Ever since Michael Ruhlman wrote about home-cured bacon, I’d been wanting to take a crack at it. As a dutiful Filipino, I’m no stranger to pork belly. We slice it thick and grill it, cut it into large cubes and make adobo or sinigang (a tamarind-flavored soup, the Filipino version of tom yum), or we dice it up and serve it with fried tofu cubes and a soy-vinegar-garlic dipping sauce.
Filipinos love pork. Don’t even get me started on sisig, which takes the pork love to a whole different level.
I haven’t cooked pork in a while because Tom doesn’t eat pork. (You can send him your sympathy cards later.) It’s a taste he’s never acquired because he never had it growing up, in the same way I don’t really care for lamb or goat cheese because that gamey flavor is just completely foreign to me. (Okay, you might want to send those sympathy cards to me instead.)
So when we walked into an Italian grocery and I spied a hunk of pork belly in the meat section, I got excited. Then I got worried. Then I gingerly held a package in my hands, walked up to Tom, and with the most irresistible expression I could muster, I asked if he would be okay with me attempting to make bacon at home. I even batted my stubby eyelashes to hedge my chances. Then he said, “Of course, go right ahead!” and I kicked myself for not having done this sooner.
Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for home-cured bacon is so simple and the only specialty item you need is pink curing salt. It was so inexpensive that I ordered a large bag of it, along with some other kinds of curing salts. Since curing 5 pounds of meat only calls for a mere 2 teaspoons of curing salt, I eventually realized I may have been a tad overzealous with my order. (But then Elise of Simply Recipes put up a post on making her own corned beef following Ruhlman’s instructions, so I’m glad I’m set for that, too.)
The method is so simple, I think I spent a lot more time telling everyone that I was curing my own bacon at home than I did actually making the bacon.
It was also a good way to use up the hardened pebbles of brown sugar in my cupboard.
Just rub the pork belly down with the spices, put it in a bag, and let it cure in your refrigerator.
After a week of curing in the refrigerator, simply rinse off the salt and spices and set that beautiful slab in the oven.
I used a meat thermometer to alert me when it reached an internal temperature of 150ºF.
Isn’t she pretty?
Ruhlman says to let it cool and then store in the refrigerator. Then he adds, “I know. You won’t be able to wait. So cut off a piece and cook it.”
Oh yes. I was, indeed, incapable of waiting.
I was obviously too excited to slice thinly and uniformly. I justified this by saying I was simply trying to even out both sides to make it easier to get nice slices next time.
I stood there watching the bacon cook, proud of my accomplishment. I couldn’t wait to try it, so to keep the impatience at bay, I tried to take photos instead.
I may have spent too long snapping shots and let the edges char. Oops.
And because I’m a dutiful Filipino, I grabbed a bowl of white rice, plopped that bacon on top of it, sprinkled it with some parsley and a squeeze of lemon, and sat down to enjoy my lunch.
Tom saw the photo above, looked at me and asked, “You ate bacon with rice for lunch today?” I replied, “Uh-huh. It was good.” Then he shook his head, and muttered, “Shameless.”
Then I sent the photo to another friend, who responded, “Two words: HOLY CRAP.”
It tastes so much better than what you normally get at the supermarket. I thought I’d sorely miss the smoked taste of store-bought bacon, but this had more than enough flavor to make up for it.
(The pork belly I got had a rib or two underneath it, and I just lopped that off. Then I used it instead of a ham hock and made a killer split pea soup for dinner that night.)
Lesson learned: listen to Michael Ruhlman. Next on my agenda: his corned beef and maybe even some home-cured pancetta. Or maybe I should just work my way through his book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.
Here is the link to Michael Ruhlman’s Home-cured Bacon. Go get yourself some pork belly, and make this. It’s not only worth the wait, but you also get to do what I did: make the 7-day-long curing period more interesting by announcing to everyone you know that you’re making your own bacon at home.
Note: If you have concerns about home curing, read Ruhlman’s excellent post on Food Safety and Common Sense.