can leave it for a couple of days or smoke it. If you don’t have a smoker you can also cook the meat in a 200 degree oven until the meat reaches 150F. Then cool it, and slice it.
I used my stovetop smoker, and some apple wood chips to smoke it. Some smokers have specific methods to use, so follow those. Your goal is to reach an internal temperature of 150F. I use my probe thermometer for this, because it gives me accurate results without having to open the smoker to check the temperature. I also set it to the temperature I want to reach.
Once the pork belly has cooled enough to handle, but while it is still pretty warm cut off the skin. This is a little tricky, but using a sharp knife you will be able to remove it. You can see the line between the skin and the fat. Cut in below that, and lift the skin up. Then use the knife to separate the skin from the fat.
Allow the bacon to cool fully. Then use a very sharp knife to slice the bacon.
I used my FoodSaver to package everything up. When I was checking my list, some of my friends and family got bacon for Christmas. At first they may have been a bit confused, since you can go to the store and buy it pretty easily. This is far tastier than any bacon I have ever gotten from the store!
It is still a bit strange to me that I made my own bacon, but I did, and it is delicious. It is well worth the time and energy to make your own bacon.
Well, that’s it. I’ve gone nuts… Or have I? Actually, no. This is absolutely delicious. The best part is that it is really easy too! Maybe the best part is how good it tastes. This is a great way to add loads of flavor to roasted chicken, pork, turkey, fish, or use it as a spread on a sandwich. Hell, its good on a spoon! Sweet, smoky, tomato-y, and very flexible.
How do you make this wonderfulness?
Core and dice 1 pound of tomatoes
1/4 pound bacon, cooked crispy, and crumbled
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoon sherry vinegar (The recipe I had called for cider vinegar, but sherry is tastier!)
salt and pepper
1/2 Tablespoon dried thyme
Combine the tomatoes, sugar, onion, thyme and vinegar in a pot, and bring to a boil. Add the bacon, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for about an hour, stirring frequently. By this time a lot of the the liquid will be evaporated, and what you will have is a jammy consistency from the tomatoes and onions cooking down. Taste and season with salt and pepper. That was pretty easy!
With this combination of flavors you may have a hard time deciding where not to use it. Once you’ve made it, I’d be willing to bet that you’ll make it again!
Pizza is one of the things that I have been on a quest for for a while. I have tried various local pizza places, and several of them are doing a pretty good job with gluten-free pizza. It’s not the super thin crust that I grew up on in St Louis, but it is still pretty tasty. The downside for me is the cost. The amount of money you have to spend to get what is a small pizza is pretty outrageous. Sometimes, it is nice to be able to go out for pizza, but other times it is just not feasible. I used to eat frozen pizza as a quick meal when I didn’t feel like cooking anything. There are a few frozen gluten-free pizzas out there, but I really haven’t tried any of them. They are just too expensive for a frozen pizza.
I have tried a couple of pre-made pizza shells, and have found that they give me the speed, and convenience of a frozen pizza, but also give me a lot more flexibility, and are less expensive than the ready to cook frozen pizzas. So far the ones that I found that I like best are made by Udi’s Gluten Free Foods. I try to keep a couple of the shells in the freezer. At the end of a long day I can make myself a pizza, and enjoy. I obviously keep some cheese, and tomato sauce on hand for these occasions! Normally I just make a cheese pizza, and am pretty happy with that. My preference when I order a pizza was and still is italian sausage. The fennel seeds really work for me. I just don’t have that on hand most of the time.
At the moment what I do have is guanciale, which is a Roman jowl bacon. It is cured with red pepper flakes, brown sugar, black pepper, and rosemary(it is not smoked). It was made by a place called Salume Beddu. (I also picked up a piece of lardo there as well.) Since it is cured you can actually eat it without cooking it. I’ve been looking at it for a little while, and tonight I decided that I would make a pizza and the guanciale would be on it.
I pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees, and left it alone for a while. I have a pizza stone, and that needs to be hot. The extra time it takes is worth it. The stone gets good and hot, and make the crust nice and crispy! I got the shell out of the freezer, added sauce and cheese, and thinly sliced the guanciale, and then cut it into strips. Then added that to the pizza as well. I put the pizzas on foil so I can easily slide them in and out of the oven. After ten minutes, the pizza was done! I have to say the guanciale was well worth the extra few seconds! It tasted similar to bacon, but with a slight twist! I’m would guess that the big difference from bacon is the lack of smoke and the rosemary.
From what I understand, guanciale is hard to find. If you can’t find any, your best bet is probably pancetta. Try it some time! I have more to do with the guanciale, so keep an eye out for bucatini all’amatricianna. Except I won’t use the right pasta. I’ll sub something that will be appropriate though.