Let’s jump straight to the punchline – it was GOOD. Damn good. Very clean, unmasked pork flavor; not surprising since it was unsmoked and the cure didn’t have much in the way of flavorings added, but still outstanding in its simplicity. Because the pork isn’t injected with a wet cure, it isn’t waterlogged, doesn’t shrink nearly as much as supermarket bacon, but also doesn’t tolerate as high a heat as the prepackaged stuff. This is something I’ll be doing again, and probably not in the too-distant future. Now that I have the basics under my belt, I can start to play with flavorings in the cure (garlic and black pepper!), and if I get super-adventurous I can de-pollenize the Weber grill and smoke the next belly. So many options from such a simple thing!
Now let’s back up a bit. When last we left our pork belly, it had been dredged in a basic bacon cure (225g/0.5lb kosher salt, 113g/0.25lb sugar, 25g/1oz Pink Salt #1) and left in a plastic bag in the fridge for a week, flipping every other day to redistribute the cure. About a quarter cup of the cure was enough for a 4lb. pork belly. The pink salt, 6.25% by weight sodium nitrite, is colored pink to keep you from eating it directly. Its purpose in the cure is to allow the belly to be cooked for a long time at a fairly low temperature without risking bacterial spoilage, especially the case if this is to be cold-smoked. I finished mine in a 225 F oven to an internal temperature of 150 F, which would have killed the bacteria anyway, but better safe than sorry. I’m not worried about the small amount of sodium nitrite that might be in the food at this point; in large quantities, it may be unhealthy, but in this case it’s fine.
Right. The pork belly comes out of the fridge and is rinsed of any excess cure, then put into a low oven to slowly cook. (Above: Before and after; sliced.) This helps set the texture and flavor of the bacon. If this were proper American bacon it would be smoked, but I don’t have a smoking setup easily at hand and this was too simple to pass up. Once it comes out of the oven, use a sharp knife to remove the rind, let cool, then chill to allow it to set, and presto! You’re done! Slice it up or cut into lardons (1/4 in sticks) and enjoy some seriously piggy goodness.
I really don’t intend to buy supermarket bacon anymore. This has a reasonable shelf life (from what I’ve gleaned, about two weeks in the fridge or three months in the freezer) if you can keep it that long. The flavor and texture is head and shoulders above anything I’ve eaten, and it worked out to a little over $2 per pound, compared with $3.50-$5 at the supermarket. (This would certainly go up if I were sourcing my pork by mail order from a boutique farm that raised organic, specially-fed pigs, but I’m not there yet, much happier to support a local butcher.)
Try this at home. It’s easy. For more ideas, check out Charcuterie from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.
(Oh, and the finished product above? A bacon sandwich on a slighlty malformed homemade onion bagel. Yeah. YUM. But that’s another post.)