I picked up a few pounds of meat for a friend who couldn’t get to Avril-Bleh before their 5 PM closing time. I spied some dry-aged steaks. “How much a pound?”
I didn’t intend on buying anything, but I ended up with two steaks.
“Have you heard of Berkshire pork?” asked my new friend, the butcher, who seemed happy that someone was buying dry-aged steaks, particularly someone who swore she wasn’t going to put ketchup on them, much less cook them any more than rare.
“Yes! Do you have some?”
He had a 300 pound hog– emphasis on had. By the time I got there, around 4 PM on a Friday, he was left with some tenderloin and “a little bit of belly.”
He showed me the two pieces. One looked perfect for roasted, caramelized pork belly. The other looked perfect for bacon. “I’ll take it all.” He asked me what I as going to do with it, and I mentioned bacon. He offered to slice it thin if I wanted him to, after I smoked it. Now that is service you won’t get at the supermarket.
Pork belly is pretty hip and trendy these days, but it’s never really gone out of style. So many people insist they haven’t had it, but if you’ve had bacon, you’ve had belly– it was simply cured and smoked (or cured and not-smoked, if you like pancetta). It also does well slowly roasted or braised. It’s not even terribly expensive, and it’s incredibly flavorful (thank you, fat.).
Making your own bacon is ridiculously easy. I picked up a copy of Michael Ruhlman’s Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques 100 Recipes A Cook’s Manifesto. Ruhlman is well-known for his work on Thomas Keller’s cookbooks as well as his Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing book, which inspired Charcutapalooza last year. What I found interesting is that “pink salt”– sodium nitrite– is optional. Your bacon will be, in his words, “more porky, less bacony” but I’m okay with this (also, I didn’t really want to leave my house the morning I started the cure to get any ingredients).
Curing bacon is simple: you essentially work a ratio of salt and sugar, add in some moisture, and throw it all in a bag to cure for a week in the refrigerator. Then you wash the cure off and either smoke it or roast it– we have a smoker, so the choice was natural. Slice it and store it– you’ll be in bacon heaven.
It took about ten minutes to put all of this together, and I stuck in the fridge for a week. When I came back from Tales of the Cocktail, it was cured, so I washed off the cure and put it in the fridge while The Better Half set up the smoker with some hickory wood. In about 2 hours, we had a slab of smoked bacon (and a porch that smelled incredible). Yesterday, I finally took it to Avril Bleh for slicing– cutting perfectly even bacon can be a bit of a pain, and several people advised me to take them up on them and their saw. One of the guys cut the bacon while another cut my dry aged steaks (who impulse buys dry aged steaks? I did. Twice.). Packed down with four pounds of steak and two pounds of bacon, I trotted home to make BLTs.
The bacon cooks fairly quickly– it may have been slightly over smoked. Oops. Either way, it is delicious: well worth the time and minimal effort. It’s richly porky, a little salty, and just so much better than anything you’d get in a store– even without the pink salt. I’ll probably still buy some Kroeger & Sons bacon when I don’t have any Berkshire curing, but my first choice will be making my own. I’m already on the list for some more pork belly once Avril Bleh gets their next belly in.
I am not providing the recipe here, as it isn’t published elsewhere on the internet and I have followed it to the letter. It’s worth it to buy Ruhlman’s book– I bought it for the bacon but I’ve already used it for a couple of other recipes. If you don’t want to run out and grab the book, here’s another Ruhlman recipe— just skip the pink salt.