Bacon is a wonderful thing. It can be sweet, savory, crunchy and chewy; occasionally all at the same time. It is a wonder of the food world, temptress of vegetarians and it should be your friend. After all, a calorie is a calorie, whether it’s a gram of fat or a gram of a banana. Fat doesn’t make us fat, eating too many calories does.
With that in mind (and with bacon-scented clothing), I present homemade bacon.
I picked up the pork belly from Jim and Deanna Crocker of Crocker Farms, along with a jowl which is slowly turning into guanciale in the downstairs fridge. Because they raise pigs as they’re supposed to be raised – i.e., according to the seasons – the Crocker’s pigs are not yet full size. So the bacon and jowl were on the small side. No worries there. If I mess up the guanciale I’m out, like, five bucks.
This pork belly was cured for seven days in salt and a few seasonings. After day seven you remove it from the cure, wipe it off and leave it on a tray in the fridge. This causes the pellicle to form – basically a light sheen coating on the outside to which smoky loving will take hold. On the ninth day, it’s smoking time. You’re supposed to smoke to an internal temperature of 150 degrees. I was dealing with the kids solo and the heat got away from me. When I pulled it the belly was up to 175. I wasn’t terribly worried about it. One of the great joys of dealing with farm-raised pork is how forgiving it is. The bacon was fine.
Here’s what it looked like at slicing time:
And this is what homemade bacon looks like (gratuitous bacon-frying video warning) when you cook it. Familiar?
A little more hungry for lunch, aintcha?
One of the many reasons to make bacon yourself is the slices aren’t full of water like they are in most store-bought varieties. It sizzles and roughly maintains its size, as opposed to Oscar Meyer which pops grease and water all over you and eventually shrinks down to almost nothing.
The finished product:
I wish I could say I spent minutes savoring and exploring the flavor and texture profile of each slice. I wish I could say I made notes, mentally revising the recipe and planning for next time. I wish I could say that, but I can’t. I ate them all in quick, gluttonous succession and to paraphrase “Office Space,” it was everything I thought it could be.
The bacon definitely cooked faster than store-bought; bacon at this point is no longer a forgiving meat and needs to be cooked with low-medium heat. I probably had the flame up a bit but the result was excellent. Crunchy exterior, unctuous, savory inside…every so slightly chewy. In retrospect it tasted clean, without that heavy, greasy mouthfeel you get a lot of times with bacon. In short, it was just really good bacon. Nothing more, nothing less. And I made it; you can too:
Michael Ruhlman’s savory bacon recipe from his masterful cookbook, Charcuterie.