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Beginning Charcuterie: Bacon

Shortly after my bacon was complete, I just had to tell my brother, Josh Sucher, about my pride and delight. We ended up typing back and forth at each other about it, because such is our relationship – we used to IM each other while sitting in our separate bedrooms down the hall from each other, too.

Me:

“I made BACON!”

My brother:

“Danielle. I don’t understand why slicing off pigmeats before crisply cooking them is such an accomplishment.”

Me:

“Nononono.
A week and a half ago, I had to ask my excellent butcher to special order a skin-on pork belly for me.
I had to order nitrite, pink salt.
I put together a basic dry cure mix of salt, pink salt, and sugar.
Cut my belly into three pieces, split my basic cure into three bowls and spiced each differently.
Cured it in my fridge for about 10 days, flipping each slab every other day.
Today, smoked it for about 5 hours, some over apple wood, some over hickory.
THEN I got to slice the pigmeats and crisply cook them.”

I think that’s a pretty good accomplishment, really.

It all started when I picked up a copy of Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. The bacon, it called to me. I love preserving jams and pickles, fermenting my own vinegar, kimchi, and mead, so it really came as no surprise that I quickly became obsessed with the idea of curing and preserving my own meats as well.

My butcher wouldn’t sell me less than 10 pounds of pork belly, ribs included, because it’s not an item that sells well from the case. Sure, okay. When we got the meat I trimmed off the ribs and some of the belly for dinner that night, and cut the rest into 3 slabs of approximately 2 1/2 lbs each.

Each slab was cured with about 1/4 C of Michael Ruhlman’s basic dry cure, as detailed in his book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. In addition, the maple bacon was cured with about 3/8 C maple syrup; the Sichuan bacon had 2 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns and 2 tbsp lapsang souchong tea spread on the meaty side after the cure was applied, and the sage mustard bacon had something like 2 tsp mustard seed (popped in a pan first), 1 tsp ground sage, 3 smashed cloves of garlic, and 2 tsp cracked peppercorns mixed into its cure.

I left each slab in its separate bag to cure in our fridge for about 10 days, flipping over all three slabs every other day. At the end of that time, the slabs were rinsed, patted dry, and left uncovered in the fridge overnight to develop a pellicle – a drier, slightly tacky layer on the surface that helps the smoke adhere to the meat.

Now, imagine the absurdity of our situation: we live in a small garden apartment in a Park Slope brownstone. We have in our backyard a small smoker grill, which is a cylinder approximately 15″ in diameter. It has space for charcoal and wood in the bottom, a bowl for ice or cold water above that, and a grill at the top.

Because our smoker is so small and our pigmeats were so large, we had to smoke the bacon in two batches. Because it was chilly out, we sat in the kitchen smelling of wood smoke from hair and coat, wandering out into the backyard every now and then to replenish the charcoal, wood, and ice, and to test the external and internal temperatures of the meat.

For the first batch, we used apple wood, and smoked the entire slab of maple bacon and half of each of the others.

For the second batch, we used hickory, and smoked the remaining half slabs of the Sichuan and sage mustard bacons.

We tried to keep the smoke down around 200 F, and slowly smoked the bacon up to an internal temperature of 150 F over the course of about 5-7 hours. It helped that it was a chilly autumn day. When each slab was done, we brought it inside and carefully sliced off the skin to freeze and use later. (Can you imagine roasting a leg of lamb wrapped in bacon skin? Or using it to flavor stews or beans? The possibilities are endless!)

Our maple bacon is amazing – it is easily the best bacon I have ever eaten.

With the sage mustard bacon, the sage flavor really came through very nicely. The Sichuan bacon was probably the least flavorful of the three, which means that it was merely great.

I’m glad that we experimented with different woods, because we found that the Sichuan and sage mustard bacons were better smoked over hickory than over apple – that is, they were fantastic over apple, but truly extraordinary over hickory.

I think that I prefer sweeter bacon for eating plain, and I expect the more savory batches to really shine best when used in chowders and such.

Now that we have all this bacon (our freezer is crammed with sandwich bags full of bacon, 2 ounces in each), it’s time for a chowder night! And beans, we must make beans!

I have some pancetta and salt pork curing in my fridge right now. Yesterday, I diced and flavored the meat for my first sausage, which I will be grinding and stuffing later today. Next, I really want to make a Hungarian spiced bacon (with edes paprika, garlic, and allspice or clove), and a sweet bacon with Calvados.

Not to mention, I am quite possibly even more excited about the possibilities for using these gorgeous bacon skins than I am about the bacon itself.

Anyone have any other ideas or recipes that call for bacon which you can recommend?

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26 Responses to “Beginning Charcuterie: Bacon”

  1. Josh Jasper says:

    I wonder if you could do some variation on Chinese sweet dried BBQ pork (Char Shew)

  2. Nicole says:

    I bow down to you, Queen of Bacon! :-)

  3. Stephanie says:

    whoa. You continue to amaze me! When I was down at the Southern Foodways Alliance conference, they did a “pig candy” snack–bacon rubbed with brown sugar and slow-baked so it was crunchy and salty-sweet. Mmmm. I’m curious about the need for nitrate in your bacon, though–since you kept the meat refrigerated throughout the curing process and used salt and sugar, then smoked it before freezing it, did you really need the nitrate to preserve it? If I were ever to make my own cured/preserved meats, I’d prefer to do them without nitrates, and I’m curious as to why you’d need them if you’re not looking for long-term storage.

  4. Annemarie says:

    This is beyond impressive. Several day’s effort, but the anticipation and pay-off must have been better for. It completely puts the time my friends and I spent a month brining pickles into a pale light…

  5. Here’s an idea for your bacon:
    – Buy a pound of brussels sprouts, trim and slice them lengthwise in half.
    – Blanch them in salted water, then remove them to an ice bath.
    – While they cool, chop about a half-pound of bacon and put it in a saute pan over medium heat. Drain off some of the grease, but keep a little in the pan.
    – Add a finely chopped and peeled yellow delicious apple, a splash of apple cider, a splash of white wine, and some carmelized shallot. Saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes, just as the apples get golden brown around the edges.
    – Return the brussels sprouts to the pan and toss them around gently in the mixture until they’re warm again.
    Enjoy! And congrats on making the bacon. That book is fantastic!

  6. Kevin says:

    Hm. What can you NOT do with bacon. I too am a ‘Charcuterie’ bacon convert. It’s a bible in our home. Some things I do with our bacon:
    - wrap tenderloin, scallops, or any other meat
    - with fried eggs
    - spaghetti carbonara
    - tomato, bacon, onion, garlic on pasta
    - trimmed ends to add depth in braises and stews
    - wilted spinach salad with bacon and cider vinaigrette
    Enjoy your bounty. :)

  7. Dale Cruse says:

    I recently wrote about the best drink I’ve never tried: Bacon Fat-Infused Bourbon! http://www.DrinksAreOnMe.net

  8. Congrats! Makin’ bacon is on my to-do list for sometime this winter, as well…you have provided inspiration!

  9. brilynn says:

    Now that you have made your own bacon you will NEVER go back to store bought, it’s sooo good! I’ve got another pork belly coming my way next week. Luckily my butcher will sell them to me in smaller doses.

  10. chefjp says:

    Wonderful job on taking us through the bacon creation process. With the skin, I would make some southern cracklins–a tasty nosh if ever there was one!

  11. Michel says:

    Careful, Charcuterie can become an addictive read.

  12. Dave Weinstein says:

    Glad you liked the Sichuan Bacon.

    One nice way to use it is to cut it into Lardons, and chop up some cabbage (Taiwan preferably, any will do), and a few green onions.

    Fry the lardons, when they are crispy, toss in the green onions and the cabbage. You’ll want to cook this over high heat, tossing occasionally, to the point where the cabbage is moist, but not wilted, and not overly crisp (and some wok style charring isn’t amiss). Toss the whole thing with light soy sauce, stir once or twice, and then remove from the heat and place in a serving bowl. Let it rest for at least five minutes to let the salt, oil, and flavors mix and get reabsorbed by the cabbage.

    As far as other recipes, I think I put the orange bacon recipe up on eGullet as well, and that is my default go-to breakfast bacon.

  13. Backyardchef says:

    Wonderful, Danielle! It does the heart proud (but not healthy, LOL!) to see a post like this….I hope you and yours are doing great….

    Matt

  14. Annie says:

    You could wrap a lean meat like venison in the skins for roasting, but beans are definitely the place to start. I have asked for this book for Christmas!

  15. Danielle says:

    Josh – I have a recipe for that, actually. I’ll probably try it at some point.

    Nicole – Thanks, I think?

    Stephanie – I’m not sure the nitrite is strictly necessary if you’re hot-smoking, though I think it may be necessary to keep the meat safe if you cold-smoke it first. And given the weather, I think we were cold-smoking ours for a while there, so I feel better knowing the nitrites were in there. Also, they give it more of the cured flavor we expect from bacon.

    Annemarie – Brining pickles is a wonderful accomplishment!

    French Laundry, Kevin, Dave – Those recipes sound delicious. Thank you for the ideas!

    Dale – Now, that’s brilliant.

    Bacon Heather – Have fun!

    Brilynn – Honestly, too much bacon disappears faster than you’d think.

    chefjp – I actually tried making cracklings from the spare skin from my pancetta, but didn’t really like them. So I’m saving them in my freezer for soup instead. Just not my thing, I guess.

    Michel – Too late!

    Backyardchef – We sure are. How are you these days?

    Annie – Mmm, venison. I like that thought. Enjoy the book when it arrives!

  16. Dana says:

    I’m SO impressed! Btw, did you see Ruhlman’s recipe suggestion on his blog?? It involves maple ice cream, bacon and waffles. Umm…YUM!!

  17. Graeme says:

    I was chewing gum, until it feel out when my jaw dropped in disbelief.

    Thanks for that!

  18. Gabi says:

    I do believe it’s time to try that “Bacon Brittle” recipe – you know the one I mean?!

  19. linda says:

    That’s so cool!

  20. Peg says:

    mmmm…bacon….

    Congratulations on your success!

    I have considered joining one of those Bacon of the Month clubs that seem to be growing in popularity…

    I like to put bacon in my turkey chili recipe. Cut the bacon into small chunks and cook until the fat starts to turn translucent. Then saute your ground turkey in the bacon fat. Add chopped onion, then add minced garlic once onion goes tranlucent. Add plenty of chili powder, salt and white pepper to taste, some crushed red pepper, then your kidney beans and tomato sauce. Simmer two hours, stirring occasionally. Let sit for a few hours in fridge or on stove , overnight is fine. Reheat thoroughly before serving.

    You may include some pork or beef in addition to or instead of the turkey if you like.

  21. Danielle says:

    Dana – I sure did! It looks fantastic. Definitely on my to-try list.

    Graeme – Thank you!

    Gabi – Sure do! I’ve made it with supermarket bacon, which was amazing enough, but it’d be even better with the homemade stuff.

    Linda – Thanks!

    Peg – The club sounds like fun. And mmm, chili, what an excellent idea.

  22. Yvo says:

    Ack, making your own bacon?! I bow before you… sheesh!
    My favorite bacon recipes seem to put the bacon in the background too much so for your awesome bacon… bacon fried rice, ribollita (I use bacon for mine)- although I could see a maple bacon really shining in there as the maple brings a different taste to the soup…. ahhhhh…. and chowders… yum yum. (All recipes can be found on my site if you’re interested, but I figure I won’t link it unless you are). Ugh… I want to try this now =D

  23. mr.ed says:

    Good on you for trying this. I smoke lots of meats. Turkey’s a real treat. Often, people will drift in, wondering where that heavenly aroma’s coming from. Once, two little kids showed up with plates in hand.
    We lost a plum tree last year. Boy, does that make great smoke. I use an electric water smoker that was only about $50 at Walmart. Always consistent results. Load it up, plug it in, walk away for a few hours. Lift the lid, and the meat is all smoke-browned, looking like it’s on a magazine cover. Some of it makes its way into the house. The rest? who knows?

  24. Barbara says:

    As a fortunate recipient of two selections, I can attest to the deliciousness of your products. Now if you just had a bigger freezer….

  25. I found your blog on Google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Bacon News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  26. jediSwiftPirate says:

    holy crap i uberly love BACON!

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