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, this happens sometimes. I end up eating really late. It isn’t intentional, but I get busy doing things and still need dinner. Of course these time are usually when I have some long cooking dinner in the works. Tonight would certainly fall under that heading. I sort of had a feeling it might. I had a family thing to go to, and had planned to pop in, and split in fairly short order. I had hoped to be home, cooking by about 6, and instead didn’t get home until 7pm. It also took a bit longer than I expected to cook the beans, but in the end it was all worth it!
One of the best things about the internet is the abundance of information about cooking, recipes, and food. Michael Ruhlman, Rick Bayless, Eric Ripert, and Mark Bittman just to name a few. I follow these, and several others on Twitter, and they all send out interesting messages, recipes, and today I adapted a post from Mark Bittman. Really, my biggest change to his recipe was to skip the bulk of the meats and just use a couple of chicken legs.
1/2 pound of dry cannellini beans soaked overnight
2 chicken leg quarters
2 cloves of garlic
2 onions cut into half inch dice
2 sticks of celery half inch dice
2 carrots half inch dice
1 zucchini half inch dice
salt and pepper
1 28oz can of diced tomatoes
1 tsp dry thyme
handful fresh parsley chopped
1 quart of chicken stock plus a little water
Since I had my beans soaked last night, and I broke down the chicken to get the legs I was more or less in assembly mode tonight. Step one, heat some oil in the large pot, and brown the chicken a bit. I could have given them a bit more time to brown a bit more, and that might have added a bit to the flavor, but in the end it was pretty good.
Then add the beans and enough stock to cover everything. This took about a quart for me. Bring it up to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer.This will need to simmer for about an hour. In the mean time, take your diced vegetables, and sweat them in a large skillet. You’re looking for them to start to get nice and tender, but not brown. A little salt is helpful when you are sweating veggies since it draws out moisture. Once they are tender I added the tomatoes, and herbs, and got everything hot, and also reduced the liquid a bit from the tomatoes and whatever came out of the veggies.
Once I had been simmering the beans for about an hour, and the veggies were softened and hot I added the veggies to the beans. Then I returned the pot to a boil, and turned it back to a simmer. This is where patience started to come into play. Everything really started to smell great. Cannellini beans take time to cook, and if you want to do this right you will let them take the time they need. You will be rewarded.My beans took another 30 minutes to finish cooking. They were tender, and not the least bit chalky. After an hour and a half simmering in the stock, and with all of the veggies the chicken was so tender that grabbing a leg bone to fish it out would leave you with no meat at all! That was dinner, and although it was certainly different than the cassoulet that I have had in the past I would certainly be happy to eat it again. That is a good thing, because I have plenty! Next time I make it I will probably find some turkey sausages that I can throw in there, and make it a bit more traditional. Traditional or not this was very tasty. Personally I always find this kind of long, slow cooking process very rewarding. It always seems to pay off in the end with a ton of flavor, and actually is fairly simple to do as long as you give yourself the time to take on the challenge. I ended up having dinner a little later than I would have liked, but it was great, and gluten-free. Hope you all enjoy it.
Edit: One thing I kind of forgot this morning at 2 am when I was finishing this up is a link back to day one, just in case you haven’t read it yet.