The first thing many people cure at home – and rightly so – is bacon. Just LOOK AT IT.
My first piece of bacon which I cured at home was straight out of Michael Rulhman and Brian Polcyn’s fantastic book – Charcuterie: The craft of salting, smoking and curing. I’ve adapted this recipe to my taste over time, as I prefer a sweeter cure on my bacon. Particularly a maple cure, with applewood smoke.
My current version:
- A 1Kg decent piece of belly pork, (no ribs, and preferably with the skin on), trimmed so that the edges are nice and square.
- Some of those “zippy” freezer bags – the large ones.
- About 35gms basic dry cure mix *
- A good glug of maple syrup
- About 2tbsp ground black pepper
- About 10 juniper berries, crushed with the back of a knife
* I use a lot of this, so I make a large-ish batch up which means that I don’t have to measure it out each time. Accuracy is key when using curing salts so bigger is better in that respect too, less room for error.
Basic dry cure mix:
- 450 grams sea salt (or any salt with no iodine anti-caking agent in)
- 225 grams sugar
- 50 grams cure #1 (also known as Prague powder 1 or pink salt) It’s 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% salt, and prevents botulism. Strictly speaking you don’t need this in bacon even if it’s smoked, because it’ll get cooked before eating anyway. It also makes the bacon a nice pink colour too.
It’ll keep indefinitely in a Kilner jar.
Put the bacon and dry cure mix into the zippy bag, rub it all over the meat (get into all those nooks and crannies), add the rest of the ingredients, give it another mix, then pop it into the fridge for about a week, turning it over every other day so that all the meat gets an even cure (this is technically called “overhauling”). You’ll notice that a brine is produced, this is what you want, and it’ll carry the flavours into the meat.
After about 5 days or so, feel the meat to see if it feels a bit firm, not hard. If it does, it’s cured. If not, leave it another day and check again.
Once it’s cured, take it out of the fridge and wash all the cure off the meat under the cold tap (I can never get all the pepper off, that doesn’t really matter). Discard the cure and dry the meat with paper towel.
Now you have options to finish it off:
- Put it (fat side up) onto a griddle pan in a baking tray and set the oven to 200F (about 93C) until it’s 150F in the middle (that takes about 1-1.5hrs)
- Hot smoke it until it reaches 150F in the middle
- Cold smoke it and then finish it in the oven, as #1
That’s it! You’ve got lovely bacon. mmmm, bacon. Slice a piece off and fry it up!
If it’s a little bit salty, you can blanch it which will remove some of that salt. I’ve found that the edges tend to be more salty than the middle.
Here’s what mine looked like after about 8 hours cold smoked over applewood chips, before the oven phase:
And here it is freshly out of the oven, once it’s hit 150F in the middle
Take the fat off, slice it up, and use any trimmings, etc for lardons. It freezes really well, especially if you have a vacuum sealer.