Thursday, February 28, 2013

Charcuterie - Maple Bacon - First Attempt

I enjoy bacon, I really enjoy bacon.  It’s salty and sweet, it can be smoky and crispy, and it seems to add its flavour to anything it’s paired with.  So recently I’ve started reading a book called Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman.  It is all about that ancient craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing meat and other preserving methods.  This of course is making me more and more interested in the craft and art behind making this food.  With thoughts of bacon, sausage and other things dancing in my head, and finding curing salt at the local market, I decided to try my hand at making my own bacon.  Down at the market, I was able to also get a small piece of pork belly, about 5cm (2 inches) thick with the skin on.

Bacon with rub/cure
 Maple Bacon
Yummy maple flavour on this bacon is so exciting, I can’t decide if I’m going to hot smoke it or not.  Granted some of this indecision may be because of the weather.  I have a small charcoal wet smoker out on the balcony, but its thin walled and the weather outside is still below 0°C (32°F).  We’ll need to see what happens when it is done curing.  When I got the pork belly home, I realized that half the thickness came from the spare ribs and cartilages.  I sliced this part cleanly away from the remaining pork belly, setting it aside to play with later.
Prep Time 10 minutes + 7 days
Cook Time 120 minutes

500g Pork Belly with skin
300g Large Granulated Sea Salt
150g Granulated Brown Sugar
30g Curing Salt
83g Maple Sugar

Side view of the bacon

 1)      I mixed the dry ingredients together, and put them aside into a sealed jar.  This was almost 600g of rub/cure and I won’t need near that much, so I’ll have some for later use
2)      Rinse the pork belly well and then pat it dry with paper towel

After cooking

3)      Using a spoon I sprinkled the rub thickly over the skin side of the pork belly and pressed it in
4)      Picking up the pork belly I shook off the loose rub onto a board and dipped the bare side in the remaining rub
5)      Adding more rub to the board as necessary, I made sure to get the remaining sides
6)      Once well covered with rub, I put it in a zipper storage bag and placed it in the fridge

Seven days later the pork belly is firm to the touch and I think it’s ready to go.  I pulled it out of the fridge and rinsed it pretty well under cold water.  We spent the weekend away and taking the time to get the smoker going just seems like too much effort.  Instead I preheat the convection oven to about 100°C (212°F), pat the pork belly dry with paper towel and insert the probe from my digital thermometer.  Once the oven is preheated, I placed the cured pork belly into the oven on a rack.  I set the alarm to go off when the internal temperature reached about 65°C (150°F).  After about 90 minutes the alarm went off and I pulled the pork out of the oven.  It smelled and looked beautiful; marbled layers of white, dark and light pink.  I let it cool to the point where I could hold an edge of the skin while I slowly slid the knife as close as possible to the skin, leaving as much fat as possible behind.

Slicing away the skin after roasting

After cooling, I cut a slice for a taste.  I think the salt was a little much since is completely overpowers the maple flavour.  At this point the bacon tastes much like a salty piece of ham.  I think I will go back and add another 50g of maple sugar and 50g of brown sugar, to try to balance out the cure.  I may also soak the cured pork belly in some fresh water for about 2 hours before roasting/smoking next time.

All in all, when fried up the bacon is pretty good for a first try.  I’m definitely going to try this again, next time with a hot smoke.
Photos courtesy of Mrs. Thirsty