Charcutepalooza: Fresh Bacon and Pizza

Charcutepalooza: Fresh Bacon and Pizza

I have never taken part in a blogging challenge or event before, but when I heard about Charcutepalooza, I knew I had to participate. Charcutepalooza is the brainchild of two food bloggers, Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy. Each month for a year they pick a recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s excellent book, Charcuterie, and the participating bloggers, try that recipe and blog about their experiences. Charcuterie is one of my favorite cookbooks of all time so this was a no-brainer for me. The first topic was Duck Prosciutto in January, but I found out about this challenge too late for that. However, I hope to circle back some time during the year and try the duck prosciutto. For February the topic is the salt cure. You can choose from one of two challenges: The Apprentice which is fresh bacon, or the Charcuterie Challenge, pancetta or guanciale. I choose bacon, and to be honest it felt like a bit of a copout for me at first. I have been curing and smoking my own bacon for years now, since i first bought Ruhlman’s book. I have even posted about it on his blog, here and here. Ideally, I would take this opportunity to expand my horizons and try the pancetta or guanciale. However, logistical reasons and time constraints prevented me from going that route for now (I know… excuses, excuses). So I started this out a little disappointed in myself since not only was I going with the bacon, but I was not even smoking it, because my smoker is buried under 173 inches of snow right now! My disappointment...

Fresh Italian Sausage

I have been making my own sausage for a few years now, ever since I picked up the book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing (Revised and Updated) by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.  Charcuterie is probably my favorite cookbook, even though the only recipes from the book I have actually made are several of the fresh sausages (the Spicy Roasted Poblano Sausage is awesome) and smoked bacon.  Those few recipes, however, have given me immense satisfaction, and I am always picking it up, flipping through it and planning on eventually branching out to more advanced projects like dry cured sausages, pancetta and bresaola. My Fresh Italian Sausage recipe is actually a hybrid of the Sweet Italian Sausage recipe in Charcuterie and the Fresh Italian Sausage recipe from another book in my library, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing (Revised and Updated) by Paul Bertolli.  I like the combination of herbs and spices in Bertolli’s recipe but use the ratio of meat to fat and the measurements of the ingredients the two have in common from Charcuterie.  Even though cayenne pepper is an ingredient in this recipe, I still consider it to be a “sweet” sausage, because the cayenne is not enough to make it hot, it just adds a tiny bit of spice.  There several keys to making a good sausage that both books share.  The first key is keeping your meat and fat cold.  If it gets too warm during the process, the fat will separate from the meat and you will end up with a crumbly sausage.  Tips that I picked up from both...

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,...

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...