I made bacon! Yep, right in here in my home, I made bacon.
When I first read the recipe shared by well-known author and food writer, Michael Ruhlman, I couldn’t believe that making bacon was that easy. Yet, here was the author of Charcuterie (charcuterie refers to the art of salting, smoking and brining of meat, mostly pork), assuring all who read his books and website that curing bacon was accessible to the home cook. I am always up for a challenge and for the chance to learn something new. Rubbing my hands with glee I began to envision bacon.
The seasoning ingredients were things I had in my pantry. What I needed to get was some fresh pork belly (pork flap for those of us in the Caribbean) and curing salt. The most difficult thing to find was the curing salt. I spent an entire day driving and walking a significant part of Barbados in search of curing salt but I could not find any. I began to get desperate because everyone one I asked – friends and strangers all told me that they had no idea what I was talking about.
Feet tired and aching, and frustrated, I returned home. I felt sad. No bacon making for me? How could that be? I was so looking forward to this experiment. I sat contemplating my next move – I need to find someone in the food industry here… and then, eureka! I fired off an email to my friend Taymer Mason in St. Martin, a fellow food enthusiast who used to work on the science side of the food industry here in Barbados. She was bound to know someone.
Long story short, Taymer responded immediately and gave me a name and telephone number of a former colleague who would be able to help me, free of charge! Two days later I went to pick up my curing salt, labelled “Cure Compound”. I got way more curing salt than I needed, a kilo! Leslie Proverbs (Taymer’s colleague), said knowingly, that he gave me that much because he knows that once I start curing my own bacon, I will want to continue doing it all the time. The man knows of what he speaks.
I mixed the seasoning ingredients together and lovingly massaged it all over my pork belly. My heart filled with joy. I wrapped up the meat and placed it in the refrigerator to begin its 7-day cure.
I should point out here that most if not all of the local bacon we make in the Caribbean is wet cured, in other words, it is brined, preserved in a liquid. Notice when you buy bacon and it is defrosted that there is some liquid in the pack? The method I was using was for dry-cured bacon.
Seven days took forever but the day finally arrived. I rinsed off the spiced-mixture as instructed by the recipe, patted the meat dry and then set it to cook on low heat for 90-minutes. When I cut the meat in half – in order to cut into thin slices – and saw pink meat perfection and layers of fat and meat just like commercial bacon, I clapped my hands, then covered my face and almost cried. Laugh all you like, you would be moved to tears too if you could make bacon, successfully!
I hummed as I sliced and portioned the bacon – all 5 pounds. I shared it with my friends and neighbours. The true bacon test was yet to come though. I added a few slices to a pan to cook up, the sizzle was music to my ears and the smell of bacon filled the air. I ate one piece of the bacon and marvelled that I, me, Cynthia Nelson had made bacon. I prayed, “Dear God, thank you for blessing me with this talent…”
I prepared samples for a couple of friends because I needed their immediate reaction. They didn’t say anything except that they ate all the bacon I had cooked and asked, “So, how soon you plan on curing more bacon?” One taster wrote to say: “If you make this to sell, I am buying. And I can arrange other customers, but I don’t want too many people getting in on the action because I don’t want one day you tell me that you run out of bacon because you had too many orders.”
It’s probably not a big deal to many people, but I am stoked that I made bacon and that I can make bacon anytime I want. I plan to experiment with many spiced flavourings such as allspice, Chinese five spices, and with herbs such as rosemary. I wish I could make bacon and give to all of you this Christmas; it would be my gift to you. However, since I can’t do that, let me do the next best thing – give you the recipe so that you too can share in the bacon love.
(Adapted from Michael Ruhlman)
5 pounds fresh pork belly (pork flap)
2 ounces coarse kosher salt (or 1 oz table salt)
2 teaspoons curing salt
3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
3 fresh bay leaves torn into small pieces
(substitute with 4 dried bay leaves)
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons juniper berries, lightly crushed
10 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed (optional)
2 (2-gallon) zip plastic bags or 10” x 14” plastic bags
1 baking sheet
1 wire rack (cooling rack)
1. Mix all the spice ingredients together.
2. Make sure that your meat is pat dry.
3. Place the meat into one of the plastic bags and rub the spice mixture all over the meat.Massage it well. Close the bag; place it into the other plastic bag and put it onto the baking sheet. Refrigerate for 7 days. Half way through the 7-day process, remove the pan from the fridge and massage the meat. You don’t have to open the bag to do it but you can if you want to. Return to the refrigerator.
4. At the end of the hour of the 7th day, remove the cured meat from the fridge and bring it up to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.
5. Wash off all the seasoning from the meat, it is okay if flecks of black pepper remain and bits of thyme. Pat dry.
6. Line the baking sheet with foil and insert the wire rack onto the tray and then put the meat on top of the rack. Bake in the preheated oven for 90 minutes or you can measure for an internal temperature of 150 degrees F.
7. Remove the pan with the meat from the oven and let cool completely. Slice into portions, wrap securely and refrigerate until you are ready to cook it.
Trust me, get this right and you’ll never buy bacon again.