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Home-Cured Bacon

Lizzie Munro
From the Print Edition:
Brad Paisley, March/April 2012

There isn’t anything quite as gratifying as the smell of meaty, thick-cut bacon frying on the stovetop, except of course, when that bacon was cut from a pork belly that you seasoned and cured yourself, at home.

Don’t worry, you don’t need a meat-curing chamber, and you don’t even need a smoker (although if you have one, this is a great opportunity to use it).

The entire process takes about a week, but only requires 15 minutes of hands-on time. Unlike commercial bacons, which are often pumped full of brine to cure, homemade bacon begins with a spiced salt rub, which dehydrates the pork, yielding a more concentrated, flavorful product that, because of its low water content, fries almost completely flat in the pan.

Most of the seasonings can be found in your pantry, with the exception of something called curing salt, which is optional. That seasoning is dyed pink, to distinguish it from table salt, as it contains trace amounts of sodium nitrite, which some people prefer to omit. However, the nitrite, a naturally occurring chemical in most green vegetables, aids in the development of flavor and color, and better preserves the meat.

To begin, you’ll need four pounds of pork belly. Using a mortar and pestle, roughly crush together 2 tablespoons black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds and 2 tablespoons of juniper berries. Add in 1/4 cup kosher salt, 2 teaspoons curing salt (optional), and 1/4 cup either brown sugar, maple syrup or honey, or a mixture of sugars. Spread the rub over the pork belly, and lay a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme over the top (or a teaspoon of either herb, dried), along with six cloves of crushed garlic.

Place the pork belly in a large sealable plastic bag, or wrap in plastic wrap and place on a tray, and refrigerate for a week. Some water might accumulate; no need to remove it, just flip the pork every day or two. Remove it from the bag and rinse very well under cold water to remove the salt and seasonings, and dry thoroughly. Bake (or smoke) the pork at 225 degrees for about an hour and a half, or until it’s reached an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Slice and fry.

The bacon will last a few days in the refrigerator, and can be frozen for several months.

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