First Post, May As Well Be Bacon

I have been meaning to start a Food Blog for a few years now, but work, laziness, and a general desire to not write a whole lot has held me back. But I have had some time to experiment with food lately, and probably one of the best reasons to experiment, so I figured I actually needed to capture some of this for posterity, or just an easier way to share than Facebook or email.

So, I live in Japan. Not permanently, as I am a red blooded American. Being said red blooded type, I chose to serve in the military. They saw it fit to send me for a few years to southern Japan, which has been a fascinating, though not always fantastic, experience. One major problem is that a lot of the foods I love, are not particularly easy to come by.

I have access to a Commissary with is stocked with a good amount of American foods, but the selection is, let’s say, limited. And unreliable for a particular item week after week. It’s kind of a gamble for what will or will not be available. And one of those items, sadly, is bacon.

I love bacon. Not in an obsessive sort of way, but in a healthy admiration sort of way. From the Commissary I can get Oscar Mayer bacon. Usually. Though not always, and frequently with very little beyond center cut or turkey bacon. The Japanese grocery stores carry bacon, but it is somewhere along the lines of belly cured like Canadian Bacon. So it’s close, but not quite right. Luckily, since there is a large Filipino population on the base, there is almost always pork belly in the freezer.

I did some research and found a few recipes to base my bacon off of. There was some level of disagreement between the pro- or anti-nitrate baconists (a term for bacon maker I just made up). As someone with a penchant for scientific method, I decided to make both, simultaneously, with the fewest amount of variables.

I started with this video, which gives a great overview of how to make a simple sugar cured bacon, and was what I based my pink salt free recipe:

I then used this recipe as a starting point for the pink salt recipe.

I made deviations from both, but they were a good start for ratios.

Nitrate free, Brown Sugar Cured Bacon

  • 3 lb Pork Belly, skin on
  • 1/2 lb of Golden Brown Sugar (C&H)
  • 1/4 c Diamond Crystals Kosher
  • 1/2 t. Paprika
  • 1/2 t. Cayenne

Brown Sugar Cured Bacon For Those That Don’t Care About Nitrates

  • 1/4 c Diamond Crystals Kosher
  • 1 c. golden brown sugar (C&H)
  • 1 t. Pink Salt
  • 1/2 t. Paprika
  • 1/2 t. Cayenne

Trim the ends of the belly so that it fits in a 1 Gal Ziploc bag. This gets you that “center cut bacon” that Oscar Mayer tries to sell you as having less fat (by giving you shorter pieces). It also gets you some chunks of pork fat that are perfect for lardons, which we used to great effect in a pot of chili.

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Mix Salt, Sugar and Spices together thoroughly.

Place the slab of Belly in the bag and top skin side first with the cure. Flip over and cover the top. Make sure you get the sides, and that every bit of meat is covered. Close the bag and place in the fridge, skin side down. The salt will start pulling moisture out from the meat almost instantly, and it will soon be a sizable amount of liquid in the bag. It is probably a good idea to put the first bag inside another bag to make sure it stays contained. Flip the bag every day for a week, always making sure the cure covers the meat.

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At the completion of cure time, remove the belly from the bag, rinse the brine off, dry with paper towels, and place it on a rack in the fridge. I put a platter under it, though lots of places say just paper towels would be fine. There wasn’t much that came off, so i think my platter was overkill. This open air exposure will allow it to form a pellicle (it’s a real word, I promise) and continue the cure.

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After 12+ hours, place your cured bacon on a rack over a jelly roll pan, and into a 200 degree oven for a few hours. This is where you would smoke the bacon if you have a smoker. I do have a small smoker, but the temperature is difficult to regulate, and I was trying to remove variables to evaluate the base recipes. Cook until you get an internal temp of 150 degrees. This took about 6 hours for me, but I have a weak, small, terrible counter top oven. And I was  cooking 2 bellies side by side. The goal is a very delicate cooking process, not to try and make a pork roast. So don’t be worried if it takes a long time to cook, just remember you are going to fry it up in a pan before you eat it.

At this point you have bacon, but it is not ready for frying up just yet. Remove from the oven and let cool. It is advisable to remove the skin once the bacon has gotten to the point you can handle it. I ended up pulling it out of the oven after 1am, and wasn’t really in the mood, so I put it in the fridge so I could finish it up in the morning.

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A combination of my 4 inch Deba to start the skinning process and my chef’s knife to finish worked like a charm. You can really see the difference the pink salt makes, the color is much more, well, pink. It really is looking a lot more like the bacon you are used to. Back in the fridge to get the freshly exposed fat hardened and it was ready to cook. Almost. the slicing was more difficult than i thought it would be. Since it is a dry cure, the meat is very dense, and my very sharp chef’s knife didn’t quite get through. On to the Electric Knife! It worked like a champ, and we were off to the frying pan.

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All told, both recipes are tasty. The flavor is similar, though the nitrates make it taste a little more bacony. Without the pink salt, it has a lot of the flavor of a sugar cured ham. Definitely more of a porky taste, where the pink salt made it taste like bacon. And that’s the one that gets my vote; the pink salt looks and tastes more like the bacon I expected to make, so this will be the one which will move on to the next round of experimentation.

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3 responses to “First Post, May As Well Be Bacon

  1. Pingback: Why do you need Japanese steel? | A Key Ingredient·

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  3. Pingback: Salt Pork with Green Beans | A Key Ingredient·

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