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!
I share your disdain of most commercial bacon but I’d never really thought about making my own. This bacon looks absolutely perfect. I can’t imagine how good that bacon sandwich was!
Kathryn, the sandwich was amazing. I felt slightly delirious with joy eating it (and the one I had this morning again!). I totally recommend having a go at making your own. It’s so easy and actually very economical. I got 1.4 kilos of bacon for about a tenner. And if you make a pancetta style one you’d be saving a fortune on the price of those wee packets…
OH. MY. GOD. That looks amazing! As you know, I think the pig is the most delicious animal and this is just another reason why. I’m currently rather obsessed with bacon and mashed potato and I bet this bacon takes it to a whole other level. If you’re able to spare a few slices, please freeze some for me!
Carolyne, this bacon was amazing. I’ve actually given most of it away this time (it travelled back to Ireland with my mum!) but I’m going to the butcher again this week to get more pork belly and maybe some loin too to make more and I promise you some. I know you know your pork and I’ll be keen to see what you think of it…
This looks amazing! I only ever eat bacon bought from our local butcher – sliced in front of my eyes and not shrink wrapped in some steamy little package in the supermarket. The amount of water that comes off mass produced rashers is disgraceful!
I’ve never thought to make my own though – this is seriously impressive. I think you’re a braver with meat than I’ll ever be 🙂
I think the only place in my life that I take risks is with meat…funnily enough I thought of you when I had some of this on homemade bread yesterday as you’re the baking queen, but also thought that Carniverous Boyfriend would love this amount of bacon in the house! It’s great bacon, but homemade bread and butter really takes it up a notch!
Congratulation on the bacon. I have been making my bacon for years, and strongly suggest you set up a little smoker. Then you can introduce more variables such as which wood to use, how long to smoke, and at what temperature. Happily, all of these variables only make the flavor better. Enjoy. Oh, a quality instant-read thermometer helps in monitoring the smoking process.
Your experience pretty much parallels my own first attempt – except that I made Spanish Panceta, cured with sweet paprika as well as salt.
I’ve been buying it from an online Spanish store, but it’s been about 80% fat – rubbish for cooking with, but great for rendering down into lard (of which I have a full jam jar, a beautiful orangey colour from its paprika). Having eaten an absurd amount of the salty, crunchy fat residue, the rest is in the fridge, and will eventually flavour long-cooked dishes, when the crunchy meat will soften again.
The panceta, as you found, is deeply purple, and smells of nothing except, very faintly, of raw bacon.
Between Christmas and New Year I’ll be making a couple of kilos of streaky, flavoured with either maple syrup (messy), or molasses sugar (much easier), and because I like my bacon thin, I’ve bought a small bacon slicer (an Andrew James model from Amazon).
Come Spring, I’ll be buying a small smoker, and maple syrup flavoured bacon will be lightly smoked over applewood chips. I can’t do it indoors – the smoke alarm goes straight to the fire station! – so I’ll do it in the garden (which is why it’ll have to weight for Spring), using a camping stove as the heat source.
Before that, though, I have plans for a batch of back bacon (made with an unrolled loin joint – Waitrose looks good for that).
All of which will be posted on my blog in due course.
Oh, and I have excellent home-made bread to go with it, too (he said, modestly).
Ron: is there anything more glorious than solid animal fat to cook with? I think my favourite blog post of the year was Shu Han at Mummy I Can Cook showing how to render lard at home. I’ve switched almost completely away from oils to animal fats and I’ve noticed I save lots of money and I don’t get such intense sugar cravings.
I haven’t done any bacon for ages and had to emergency purchase some commercial stuff recently. Shudder. It was so wet and limp.
Will you let me know how the smoker goes (and the slicer)? I’m keen to try smoking various things, especially chicken but cautious on the old budget so a personal recommendation would be lovely!
Damn! I don’t believe I wrote “weight for Spring”. Oh well, too late now.
Health permitting I’ll be slicing the latest batch of bacon later today. I’ll post the details and pics on my blog.
My bacon’s finally finished http://ronsrants.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/making-bacon-stage-3-slicing/
Includes pics of the slicer, too, which is fine. Not fantastic, but then it cost a lot less than a commercial machine – it gets the job done.
This looks incredible! I’ll be off to the butchers next weekend… just one question, how long does it keep, roughly?
Anand, thanks. If you wrap it in some cheesecloth / muslin and hang it in the fridge it’ll last for several weeks (you’ll almost certainly eat it before it goes off!).
The great thing about having a decent hunk of bacon like this and just slicing off what you need is that it lasts really well… much better than pre-sliced bacon.
If it gets a little mouldy looking on the outside, don’t worry: it’s a natural bloom rather than anything nasty. Use a little white vinegar to wipe it off.
I really fancy making some bacon but is it half a gramme of saltpetre or five grammes of saltpetre
I believe it’s just half a gram, Fido. A little bit of saltpetre goes a long way!