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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Makin' Bacon and Burying Treasure

Since time and tide wait for no man, yesterday I got hot on the charcuterie trail.  I had the belly from my half hog, the jowl, and the sirloin all to get salted down before they turned.

I researched many sources, from watching Benton Country Ham and Bacon videos with Allan Benton to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Steve Lamb at River Cottage to our Charcuterie book by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (which for some reason we refer to as 'the Ruhlman'), and settled on Ruhlman's cure, River Cottage's seasoning, and Benton's timing.

Why would I go to all this trouble?  I can't eat sugar, honey, or maple syrup (or corn syrup or sweeteners, etc.) and you can't find bacon made without them.  It turns out that sugar is added only to displace some of the salt so that your bacon doesn't get too salty.  But since I'm also hypertensive, I can't leave out the sugar altogether because super salty bacon would not be the right answer, either. So what to do? Date sugar, coconut sugar, and palm sugar are all on the 'maybe' list (as opposed to the out and out 'no' list), so I elected to build my cure with coconut sugar, as it's the most like brown sugar in flavor, and let's face- also because I couldn't find the palm sugar.

Ruhlman advises a pound of kosher salt, eight ounces of granulated sugar, and two ounces of pink salt, the latter of which we happened to have still from when Steve pickled the beef tongue a couple of years ago - which was delicious, by the way- it tasted just like an excellent pastrami- so that's what I used for the cure.

Mixed bacon
Fearnley-Whittingstall (who was once nicknamed Fearlessly-Eatsitall for cooking up and eating road kill) and Lamb both advised juniper berries and bay leaf as flavoring for bacon, and since I had both and wanted to try it, I did, on only one of the four pieces of belly in my possession.  I also flavored one with mace and marjoram, and one with crushed allspice (also on the 'maybe' list), and I left the largest one plain.  Everybody got rubbed in cure, dropped into a labeled Ziploc bag, and refrigerated after flavorings were added.  All, except the plain one, which was too large for a gallon Ziploc- that one had to be wrapped up in cling wrap.

Most of the instructions for curing that I found have you leaving the belly in the cure for five to seven days, but since Allan Benton makes the best bacon in the country, I'll leave it to cure for ten days like he does.  Then it needs to be rinsed and patted dry, and hung to dry and age for several days.  Only then can I think about smoking it.  More on that later.

Buried treasure
River Cottage also has a Food Tube video on Youtube for making a prosciutto-style ham out of a little british cut called a 'chump joint', which sits between the leg and the loin.  I wanted to try this, so Dennis at Mt Angel Meat Company boned a sirloin for me, which is in roughly the same location on the hog and is the best he could do for not being familiar with the chump joint.  The sirloin was packed, or rather, buried in straight kosher salt.

Cure timing on the container
According to Lamb (whose name is hilariously ironic, if you think about it), the Golden Rule is three days in salt per kilo of meat and fat, so since my sirloin weighed 1.648 kilos, I need to leave it in the salt for 4.944 days, or five days.  Then it comes out of the salt, the salt gets wiped off (but not rinsed) and the meat gets hung to dry for three months.  I will have to risk picking up fridge flavors by putting it into the fridge to dry because I can't keep it cool enough for three months.  I may start out with hanging it in the garage every night or leaving it there and monitoring the temperature. Not sure, but I'll keep you posted on that.

Then finally, the guanciale.  The jowl's curing and drying into a guanciale is kind of a cross between the two previous treatments; the cure is mixed from salt, sugar (coconut sugar, in my case), garlic, black peppercorns and thyme, and the jowl rests in it for four to six days. Then it's rinsed, dried, punctured, and hung up to dry for one to three weeks.  In the world of charcuterie, it's as close to instant gratification as you can get.

In any case, getting them all salted down and into the fridge means that all my hog pieces have been dealt with in one way or the other and I can relax about them.

Which also means that I can now turn my attention back to the garden...

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