HOMEMADE BACON // the local food report

We are big into math around here these days. (Quick! Nine plus one plus three?) At any rate, five hundred and ninety one long days ago, on Earth Day of 2017, I promised I'd tell you more about making salt pork and bacon. It seems the time has come. 

This week I wrote an essay for the Local Food Report on savory holiday comestibles, specifically preserved meat. As I said to Viki, my editor, when she wondered about the topic—well, apparently this is just the strange kind of bird I am! So there you have it. Sweet is overdone. Comestibles are great. That leaves room for a lot of savory. We accidentally bought two pigs this year (long story) and a cow. We have a freezer full of meat. We need look no further for gifting. 

You can hear the full story on the show (give a listen over here), but what I want to share in this space is a few photos and a recipe. I use the word recipe loosely, because a dry cure is really more of a recommendation than a prescription, and believe it or not it is actually pretty hard to go wrong when you rub a bunch of salt all over a piece of pork belly. In fact there really is no going wrong, so long as you keep it in the fridge. We've let it sit anywhere from a week to a month, and the only thing that "goes wrong" is that it gets more salty. This is nothing that can't be fixed with a soak in some cold water or the good sense to use these saltier bits more sparingly. 

The photo at the very top is some bacon-in-progress that sat in the fridge for a few weeks last year and at the time was about to have its salt brushed off. You can see how much moisture the salt has absorbed—it becomes very wet and heavy. Once we brush off the salt we simply put the bacon in a cloth bag in the cheese drawer of the fridge and let it sit until we're ready to eat. At that point, we give it a little rinse  (or a soak, if it's particularly salty) and pat it dry. It lasts for months and months and months. In fact, we just found some from last year and it's still perfectly good! The miracle of Christmas lives. 


This is loosely adapted from Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking. I've only ever made this with pork belly, but I can see how loin or shoulder could also work well—the chops we get usually have a nice thick layer of fat around them. 

for each 2.50 lb pork belly (or loin, or shoulder)

10 ounces kosher salt
1/3 cup granulated or brown sugar
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Mix all the dry ingredients together. If the pork has a rind still on it, you can leave it on or cut it off—it will simply make the cure take a bit longer. If the piece of pork belly is very large, cut it into manageable pieces, roughly 6 inches by 8 inches. Rub the cure mixture all over the meat, making sure to get it in every crack and crevice. 

Arrange the meat on a rimmed cookie sheet or casserole dish so that the cure mixture is touching it on all sides—I like to put a bit beneath it as well. Leave in the fridge to cure, checking occasionally to make sure it's still fully covered in salt. The salt will absorb a great deal of moisture; this is normal, in fact it is the whole point. According to Darina pork loin and shoulder only need to cure a few days, whereas pork belly can cure anywhere from a few days to several weeks. The longer you let it sit in the cure, the longer it will stay preserved. 

Once you deem the meat "ready" (you cut off a piece and fry it, and it tastes good, and/or it feels sufficiently dried out to last a good, long time) brush off the salt and store it in a cloth bag in the fridge. Reusable produce bags make just the right vessel. Depending how long you cure the bacon, it can last anywhere from a few weeks up to a year, or even longer. To eat, give it a rinse, slice it up and fry it. If it's too salty let the meat soak for 6 hours and try again. 


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