This article is about the greatest love of my life, a sizzling hot, well-hung, slab of muscle. Yes that’s right, Bacon. Honestly, can anything beat a crispy rasher, slowly dripping grease onto a freshly buttered wodge of bread.
As an avid fan I’d been toying with the idea of curing my own meat for a long while and finally decided that the time had come to put my listeria fears aside and give it a go.
‘Fortune favours the brave.’
-My man Pliny
Armed with my slab of pig, a bottle of Woodford reserve and enough salt and sugar to endanger the cardiac health of an Olympic athlete I embarked on a 10 day curing and hanging process which has yielded two batches of bacon, 1 sweet and 1 herby. Read on to discover my verdict.
A bit of background
The word bacon is derived from the Old High German bacho, meaning ‘buttock’. Just think about that next time you tuck into a nice BLT. Most cultures have a history of curing pork which dates back to ancient times, as demonstrated by this young man:
Please be assured that everyone was fully clothed during my bacon making foray.
Recently bacon has enjoyed a rapid increase in popularity, dubbed “bacon mania”, which has seen the introduction of dishes such as the bacon explosion and chocolate-covered bacon on a stick. I will be refraining from trying either of these abominations to humanity.
Bacon can be eaten grilled if you care about your health, or fried if you care about the taste. Cook it on a BBQ and feel all manly.
1kg Pork belly:
I am not a vegetarian…clearly, but I am selective about the meat I buy because:
- I’m middle-class.
- I enjoy being morally superior.
- Points 1 and 2 aside the global meat industry is an ethical and environmental shambles.
Therefore when it came to purchasing a pig for my bacon debut I opted for something local and delicious, a kilo of Oxford Sandy and Black, supplied by the good people of Coopers Oxford Pork. Coopers kindly responded to the garbled email I pinged off at 1am, ‘Desperate food blogger seeks 1kg of pork belly with an even covering of flare fat’. They carted a pork joint to my local market especially, thus literally saving my bacon.
250g Sugar: Whatever variety you have to hand. For sweet cures try something darker.
250g Salt: What else can I say? Salt is salt.
2tsp Cracked pepper: I like rainbow peppercorns.
Some suggested optional flavours
Herby: Crushed bay, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, fennel seeds.
Sweet: Nutmeg, cinnamon, treacle, bourbon, coffee.
- Throw together your cure ingredients in a bowl and mix well
- Scatter/splatter a handful of the cure in the bottom of your biggest tupperware (the one that barely fits in your fridge), Place the meat skin side down in the box and rub another handful of cure into the top and sides. Don’t go overboard, you need enough cure to repeat this 5 times.
- Leave the belly to exude for 24 hours.
- Tip out the juices and repeat step 2.
- Eat sleep rub repeat for another 3 days, 5 in total.
- Hang it in a dark space like a guilty secret. Preferably maintain good air circulation and a cool room temperature. I hung mine in a closet during in the day and on my curtain rail by the open window at night. Nothing says good morning like a swinging carcass.
- Slice thin and enjoy the fat.
Is it worth making?
This project wasn’t really a cost cutting exercise, I could have bought much cheaper bacon. For 1kg of bacon (and the cure) I forked out about £14 which is cheaper than the going rate at local butchers, deli counters and overpriced supermarkets.
Curing was surprisingly easy. It took 15 mins a day. I suppose the major inconvenience was the hanging part. I was essentially hiding a carcass in my wardrobe for a week and it did have a rather ripe scent. You can’t get away from the fact that infusing gin in your garage is edgy but hanging meat in your wardrobe is mildly sinister.
Sweet: A bit of tang from the hanging, which makes it slightly gamey. Think road kill in a good way. The bourbon brings a smokey warmth and sweetness which contrasts with the meaty flavour nicely. Pass the maple syrup, this batch was made for pancakes. A tad on the chewy side perhaps.
Herby: The quantity of fat in this section definitely makes it more streaky than bacon. For me this is no bad thing. The crispy caramelised lard packs an unbelievable amount of flavour, which is a testament to the quality of the meat.. The rasher has just the right amount of snap and chew. Crucially it really doesn’t taste much like regular bacon at all, like another type of meat entirely. The herbs could come through more however.
‘This is absolutely the best bacon I’ve had all day’
Thanks mum. Next time I will get Doncho to comment.
Evil corporate brand: It tastes good, just not reaaally good. It is also covered in a layer of disconcerting stringy white scum.
Yes yes yes, bacon is goooooood for me. I think I could improve both batches however, and after the success of my first attempt I’m sure I will! 8/10.
This article as been inspired by Slow Food’s the Ark of taste, An international catalogue of endangered heritage foods, of which the Oxford Sandy and Black is one. Check out Slow food’s website to learn more.
Image credit: Picture of ill-advised naked kitchen practice, taken from a Vase, 360-340 BC, at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain.