I’m not actually a big fan of bacon. Yes, it was the one thing that caused me to fall off the wagon when I was a vegetarian, but that was more to do with the fact of it being 10pm on a cold April day in Ireland up a mountain and the choice of either eating the proffered bacon butty or going to bed hungry and chilled to the bone. I don’t actually remember the first time I ate bacon after stopped being veggie and I only buy it about twice a year.
A recent care package from the north stuffed with Porcus bacon and Bury black pud reminded me that it’s not bacon I don’t like, it’s cheap or mass produced bacon that doesn’t float my boat. So since I can’t get Mister North to pop to the post office every week with some rashers from the Porcus girls, I decided that I would try making my own bacon to see if I could tempt myself.
A quick Google search established that I wasn’t setting myself an impossible task. Basically I needed a hunk of pork belly, a surprisingly small amount of salt, saltpetre and some time. It sounded fairly simple and I was quite excited to get cracking. I went to Walters in Herne Hill and got him to cut me 1.8 kilos of pork belly into two pieces (including the bones) and skipped home to get curing.
I left the belly out overnight wrapped in a clean sterilised muslin cloth as I wanted the meat to be lovely and dry and not damp before I rubbed the cure into it so that I could gauge how much brine was coming out of the meat as it cured in the fridge. Then I made up my cure as follows:
30g salt per kilo (I used bog basic sea salt, nothing fancy like Maldon)
15g sugar per kilo (I used golden caster as I had it, muscavado would be lovely)
0.5g saltpetre per kilo (I got some from Mr North after he did the spiced beef, but try Amazon)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp ground coriander seed
0.5 tsp mace
1 tbsp maple syrup
I mixed everything together, using the maple syrup to make it slightly sticky and then rubbed the mix into the bacon well, getting it into all the nooks and crannies and making sure all sides were well coated. You basically want to feel like you’re exfoliating a piece of pig. I then put each piece into a large ziploc bag and put it in the fridge to cure. Unfortunately when I went to look at it the next day, it had leaked sticky brown brine everywhere and I had to start again, putting the whole thing into a large deep tupperware with a lid instead. I had planned to cure it for 7 days but ended up giving it 10 to make up for the leakage. I gave it a bit of a rub when I remembered (you can get people off the phone very easily by announcing you need to rub your bacon believe me…)
After 10 days, I took the now noticeably shrunken bacon out of the tupperware and was mildly concerned by the fact it still looked like simple pork belly rather than anything cured. Slightly worried that I was about to leave meat out to rot gently in my incredibly warm flat for the next week, I let the bacon drip for about an hour, then wrapped each piece in another sterilised muslin cloth, gathering it purse style and tying some string round the top and then hanging my bacon parcel from my clothes horse with a S-hook for 7 days.
I completely forgot about it as it omitted no smell and required no turning or input at all. Luckily I’d put a reminder on my phone or I’d have found it the next time I did laundry and wondered what the hell it was. I unwrapped it and was delighted to see that it looked delightfully bacon-like. Much darker and more purply than the those damp supermarket packets, it was dry and firm and solid with creamy layers of fat and nice hard rind. I cut the bone out, saving it for a big pot of soup and then sliced it into rashers as best I could. It actually sliced like butter, but the shape made it tricky for the knife I had to cut even slices. I made a mental note to buy a carving knife.
I had intended to wait and have bacon butties for breakfast the next morning, but my mum, who had remembered it was bacon unwrapping day, had arrived round at mine with a crusty loaf specially and I couldn’t hold off heating a pan immediately. The thick rashers of bacon sizzled gently, giving off a odour that had this bacon-sceptic twitching her nose like a Bisto kid. Beautiful silken bacon fat leached out into the pan, but there wasn’t a drop of the white scum that afflicts modern bacon. The rashers crisped round the edges and the meat itself got a proper crust from the pan that just intensified the flavour.
Heaped up generously on a sliced of soft crusty bread, the bacon grease soaked in beautifully and was all we needed to accompany the meat. We tore into the sandwiches eagerly and were bowled over by the bacon. Porky, just sweet enough to intensify the savoury tang from the salt and spices and so tender you could bite through it with ease, it was so good I couldn’t stop eating it, yet didn’t want the sandwich to ever end. I could have eaten it all day.
I am a full on bacon devotee from now on. I can’t think of a dish this wouldn’t improve and luckily once the bones were removed I have 1.4 kilos of the stuff to play with (and a nice jar of bacon fat to cook with once the excess fat is rendered off) all for the merest effort involved! If you’d like to expend next to no effort to get something so delicious you’ll be tempted to buy it a Valentine’s gift, pick up some pork belly next time you are at the butcher and get curing. I can’t imagine not keeping some in the fridge in future. In fact it’s become such a staple in my life, I’m off to look at buying a smoker to really keep refining this recipe to perfection!