Sep 072017
 

by @WidowPage

I’ve made red wine bacon before and it’s become one of my favorites.  It’s not something you would eat for breakfast, but it goes so well into many recipes.  Here’s my list:

Grilled Peach and Bacon Salad

Spaghetti with Beef and Bacon

Chicken Bacon Flatbread

Mushroom Bacon Casserole

It’s also great in stews and coq au vin and it’s amazing in beef bourguignon.

One other thing: Until you get a chance to try bacon that isn’t mass-produced, you don’t realize how much flavor real bacon has.  Producers like Oscar Meyer inject their bacon with water because they sell it by the pound.  Water is a cheap way for them to bring their bacon up to the weight on the package.  When you taste bacon that hasn’t been watered down, your taste buds will be surprised.

So let’s go.  I found this recipe here.  For every pound of pork belly, you will need:

1 1/2 tsp Morton’s kosher salt
1/2 tsp curing salt #1 (sometimes called Pink salt #1 or Prague salt #1)
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp of brown sugar
2 tbsp of garlic powder
1/2 cups red wine (don’t use expensive wine)

I adjusted my recipe to the size of my pork belly and I was short on the Kosher salt so I substituted some of the Himalayan salt.  See my post on salts as you do NOT want to make substitutions for the curing salt.

Put all of that into a plastic bag.  Make sure you double bag it because it will inevitably leak in your fridge.

And that’s all you gotta do.  Put it in your fridge and then flip it over daily so the cure gets a chance to soak into the belly.

Sep 062017
 

by @WidowPage

Thank you so much for sticking with me but this is when the bacon gets really good!   I got this recipe from here.

Let’s start with a gratuitous pork belly photo.

It’s a nice piece of belly. It’s earned a bourbon cure. Use the following ingredients:

  • 1 cup of bourbon, divided
  • 1/2 cup Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp curing salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder


Now the recipe calls for brushing the bourbon on the pork belly before combining it with the dry ingredients.  I don’t do that.  I pour ALL THE BOURBON into a ziplock bag, add the dry ingredients and put in the belly.  Like this:

 

Pro tip:  Double bag it or else you will end up with cure dripping all over your fridge.  It will make your fridge smell good, but it is messy.

Put the belly into your fridge for 7-10 days, flipping once a day.

Sep 042017
 

Thank you so much for sticking with me and following along on this process.  I’m really enjoying this project and I would especially like to thank Bob for allowing me to use his blog.

So let’s cure this piggy’s belly! I’ve cut it up into smaller pieces so we can try a couple of different cures.  I’m using a recipe out of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie.  I love this book and even if you aren’t even going to cure meat, it’s great reading.  I also recommend their Whiskey-Glazed Smoked Chicken and their Smoked Scallops.  I’ve also made their chorizo and someday I will try their Canadian Bacon recipe.


As I posted yesterday, the first ingredient in any cure is the pink salt or Prague powder.  But then you get to add ingredients on top of that depending on the flavors you like.  Ruhlman’s recipe calls for the following ingredients per 5 lbs of pork belly:

  • 1/4 cup Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons curing salt #1
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup

A word about the maple syrup.  The Crown maple syrup was on sale at the grocery store and I’m a sucker for bourbon barrel-aged products.  I don’t drink bourbon, but I love the flavor.  And this stuff is nectar.  If you get a chance to snag a bottle, do it. It’s not that much more expensive than ordinary maple syrup (which already costs a fortune).

My pork belly weights about 7 1/2 pounds so I adjusted accordingly.

These pork bellies came with the skin still attached.  You can slice it off now, but  I’ve found its easier to cut it off after it is cooked.

Mix all the ingredients and then slather on the belly.  Rub it in so it comes into contact with as much the surface as possible.

Then the belly goes into a plastic bag for the next week to 10 days.  I stock up on the 2-gallon plastic bags when they go on sale and use painter’s tape for notes.  Since I’ll be doing 4 more cures, it helps distinguish the different recipes once they go into my fridge.  Tomorrow, I’ll show you a recipe for pepper bacon.

Sep 022017
 

by @WidowPage

Before I show you the curing process, we need to talk about salt and how it turns pork belly into bacon.  Curing doesn’t happen without salt.  If you look back into the history of bacon, humans all over the world were packing pork belly into salt to preserve the meat.  The Chinese and Europeans started curing meat as early as 1500 BC.  According to the Pork Board of America, Hernando de Soto’s herd of 13 pigs sparked early conflicts with Native Americans who developed a fondness for the taste of pork.  His herd eventually grew to 700 hogs, not including those that were eaten or ran away to breed and become ancestors of today’s feral hogs in the Southeast.

While I don’t know the exact process de Soto’s contemporaries used to cure bacon, they had to have used salt.  Today, everyone uses pink salt or Prague Powder or Curing Salt #1.  Some might confuse it with Himalayan salt.  Don’t do that.  These are 2 different substances.

Both could be called pink salt, but only use curing salt for bacon.

Most Himalayan salt comes from Pakistan which means it should really be called Pakistan salt, but that doesn’t quite have the mystery or cache of Himalayan salt.  Thanks marketing team!  It is purer than table salt, but it is the impurities that give it its pink color.  Some people claim it has special health benefits, but I just find it tasty on baked red potatoes.

Curing salt was trademarked back in 1925 as Prague Powder by Karl Max Seiffert.  He turned around and sold his patent to Griffith Laboratories in 1934.  Here’s the super cool thing about this…I am not from Chicago but I lived here for more than 20 years and love Chicago’s history.  Griffith Laboratories was started in Chicago in the 1900s by a father and son who assumed ownership of a pharmacy.  The son backed out of attending agricultural school at U of Illinois and went Northwestern to study pharmacology.  Once he graduated, he and his father changed their company direction to “bring science to the food industry”.  They initially focused on bread and baking, but in 1934, they bought Seiffert’s patent and began distributing it across the country.  Griffith Labs still exists today as Griffith Foods and their global headquarters are in Alsip, Illinois.  You can buy Prague Power directly from them OR order it off Amazon.

Curing Salt #1

My curing salt came from Williams Sonoma.  When you buy curing salt for bacon, make sure you get Curing Salt #1.  Curing Salt #2 is meant for cuts of meat that cure for longer periods of time.  Think pastrami or ham.

Curing salt is also known as pink salt.  Manufacturers dye it this color to distinguish it from table salt.  Curing salt should NOT be consumed or used like table salt.  It contains 6.25% sodium nitrite which is what prevents the growth of botulism or the other icky things that grow in meat over time.  We will apply this salt to the pork bellies but will rinse it off once it does its job.  Do not use curing salt for any other purpose.

Tired of salt?  Fret not. Tomorrow’s post will be all about combining curing salt with other seasonings and getting on with the bacon process.  Lots of cool pictures and much fun.

Sep 012017
 

by @WidowPage

Yesterday as I muddled through a data reconciliation, my oldest daughter texted me “Your meat is here”.  My daughters aren’t really that interested in my bacon curing projects but they knew I had been waiting for 100 lbs of pork belly to arrive on my front porch.  My youngest even obliged me with a picture.  I couldn’t get home for another 3 hours and there was no way the girls would be able to carry that much weight into the house.  All I could do it count the minutes until I could get home and dig into the boxes.

I’ve worked for Morningstar for almost 11 years.  During that time, I’ve learned so much about markets, trading and economics.  Morningstar was founded in Chicago which, at one time, boasted of being the hog butcher to the world.  Frozen pork bellies were traded as a commodity on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange under the symbol PB (electronic symbol GPB) starting in 1961. There’s more info about commodity trading here.

 

3 of the pork bellies

If you are interested in following pork commodity information, Urner Barry Pork tweets a lot of market information under the handle of @UBpork.  Did you know there were $17.554 million of pork bellies in cold storage in July?  That sounds like a lot to me but this number signals an industry-wide shortage.  Urner Barry has the details which, even for a hobby baconista, are really fascinating.  They also cover egg, seafood and beef market trends.

Once I got home, I broke into the boxes and hauled the 4 frozen bellies into the houses individually.  Factory farm-raised hog bellies run around 18 lbs.  These bellies, raised on smaller farms with a little more care, ranged from 20-30 lbs apiece.  This was the biggest one (pictured to the right…underneath it is my 6-burner stovetop…just for reference) after I cut it up .  Once it was sliced into 4 pieces, the smallest piece weighed 7.3 lbs.

1 pork belly cut into 4 pieces

When these 4 pieces thaw, the next step is to apply a cure and let them sit for a week to 10 days.  I cut the belly up because over the next four posts, I am going to show you how to prep the following:

  • Maple-Cured Bacon
  • Red Wine-Cured Bacon (throwing in an experiment with port wine on this one)
  • Bourbon & Brown Sugar Bacon
  • Black Pepper Bacon

Stay with me folks.  If you like bacon, I hope these next few posts will convince you to start making your own.