Preservation Friday: Making Bacon

Salt is one of the oldest and best known preservatives, and salted pork has been an important part of our diet for hundreds of years. It is mentioned in the Forme of Curry (written by the master cooks of King Richard II), and the method for producing bacon has remained largely unchanged since the 14th century.

I think that the best bacon is made using the dry curing process, and that’s what I  will describe here. Dry curing uses dry salt and spices to preserve the pork, and the resulting bacon has a firm texture and strong taste. Commercially speaking, dry cured bacon is more expensive, because the dry curing process removes moisture and reduces the overall weight of the bacon.

Basic Ingredients

  • 1 kilo of Pork belly Try to choose a piece of belly draft with plenty of fat running through it. Tell your butcher that you want to make bacon, and he should provide you with a suitable cut.
  • 6 tbsp pure Salt Most table and cooking salts have additives that improve the flow of the salt. You should avoid them if possible and use pure salt.
  • 2 tsp of crushed Black pepper

Optional Extras:

  • 2 tbsp soft Brown sugar
  • 2 tsp smoked Paprika
  • 2 tsp dried Coriander
  • 2 tsp crushed dried Chili
  • 1/2 tsp Saltpeter Saltpeter gives the bacon a pinkish color, but some scientific evidence suggests that it may be harmful to your health.

Directions

  1. Trim the pork to remove any excess fat and sinew.
  2. Massage the salt and spices into the bacon

    If you are using saltpeter, sprinkle it over both sides of the pork and massage it into the meat with your hands. Salt and saltpeter are not friendly to your skin, so wear disposable gloves.

  3. Mix salt, pepper and optional ingredients together in a bowl. I recommend brown sugar for a sweeter cure that browns nicely in the pan.
  4. Sprinkle a quarter of the salt mixture over the flesh side (as opposed to the skin side) of the pork. Work the salt in with your hands to get an even coating over the entire draft, and make sure that you push salt into any hidden pockets and cuts in the meat.
  5. Repeat the salting process on the skin side of the draft. The skin will be very tough to start with, but after a few minutes of massaging with salt, it will soften.
  6. Place the pork skin side down in a plastic tray in the refrigerator. The salt will release fluid from the pork, so periodically remove the tray from the refrigerator and dispose of any liquid. A few bamboo skewers laid across the bottom of the tray helps to keep the bacon dry by raising it above the liquid.
  7. Re-salt the pork after 24 hours and turn over so that the skin side is up. Leave the pork in the refrigerator for about another day and a half.
  8. Cut a few slices of bacon, remembering that the end will be saltier than the rest of the bacon.

    There is no definitive method to identify when a piece of bacon is fully cured. Temperature and humidity will affect the curing process, as will the thickness of the draft that you are using. I generally find that 2-3 days in salt is sufficient for a piece of bacon of average size, but larger drafts will take longer.

  9. Wash the bacon in cold water to remove any remaining salt, and then pat dry with kitchen towels.
  10. Cut a few thin slices of bacon and fry them in a pan to test the cure. The first couple of slices will be salty because they were right at the end of the draft. Slices from further in should give a better idea of how salty the bacon will be. If it’s too salty, you can try soaking it in water for a few hours and testing again.
  11. Wrap the bacon in a clean cheesecloth or a cotton bag, and hang it in a cool dry place for at least 24 hours before refrigerating.

You can cook your bacon in a dry pan – there should be enough fat in the bacon itself to cook without adding oil. The taste of homemade bacon is far superior to anything that you will purchase in the supermarket, and although the ends of the bacon will be very salty, they can be diced into soups or casseroles to add flavour.

Fry the bacon in a dry pan

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