Thursday, January 8, 2009

Six Degrees of ... Bacon - A Running Diary

Over the last week I cured 5 pounds of pork belly using a pretty basic (read: boring) dry cure. This was my first time dry curing, my only other similar experience was a few months ago when I brined some beef into corned beef. So keep in mind that I'm not some curing afficionado, and really I have no idea what I'm doing. For these reasons, I've decided to write about this initial bacon experience in running diary format (copied from a certain sports columnist I read). After the date I am throwing in a single emotion that summarizes what I'm feeling at the time.

1) The week-long curing process is responsible (or I'm using it as an excuse) for lack of postings recently. However, since I now have 5 pounds of bacon to play with there should be a lot more posts in the next two weeks. So all 6 of you reading this should be more than entertained for the forseeable future. YAY!
2) Dates and times are approximate.

December 19th, 5:27PM. Boredom.
I decide it's time to get my ass in gear and order really the only necessary ingredient for basic bacon curing: pink salt/sodium nitrite. Don't listen to Whole Foods tree huggers. A little won't hurt you. Plus it kills pork-loving bacteria, and I don't feel confident enough in my 'curing prowess' to trust the belly sitting in my fridge for ~7 days without spawning some harmful microbes (see link above).

December 26th, 12:00PM. Indifference.
UPS attempts to deliver the pink salt. Surprise... I'm at work. I go pick it up. I don't have the pork belly yet, or an extra pound of kosher salt, so the project is put on a temporary hold.
**The recipe I use, which seems to be a running theme in this blog, was 'borrowed' from Michael Ruhlman/Brian Polcyn's Charcuterie.

December 31st, 11:57PM. Action (finally).
Got the pork belly. Complete with a San Francisco-organic mark up courtesy of a not-to-be-named butcher shop in the Ferry Terminal market. I swear a silent oath on the spot never to buy specialty meats from this location again. Ruhlman says $2.50/lb for belly. I pay twice that here. Next time: Chinatown, maybe the Mission. Definitely somewhere cheap.

Beauty. Don't mind the prescription drug packet.
Don't know how that got in there.
(Pork Pile does not condone the abuse of Rx drugs..)

December 31st, 1:12PM. Action (II).
I buy an unnecessarily overpriced ice chest, thinking it the perfect vessel for this curing process. Some other blogger had mentioned makin' bacon in an ice chest. I also buy a plastic container (common name: tupperware) thinking it might come in handy, in case the ice chest doesn't work. Ruhlman says use the fridge. The ice chest is banished to a distant corner of my room. Plastic container + fridge it is. Mental note: check recipe before purchases.

December 31st, 1:44PM. Action (III).
As you can see, December 31st was a day of extreme action. I crack open the pink salt, make one 'batch' of the basic dry cure, and throw it in a resealable plastic bag (common name: Ziploc). I realize that I've purchased enough pink salt to last me the next 20 years, even if I cure bacon and corned beef10+ times a year. (I bought 40 ounces -> two ounces were needed for one 'batch' -> roughly one tenth of a batch was used for the curing).
5 lb pork belly

1 lb Kosher salt
2 oz pink salt
8 oz sugar**

**In Charcuterie, the authors stress that pretty much any spices/herbs/variations of sugar can be subbed into this cure, making badass and unique bacon types. I went with the basic (again. read: boring) cure to use as a stepping stone.

The cure!

December 31st, 1:58PM. Puzzlement.
I shake just over 1/4 cup of the cure over the belly (after trimming some of the fat) in a Ziploc bag. Then I place the meat (covered uniformly) into the plastic container.

The Meat posing with the Cure.

Covered in the Cure - in its beautiful plastic home

That's pretty much it. Cover and throw it in the fridge.

January 1st, 1:58PM. Excitement.
Some liquid has seeped! The cure is working! Flip it!

This is actually a picture from a later day,
but it looks the same for pretty much the whole curing process..

January 2nd, 1:58PM. Waning Excitement.
A little more liquid has seeped! The cure is still working... Flip it.

January 3rd, 1:58PM. Indifference.
Meh. I forgot to flip it.

January 4th, 1:58PM. Waxing Excitement.
Past the halfway point! (looks about the same as day 2) Flip it.

January 5th, 5:58PM. Budding Doubt.
Maybe there should be more liquid? Flip it. Then I add about 1 tbsp more curing mix sprinkled over the top. That'll fix everything.

January 6th, 5:58PM. Doubt.
What if there wasn't enough pink salt? What if it's not curing? What if it's not bacon? Flip it. Sprinkle 1 tbsp curing mix for symmetry.

January 7th, 5:58PM. Fear.
BAH! It's done. Time for a quick low temp roast (I don't have a smoker). I take 'er out of the container, rinse in cold water for about 5 minutes. Dab all the moisture off with some paper towels, and put it on my ghetto version of a roasting pan (some little wire trays on a cookie sheet).
Ready for roasting
Roast for ~2 hours at 200 F. Internal temp is 'supposed' to hit 150 F. At 2.5 hours it is only at 140!! Something must be wrong with the bacon!

January 7th, 8:28PM. F*ck it.
This is as hot as it's going to get. I take it out, let 'er cool down (still on ghetto roast pan).

Post-Roast (see what I did there?)

January 7th, 11:15PM. Morbid Fear/Managed Excitement.
Top Chef is over. Time to try it. I slice two pieces of the meatier end and fry 'em up. Low-medium heat so fat renders off (and any harmful bacteria... are killed off).

It was super easy to slice. Three possible reasons:
1) bacon is tender
2) I have rocking-badass knife skills
3) I have a really new sharp knife

January 7th, 11:36PM. Partial Relief.
The pieces are really good. Not typical bacon since they lack that smoke-y flavor, but they will definitely do. Plus it will be around 10^6 times better once the basic (boring!) cure is modified/enhanced. Overall: easy and totally worth it. Time for some experimenting!

I ate part of the right one.

Apologies for the novella-length post. Sometimes it just has to happen.

1 comment:

katie said...

OMG. I want some! I need some! gimme bacon you a-hole! What are you going to do with 5 pounds of bacon? Save it for your cassoulet? Eat BLT's while watching a Rambo marathon? I'll grow some lettuce, ferment some cheese, gather some eggs, slay a chicken, steal an avocado from my neices mouth and then we can make a Cobb Salad!