Bacon Pictures

I took another shot at Charcuterie, this time branching out from the basic cure. Once again I ordered an 8.5 lb pork belly from Niman Ranch and split it into 2 slabs of bacon. With one half I made a sweet maple cured bacon and the other half, savory. Maple sugar and syrup are added to the basic cure for the sweet and the savory takes garlic, bay leaf and black pepper. The curing went much better this time because I used the saltbox method, dredging the bellies in plenty of cure and shaking off the excess before sealing in Ziploc bags and refrigerating. The other big improvement in the process came in the smoking. I think I am getting this process down. I placed a tray with water underneath the bacon, the moisture from which helps the fire to burn at a steadier rate so the lid doesn’t need to be opened as often to add coals. I also used apple wood chips soaked in water instead of the stupid pellets from my first go around. The chips worked much better, although I think wood chunks will be the real way to go. I feel I am almost there with the smoking, a little more tweaking and I will be able to present a detailed method that gives consistent results here. As far as the bacon goes, both slabs came out awesome, as you can see by the accompanying pictures (actually, these are all pictures of the savory bacon, but trust me the maple came out just as good). Of the two I think I prefer the savory,...

Cooking With Guanciale

When I was ordering the pork belly from Niman Ranch for my first attempt at home cured bacon, I had room to add more items to my order without increasing my shipping charges. So to maximize the shipping costs I ordered some guanciale, which is kind of like pancetta or bacon, but it is cured pork jowl rather than belly. Guanciale is the traditional ingredient used in the classic Roman Pasta dishes, Bucatini all’Amatricianna and Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Since guanciale is not easy to find outside of Rome and the Lazio region in Italy, and until recently impossible here in the U.S., substituting pancetta for the guanciale has become commonplace. Two things struck me when I received the guanciale. First, it was liberally seasoned on top with herbs including rosemary. I am no expert on the subject but I get the feeling that this was an American’s idea and this is not done in Italy. Since I was going to be using it in pasta sauce I was not thrilled with this because I just don’t think rosemary has any place in a sauce. The other thing I noticed as soon as I sliced it is that it has much more fat than pancetta. I have made two Roman pasta dishes with my guanciale, rubbing off as much of the seasoning on top as I could first. I substituted it for the pancetta in my father’s Bucatini all’Amatriciana recipe. There is a subtle difference from the pancetta version in the resulting dish, with a more pronounced pork flavor and richer feel to it from the additional fat rendered into...

Home Cured Fresh Bacon

After a year of leafing through the excellent book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn , and vowing to make sausages, bacon, etc. “one of these days”, I decided it finally was time for action. Fresh bacon seemed like a good starting point, the recipe didn’t look too difficult. Make the cure, rub it all over the pork belly, put it in a Ziploc bag in the fridge, and turn it every other day. Once it was cured you could smoke it, as is traditionally done, or just cook it slowly in the oven. Big shot that I am, I decided to try and smoke it, more on that later. The first challenge was getting the two special ingredients, pink salt (sodium nitrite) and pork belly. Pink salt was easy enough to get through Butcher-Packer (sold under the name DQ Curing Salt), I also ordered dextrose, which is what the authors prefer to use for the sugar in the cure (they give formulas for making the cure with both dextrose and regular sugar). Pork Belly was another story, not something that you find on the supermarket shelf. They say that you can try to have your butcher special order it for you, but since that would require me talking to somebody, I saved it as a last resort. Luckily, you can order it online from Niman Ranch, once I factored in the shipping costs it was expensive enough to make me hesitate, but I was able to justify the cost in the name of science. My pork belly arrived on a Friday, a big 8.5 pound slab of...