Brine Time: The Bacon Cure Pt. I by Mike Verano

 

IMG_1571What is it about bacon? How can a country so torn apart by conflicting viewpoints almost unanimously agree that bacon is a miracle food? The comedian Jim Gaffigan (click here) sings bacon’s praises and calls it “the most beautiful thing on earth.” We are so in love with bacon that the phrase “As American as apple pie” is in danger of being replaced with “Everything tastes better with bacon on it.” In many households across this great land the traditional bacon and egg breakfast has given way to bacon and bacon with a side of, you guessed it, bacon.

Like many of the foods we consume on a regular basis, there has always been a shroud of mystery around bacon production. Honestly, how many of you have opened a pack of bacon and thought, “I can make this”? I would venture a guess that very few have entertained that thought and that part of bacon’s allure is the fact that its arrival at the store is a mystery, stuffed inside a riddle, and wrapped with, well . . . you know.

If you enjoy the idea that bacon is a natural wonder that no mere mortal can hope to reproduce, or, if you’re convinced that trying to make bacon is symptomatic of a delusional disorder, then this blog is not for you. If, however, you’re of the mindset that part of the locavore movement includes not just bringing home the pork from a local source but actually makin’ the bacon, then you’ve come to the right place.

We begin the process with what might be the biggest challenge you face when trying to become the Baconator; finding the right cut of meat. You might think that since we live in what could very well be considered the pork belt — Virginia’s own Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest producer of pork — that finding pork belly would be a simple matter. Shucks, ever since I learned to say “shucks,” I was certain that the local 7-11 would have a separate aisle just for pork products.

It’s turns out that pork belly, or as it’s better known, “bacon in waiting,” is not readily available and that even the most well-stocked stores in the area, that carry parts of pigs that, let’s be honest, are not identifiable as food sources, do not carry the precious cut required. If I were the conspiratorial type, I would be inclined to see this as an obvious attempt to keep us average citizens from realizing that we don’t need big industry to feed us our daily BLT. I’m sure somewhere in the back halls of the Oscar-Mayer corporation there are corporate fat-cats living high off the hog on our ignorance of the truth.

Fortunately, I’m not the conspiratorial type, and Off the Vine, once again, came to the rescue as Tess offers the primo cuts as part of the meat share and through the retail store from farmers such as Polyface.  So it was that when Tess handed me three packages of perfectly prepared pork (dig the alliteration) and instructed me to cure it, smoke it, blog it, I was happier than a pig in mud.

Making bacon, as it turns out, requires  a lot of patience; most likely another reason why many of us prefer to pick a package of perfect pork product from our local shops (whew!) rather than make it ourselves. Still, if the farm-to-table movement teaches us anything, it’s that fast food often shows up at the expense of quality. So it was with a leisurely pace that I combined the ingredients for the brine and without haste rubbed it into the pork, making sure to get total coverage. Placing the pork into a plastic bag, again with absolute unhurriedness, I placed it into the refrigerator where it will remain for the next seven days. During these seven, excruciatingly long, days the only work to be done is to occasionally open the refrigerator door, rotate the bag gently to redistribute the brine, place it back, and wait.

The Cure – adapted from the website Primal Plate (If you scroll down to the “Serves” menu you can change the amount you’re making and it will recalculate the ingredient amounts)
Ingredients
3 3/4 lb Pork Belly
3/16 cup Salt, Coarse, kosher
1 1/2 tsp Salt – Pink Curing
1/8 cup Black Pepper
1 1/2 Bay Leaf, crumbled
1/16 cup Maple Sugar or Brown Sugar
1/8 cup Maple Syrup
3 3/4 cloves Garlic, Crushed
Combine salt, maple sugar, maple syrup, and spices together in a medium mixing
bowl.
Rub mixture all over the pork belly, and place into ziploc bags, add in a clove of
garlic for each pound of belly.
Refrigerate the belly for 7 days. Flip the bags daily to ensure even dry rub contact.

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