28 February 2012

Boston bacon

Settling into a new home, in a new city with a new job and a new routine takes time. It takes time to find sources for all the food you want to cook. It takes time to build up your pantry. Take bacon. The only good bacon I've had since I moved to Boston is a batch of $16/lb bacon I purchased from Whole Foods. It was good, but crazy expensive.

It's taken me time to track down a good source of pork belly. H-Mart sells small slabs of pork belly that are too small to baconify. But if you ask nicely, they'll take you into the back and show you a pork belly blanket:

Pork belly blanket

I sliced it up at home, and turned it into bacon.

Pork belly

Modified the recipe below, but with a big bunch of fresh thyme added. This recipe is a re-post:

Raw pork belly

You know how delicious bacon is? It makes everything else better. There's almost nothing better than bacon. Except homemade bacon. As a comparison: store-bought bacon is to tofu as homemade bacon is to store-bought bacon. Yes, homemade bacon is that good. It's meatier, more flavourful, smokier and all-round more delicious. And if you have a charcoal grill, it's really easy to make. All you need is a pork belly, and a few items to cure with. I get my pork belly at my local butcher, or at the neighborhood Asian grocer.

I use the recipe from Charcuterie. You'll need a couple things that aren't available at your neighborhood grocery. Thankfully, everything you need is cheap and available online.

Start by making a basic dry cure:
1 pound kosher salt
13 oz dextrose
3 oz pink salt (also called InstaCure #1, at Sausagemakers)
Now, you make the seasoning blend. Start with something tasty, like bay leaves.


For each pork belly [edit: 3-4 lb pork belly], grind up:
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp black peppercorn
Cure seasoning

Grind 'em into a nice coarse mix. Mix them with:
¼ cup dry cure (from above)
5 chopped garlic cloves
Cure seasoning

Wash the pork belly, dry it off, and rub it all over with the seasoned dry cure.

Pork belly in cure

Place the belly in a ziploc bag, squeeze out all the air, seal, and put it in the fridge. You'll cure it in the fridge for about a week. Every few days, open it up and pour off any extra liquid that accumulates. The salt pulls out a fair amount of water, so don't be surprised to see the liquid accumulate, and the meat firm up. After 7 to 8 days, you'll be ready to smoke.

Cured pork belly

Rinse off the spice and cure in the sink, and pat the pork belly dry.

Cured, washed pork belly

While the pork belly comes to room temperature (for half an hour or so), fire up your grill for indirect heat. I light a small fire on one side of the grill, and put the cured pork bellies on the other side. You'll want a bbq fire around 200°F, and some wet hickory wood to make a little smoke. Lay the belly down skin side up.

SmokerSmoker away

Tend the fire to keep the temperature in the smoker 200°F, adding wet hickory periodically to create smoke. Smoke for 3ish hours (+/- 1 hour), until the pork belly is a lovely color, and the internal temperature measures 150°F.

Smoked belly

Keep in mind, this meat is not cooked. It's not ready to be eaten. Treat this like raw bacon from your grocery store (only more precious - treat it like it's bacon you paid $30 a pound for).

While it's still hot, slice the skin off. I like to use a pair of tongs to hold the skin up while I gently slice it off. It'll end up looking like this:

Cured, smoked and peeled

The belly on the left is showing the side that was facing the grill. The second belly is after the skin has been sliced off the top, and the third one is the smoked belly with the skin still on.

Let the belly's come down to room temperature, at this point either wrap them and freeze or refrigerate them. When you're ready to serve them, slice them thinly on the cross section. This is the only tricky part, slicing them thin enough to get nice-sized bacon slices that are thin enough to render the fat properly. The last inch of belly can be chopped into lardons or bacon bits for serving on salads or in sauces. But you richly deserve something delicious. Fry and serve.

Frying bacon on the grill


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