We are officially on our way to testing every recipe in the great cookbook, Charcuterie. Before diving into the bacon I think it is wise to share some of the key points that authors Ruhlman and Polcyn discuss in Chapter 1. Salt is essential to preserving food. Salt has several effects on food when it comes into contact with it. One very important effect is at the cellular level where salt facilitates a fluid exchange that makes food preservation possible. At the same time flavor is introduced to the meat while changing the shape of the proteins, enabling the meat to retain more moisture which is great for pork due to its lean fat to meat ratio. The last wonderful effect salt has on food is that it creates an inhospitable environment for the microbes that cause decay and spoilage to live and or multiply. Basically, if we didn’t have salt life would suck!
Of all the positive effects that salt has on food, the pig may be one of the very finest. One thing Ruhlman and Polcyn drive home is their admiration for the pig which I too have embraced and want to champion to you. “Of all the world’s foods that can be preserved to great effect, the pig has proved to be by far the most versatile. It is the only animal that has generated it own culinary specialty: CHARCTUERIE.” “…the pig is an animal whose glories go largely unrecognized in America. In France they like to say that every part of the pig is used except the oink.” “Furthermore, the pig provides a range of widely differing things to eat, more in fact than any single other animal we know of.”
Now to the Bacon. The first thing I did was assemble the dry cure which contains the magic white dust that is salt. The basic dry cure contains three things; Salt, Sugar and Pink Salt (curing salt/Nitrites). We have thoroughly discussed the effects of salt on food. The sugar provides the cure with a subtle sweetness as well as having nice browning effect on the surface during the cooking process. The pink salt or sodium nitrites are responsible for the curing effect which we see in the flavor, the rosy red color of the meat and the prevention of bacteria growth. The basic working ratio for the dry cure is 2 parts salt to 1 part sugar, plus 10% of their combined weight of pink salt. A very good point is made by Ruhlman and Polcyn when they encourage you to weight your ingredients. A cup of Morton’s Kosher Salt weighs 8 ounces while a cup of Diamond Crystal Salt weights 4.8 ounces.
I made a half batch of the dry cure using 225 grams of salt, 212 grams of dextrose (112 grams if using granulated sugar), 25 grams of pink salt. Dextrose and sugar can be used interchangeably given the weight difference. The authors like dextrose better due to the fact that it is less sweet than sugar with a finer grain which dissolves more easily.
I had said that I was going to go to The Pork Shop in Queen Creek however; I called and found out that I need to place the order a week in advance. I wasn’t about to wait another week to begin the recipe so I went to Lee Lee’s Oriental Market and purchased four slabs of pork belly, each one weighing approximately 2-3 pounds each. It will be fun to compare the pork belly from The Pork Shop as I am under the impression that the pigs they butcher at The Pork Shop are better in quality aka FATTER. As Emeril says, “Pork Fat Rules!”
I decided to do a few of the bacon recipes in Charcuterie for testing purposes only of course. I am doing the Fresh Bacon on page 41, the Maple-Cured Smoked Bacon on page 83 as well as some Savory-Style Bacon (Black Pepper, Bay Leaf and Garlic) that is discussed in the same recipe.
The first thing I did was place the pork belly in an aluminum pan where I applied about a ¼ cup of the dry cure until it was completely covered in cure.
I then transferred the bacon-in-the-wings to a large Ziplock baggie where it will rest for the next seven days.
Next I assembled the ingredients that I needed for the Maple-Cured bacon. I just so happened to have a quart of some really great maple syrup from the great State of Ohio (Go Buckeyes!-sorry couldn’t resist). This maple syrup is made by a guy that is a neighbor of my mothers in the Mac-O-Chee Valley in West Liberty, Ohio. I used about a cup of Maple Syrup to cure two of the four pork bellies. I am also using a cup of Brown Sugar.
I then put the pork belly into the aluminum pan where I again used ¼ cup of the dry cure to completely coat the pork belly and placed it inside the large Ziplock baggie and then added the Brown Sugar and Maple Sugar. This too will cure for seven days.
Notice the brine beginning to come together. This will work perfectly to ensure an even distribution of the cure throughout the entire pork belly.
Last, but certainly not least I assemble the ingredients to make the Savory-Style Bacon; 2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper, 5 cloves of garlic and 4 bay leaves.
After dredging the pork belly in the dry cure I put it in the Ziplock baggie and added the pressed garlic, crushed bay leaf and black pepper.
Voila, we are on our way with beginning two of the many recipes from the great cookbook, Charcuterie and I couldn’t be more excited. After I checked on the kids last night to make sure they were on their way to dreamland I pulled out the drawer on my man fridge and with much excitement checked on my four bacon babies nestled all together doing their curing thing. One day down, six long more days to go before the next step.
As a final note it is important flip the bag every other day or so to redistribute the cure, technically called “overhauling”.