Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fat, Sweet, Salt, & Smoke

Bacon makes me happy.

I could almost end this dissertation right there, but perhaps you'd like to hear a little more. There's a traditional song, "In My Time of Dying," which in a Be Good Tanyas rendition includes the line: "Ever since I've been acquainted with Jesus, we've never been a minute apart." That's how it is with bacon and me. Ever since I got a handle on the basics of home smoking, and honed (I won't say perfected; there's always room for improvement in some way) my bacon-makin' method, there is always a piece of that salty sweet smoky porcine goodness in our fridge or freezer. It's a staple of the Trout Caviar home economy, like homemade chicken stock and home-baked bread--if any of those things is missing from the larder, something is wrong with the rhythms of my life.

While some bacon lovers will contend that the only bad bacon is no bacon, in reality there's a lot of wretched stuff out there, chemical-soaked, faux-smoked, over-salted pork of dubious provenance whose only virtue is that it's cheap, if that can be considered a virtue at all. There's also very good bacon to be had commercially, but it's so easy to make your own, with all known, local ingredients, that I'll risk repeating myself to encourage any and all to give it a try.

There are exactly four ingredients in my home-smoked bacon, including the smoke:

Pork belly
Maple syrup

I laid out the bacon basics in a very early, incredibly long-winded blog post, and not much has changed in how I go about it, except:

1) I don't write 5,000 word blogs posts anymore,
2) I've learned to ask for nice big slabs of pork belly at the co-op or Asian market, instead of already cut-up pieces, as I apparently used to, and
3) I've changed my standard cure, settling on straight maple syrup, and much less salt than I used to apply.

Now, to two pounds of pork belly, I add 1/4 cup of maple syrup, massaging it well into the meat. I used to reduce the maple syrup, until one time I turned it into maple candy. Then sprinkle three tablespoons of salt over the meat. I use the fine sea salt I get in bulk at the co-op. Any salt will do. In place of maple syrup, you could use 1/4 cup of brown sugar. In that case, mix the salt and brown sugar together, and rub it all over the meat.

Let it cure for 24 hours. Turn it over a few times during that time, and spoon the juices evenly over the meat. Then just before smoking, rinse the belly under cool running water, and set it on a wire rack to dry for an hour or so before smoking.

Now that I have access to loads of apple wood, that's all I use for smoking--oh, well, some oak might get in there, more as a charcoal function than for flavor. I think there's a magic synergy among the pork, maple, and apple smoke flavors. Since this bacon is fully cooked in the hot smoking, you can eat slices of it straight off the slab, and I do. It's the best charcuterie around, in my opinion.

When the bacon has smoked for a couple of hours at 200 to 220 degrees, I take it off and let it cool, then cut it into half-pound portions and freeze all but one.

I just took the bread out of the oven, and the bacon has another hour in the smoke. The freezer has plenty of chicken stock, a few weeks' worth, I reckon. I'm thinking about a bacon, cheese, and apple sandwich for lunch, and I'm feelin' pretty good.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw


Jen (She said. She said.) said...

This was not the post for me to read right before my vegan lent experiment. :) I love bacon as well and thus is on my "must try" list.

By the way, I think this was the perfect way to celebrate National Pig Day.

Greg said...

I don't know if you've read Michael Ruhlman's "Charcuterie", but I got that last fall and all winter I've been making stuff out of it (I know, I always jump on the trend bandwagon when it's already full). The one I keep coming back to is the recipe for pancetta. I also get my pork belly from a Chinese market (comment from the butcher lady behind the counter: "Are you American? They don't like this much". I assured her yes and yes.). I keep a workout area in my garage at 50 degrees in the winter which is just right for hanging and drying cured meat. Next fall, when the weather is cooler again, after buying some equipment over the summer, I want to try to make different types of sausages. That and raise some ducks for confit, which he also has a recipe for. A man should have goals; I'm just saying.

Trout Caviar said...

Jen, there's still time, and what better way to go into a vegan lent than with a great god almighty Mardi Gras bacon feed?!?! You brine that belly today, smoke it tomorrow morning, get good & greasy tomorrow night. Go for it!

Greg, I've heard much about the Ruhlman book, and it sounds really interesting. I haven't expanded my charcuterie efforts for a long time, and I probably should branch out--but I hardly think you or anyone else can be faulted for "bandwagon jumping," as long as charcuterie has been around. I think this new interest in sausages, patés and such is a lovely trend, and I hope it continues. I might just have a go at pastrami, as your "Super Bowl" sammie looked very fine indeed. I'm going to link your new blog here, and look forward to checking in often.