Edible Monterey Bay

EDIBLE D.I.Y.

Makin’ Bacon

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JESSICA TUNIS

You know you want to. Give it a try!


Bacon needs no introduction. Known and beloved (sometimes even by vegetarians) it is a perfect marriage of flavors; salty and sweet, fatty and crunchy and full of savor. Yet, dare I say, if you have not made bacon at home, you have not truly tasted bacon in all its glory.

From a maple-bourbon wet-cured bacon to a spicy scorpion pepper dry cure, there’s a wide range of flavor possibilities to explore. All you need is some local pork belly, salt and sugar, time and space. A smoker is a useful tool, but a barbecue grill can be repurposed to serve the same function.

The first step in making bacon is to procure a pork belly. You’re looking for a nice slab, about 2 pounds for this recipe, with the skin removed. (You can remove the skin yourself, before or after curing, but it is a delicate and difficult bit of knife work.) You’ll probably have to order ahead of time to get what you’re looking for, so you may as well be specific. You are looking for an evenly thick piece of meat, so that the salt gets evenly distributed throughout it.

Be aware that pork belly is a commodity item, and as such, much of the available stock comes from feedlots. Don’t support irresponsible agricultural practices. Not only is there a huge difference in the flavor of the meat, but also the large conventional operations often feed antibiotics to their animals, which remain in the meat. Eating meat, or taking the life of an animal, ought to be done with regard for the health and wellness of both human and animal. When you are making something that will make you swoon with pleasure at the first bite, let part of that pleasure be rooted in knowing that you have contributed to humane practices that ensure that your bacon had a happy, healthy life before it landed on your plate. Contact a local producer directly, or order from a local market with a good meat counter. Making connections to your local food web has never been more delicious.


Ensure that your bacon had a happy, healthy life before it landed on your plate.


Let’s talk a bit about curing. Simply put, curing is an ancient process of preserving meat with salt. The salt works its way steadily into the meat, and through osmosis, the water in the meat is replaced with salt, which has an antimicrobial action that resists spoilage. Pure salt, however, has a drying effect and can render the meat tough and dry. To counteract this, sugar, honey or maple syrup is often added to balance the flavor. When making bacon, there are two basic styles of curing, wet cure and dry cure. In a dry cure recipe, a salt/sugar/ spice blend is rubbed on the outside of the meat. It penetrates slowly throughout the meat, resulting in moisture loss and a salty, concentrated flavor. A wet cure recipe will include liquids, mostly water, but sometimes espresso, maple syrup or other flavorings, as well as the usual salt, sugar and spice. This results in a more succulent bacon. Nitrites, aka curing salts, are often added in small amounts to either cure. While bacon can be (and was, for many years) cured without them, they do add some unique benefits to the process. Nitrites give bacon a rosy pink color and some of its distinctive flavor; without them, the flavor can be more like pork roast.

While salt and sugar can cure meat safely, if you want to smoke your bacon, adding nitrites is the safest way to inhibit botulism in the low temperatures of the smoker. Don’t smoke your bacon without it. In large quantities, nitrites can have adverse health effects; some choose to avoid them altogether, while others limit their consumption of cured meats in general. Nitrates occur naturally in celery juice and a few other vegetables; bacon that is advertised as having no nitrites usually contains modified celery juice powder. (Nitrates turn to nitrites in our bodies, but are chemically distinct before cooking and digestion). The USDA currently does not recognize naturally occurring nitrates as effective curing agents in meats, so any product containing them is required to be labeled as “uncured.” Find a recipe that calls specifically for celery juice powder if you want to experiment. Otherwise, use the classic Instacure #1 and just don’t eat your homemade bacon for every meal. Bacon that does not contain nitrites should not be smoked, but can safely be stored in the fridge or freezer.

RECIPE

Dry Cured Smoked Rosemary Bacon

RECIPE and PHOTOGRAPHY: Jessica Tunis

Bacon needs no introduction. Known and beloved (sometimes even by vegetarians) it is a perfect marriage of flavors; salty and sweet, fatty and crunchy and full of savor. Yet, dare I say, if you have not made bacon at home, you have not truly tasted bacon in all its glory.

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