I’ve been pretty remiss on the blog front lately. Though I had great visions of taking advantage of the longer days to photograph delicious food, the reality is that I’ve just been eating delicious food and enjoying the longer days.
I’ve also been doing a lot of reading, beginning with reading Charcuterie: The Craft Of Salting Smoking And Curing, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. This book is like the bible (or at least one of them) of cured meats like sausages, rillettes, duck confit and of course bacon and pancetta.
Although I’ve done sausages, I had never tried my hand at bacon or pancetta, and the idea took hold in my little brain that this should be something that I try. Now.
My pork belly came from Irving’s Farm Fresh, a producer out of Edmonton that delivers locally. They raise nice fat Berkshire pigs on pasture so I knew I was starting with premium (and happy) pork.
I divided the 5lb belly into three pieces, two fatter ones for bacon and one thinner, more uniform one for pancetta.
The 1lb pieces were cured in a mixture of salts, spices and maple syrup and left to cure for about 7 days. I used the safety advice and this recipe from Amazingribs.com.
As it turned out the fatter of the two didn’t feel quite firm enough for my liking so I left it for an additional 2 before hot smoking. That doubled the time that I put into it but gave me some time to play around with the temperature on my barbie to make sure that I could hold the 200° heat that I was looking for. It also gave me two opportunities to try out my little cold smoker device, the Pro Q Cold Smoker.
This thing is pretty neat, requiring nothing but a candle or match and some smoking sawdust (I used applewood) to make smoke for several hours. Can you say smoked cheese?
I’m a bit of a tool geek and have been doing a fair bit of research into safely smoking meats. Nearly everyone says that you need a good external thermometer as the ones on your barbecue (and oven) are not particularly accurate.
So, as is my way, I set out to find a good external thermometer, putting my money down on a Thermoworks one. As it turns out, “they” were right. My oven thermometer was off by anywhere between 50 and 100°. When you are smoking at a low temp, that is a big difference!
I went with the temperature shown on my Thermoworks thermometer and held my temperature between about 198° and 210° for approximately 2 hours, until the probe thermometer was reading 160° on average across the slab, which still was slightly less than uniform.
After cooling the bacon off, the next trick was to get it sliced, which I did with an old Rival slicer that was given to us as a wedding gift (many, many, many years ago). The only challenge with the slicing was that the pork was so long that I could not get the whole thing back far enough to slice the entire length. So, I cut it in half and made 2 sets of 6″ slices – thick!
My first attempt turned out fantastic, though I think next time I will reduce the maple sugar by quite a bit as I find it a bit sweet.
Turns out, bacon is really easy to make at home with not much in the way of specialized ingredients (though you do need curing salt) or equipment.
Next, on to the pancetta!