Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Time to Slice the Bacon

It's time to slice the bacon I've been trying to make. On the left you can see the three different cures I'm trying. At the bottom is a salt and pepper cure; in the middle is a rosemary, mustard and salt cure. On the top is a plain salt cure.

These were all cut from one slab of pork belly.  The salt one is smaller because we've been eating from it. It's delicious.

These slabs were the ones that I left at my parents' house last Monday. They were salted on Saturday and Sunday, and then put in the freezer Monday afternoon because I forgot them and couldn't tend to them.

When I came back the next Monday, Feb. 21, 2001, I defrosted them that day. I cured them the following day, Tuesday. Dad and I ate the salt cure for breakfast both Tuesday and today. The slices Dad and I had before cooking were just as delicious as the ones after cooking. Today they've been sliced, packaged and put in the freezer.

I'm definitely wishing for my meat slicer, which is in storage. I sure hope we can get it out before it rusts and ruins. I didn't bring my good slicing knife with me. That's got to be remedied. My Mom's knife is okay, and a neighbor did a fine job of sharpening it for me. It still doesn't hold a candle to my knife at home.

Plain salt cure sliced. 
This bacon defies reviewing by the strict curing procedure I've been trying to learn. Since I'm a beginner at the whole process, I don't have a comparison. The first batch I made ended up being pure salt pork - used far too much salt. This batch is fantastic, but it was cured at refrigerator temperatures for 2.5 days, frozen and  not touched up with additional salt for the next 7 days, thawed and cooked on the 10th day. It tastes fine, and perhaps I've stumbled upon a new curing method, hehehe.

As far as cooking tempertures and time go, I'm stumped. The method I've been following says to put the bacon in a slow oven at 200 degrees F for 2 hours for the bacon to reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees F. Both times I've done this, it's taken at least 3.5 hours if not 4 to reach an internal temp of 150F. It's no big problem, but does consume electricity.

IF anyone out there knows an easy way to access the symbol for degrees and put them in these posts, I'll be grateful. I can never remember the number assigned to it or how to do it easily.

One thing I've learned is when oven-curing on a rack, place the meat side down. I did that the first time. This time I turned the slabs over after a couple of hours, and the fat side ended up dented. Not pretty.

My objectives in learning how to do this are threefold:
1. to cut down on artificial preservatives
2. to save money
3. to be a bit more self-sufficient.

It's been a bang-up success on all three fronts. Well, except I'm thinking I'm going to be forced to buy a different smoker and actually smoke the bacon, which will put a dent in the saving money for a year or so.

I have not used sodium nitrite salt, the pink curing salt. As far as I could learn from internet-only research, its purpose is to prevent bacterial contamination. Since curing in the home is different from curing in a meat processing facility, there is not the same need for it. However, I have read it does produce a texture that is supposed to be what we are familiar with from store-bought bacon.

My homemade bacon has a far better texture in my opinion. The meat is nice and crunchy, and it nearly melts in your mouth. That's far better to me than the rubbery bacon one has to chew and chew and chew.

At this time and from my market, I obtained 20 pounds of pork belly for $21.90 US. Not counting whatever cures are used, that works out to $1.18 US per pound.

I'm certainly a little bit more self-sufficient now. Of course, there's that whole raising you own hogs thing that I fail miserably on, and never plan to achieve.

I may have spoiled myself for good, though, on ever enjoying bacon that I haven't made myself.

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