Bacon! 'Cause I'm a woman, W.O.M.A.N.

OK Wow, so admittedly I have abandoned this blog for some time now. Have you missed me? Well I have an excuse. Around the time I stopped posting here I began a business painting pet portraits. If you are interested you can see what I've been up to by going to my website Pet Portraits By Mimi (a not so shameless plug). Anyway, although my interest in cooking healthy meals, focusing on using as much locally sourced and sustainably produced food never wavered, my dedication to sharing my endeavors on this blog did. But I am here to tell you that I am trying to change that. So I am back and I figured I would celebrate my return as a multi-tasking, blogging, home-cook, artist, gardener and all round nice person ;) with a post about a subject near and dear to many of our hearts ... BACON!!!

It began innocently enough. Instead of opting for the more familiarly branded, supermarket staple of my youth and on a quest to find something that resembled the more flavorful bacon we ate at some local restaurants, I began to buy a healthier (albeit more expensive) nitrate free version of bacon made by Niman Ranch. We really liked this bacon and I felt good that I had not only found a much more flavorful bacon but also one that was better for us. Then the worst possible thing happened. Well it wasn't really the worst possible thing, there are actually lots more worse things, but where'e the drama in that? But I digress - the tragedy in this case was that our local grocery stores stopped carrying the Niman Ranch bacon! Curses - foiled again.

So back on the bacon quest I went, grumbling all the way, until I discovered that one of my favorite local farmers market vendors, Tony Adams from Big Wheel Provisions, was selling his own house cured bacon. Hurray - our bacon dilemma was once again solved! The added bonus was that with each bacon transition, the quality of our bacon experience was multiplying tenfold. Although Tony's bacon was even pricier than the Niman Ranch version, the fact that it was made from locally sourced exquisitely raised pigs, was a real plus to me. His bacon was mind blowing. Because the flavor profile was so amazing, we found that we didn't need to eat as much, so it all balanced out.

Then one day I went to the little market at one of my favorite local farms Lake Meadow Naturals, and saw that they had pork belly for sale. "How difficult could it be" I thought to myself? Maybe I could make my own bacon and save a little money without sacrificing flavor. I was still supporting my local economy. Heck I was buying the pork directly from the farmer. There was no shortage of other goodies I would still be buying from Tony - so into my basket went that pork belly. For a recipe I went to the ultimate source - Michael Ruhlman - who wrote the book on bacon, literally. With a few minor adaptations, I now had my own home-cured bacon to serve. The rest as they say, is history.

Michael Ruhlman's recipe called for either brown sugar or maple syrup. Being the indecisive Libra that I am, I decided to use both. Because I opt not to use pink salt (sodium nitrate) in my cure it is not advisable to actually smoke this bacon because without the preservative properties of the pink salt, there is a slight risk of botulism. So I recreate that smoky flavor by using some applewood smoked sea salt in my cure.  

I have been leaving the skin on the pork belly during the cure but here you can see I scored it so the rub can penetrate to the fat layer below. 

Here my rub is ready to go on the pork

I put the belly into the bag before I apply the rub. It's just less messy that way. 
I have this nifty little vacuum sealer that was made by Oliso. They have since changed the model so I can't speak to the newer version but this older model has served me well.

After applying the cure I vacuum seal the bag. If you don't have a sealer, you can just use a zip lock style bag and remove as much air as possible before closing it up. 

Then I place it in the refrigerator for 7 days. Every once and a while I reach in and give the bag a nice massage but otherwise I just wait while the belly takes on all the yummy flavors.

After the 7 days of curing, I remove the belly from the bag, rinse off the cure and pat it dry. 
Then I place it on a rack in a pan and cook it in a slow 200˚ oven for 90 minutes or until the internal temperature has reached 150˚.

With  belly this big I cut it into usable portions (for the two of us that's 4 quarters) and freeze the slabs separately. When I'm ready for bacon I just thaw out a piece and slice it up which is easier to do when the piece is still slightly frozen. But honestly after smelling it in the oven for all that time, who can wait? I usually have to cook up at least a few slices for "quality control" purposes right away.

I'm telling you, you'll be ruined for store bought bacon ever again.

Home-Cured Bacon

  • Five pounds of fresh pork belly
  • 2 ounces (1/4 cup Morton or Diamond Crystal coarse kosher) salt
  • 4 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • 4 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ cup brown sugar or maple syrup (or some of each)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat side of a chef’s knife
  • 2 tablespoons juniper berries, lightly crushed (optional)
  • 5 to 10 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
If you don’t have five pounds of belly, either estimate salt based on the proportions above or, if you have a scale, multiply the weight of the belly in ounces or grams by .025 and that’s how many ounces or grams of salt you should use.


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