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Bacon April 18, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Pork.

From the descriptions in the Nero Wolfe books, it appears unlikely that Fritz cures his own bacon on site at the brownstone. It is noted that Fritz and Wolfe provide direction to a farmer about what to feed ‘their’ pigs, and also ensure that the resulting hams are cured to specification (Too Many Cooks). I assume that bacon is also provided, cured to Wolfe’s specifications? If anyone can enlighten me on this point, please let me know!

Regardless of whether bacon was cured at the brownstone, I had decided it was time to cure my own bacon. The impetus was the arrival of my Charcuterie book, originally bought on a whim because it was on sale and cheaper I’d ever find it on the shelves here in Melbourne, with the idea that it would be a good book to read but that I probably wouldn’t do much cooking from it.

Well, that plan didn’t last long. I started reading it one night before I went to bed, and got to one of the earliest recipes in the book – a basic recipe for bacon. It seemed so easy! I was so excited about the prospect of making bacon that I didn’t sleep well that night! I suppose there are worse things to be thinking about to stop one from sleeping than bacon…

The main impediment to me starting to cure my bacon the next day was that I needed to find some pink salt (also known as Cure #1 – and a bunch of other names). This is a mixture of salt and nitrate, and is used in many curing recipes to help prevent botulism and ensure the curing meat stays pink.  After calling a bunch of specialty food stores and doing an online search, I found an Ebay seller located outside of Melbourne who sold packages of pink salt in 250g bags.

I decided to start by doing a basic bacon recipe without additional flavours or spices, figuring that for the first bacon attempt should just use the base recipe. The recipe itself was simple – pork belly, (normal) salt, and pink salt. First I mixed the quantities of salt and pink salt together (you only need a small amount of the pink salt to allow the nitrate to activate). I decided it would be easier to mix up a larger amount of the cure than was required for the amount of meat I had, and ‘dredge’ the meat in the cure. I spread the cure out on a baking tray and tried to get as much of the cure on the pork as possible.

I put the pork in a ziplock bag, and the bag went into the fridge. I had to leave it in the fridge for 7 days, flipping the bag each day to distribute the cure so all parts of the meat were cured evenly. To give you an idea of how the pork changed during the curing process, here’s a photo of it just after I put it in the ziplock bag.

Here’s a photo of it 3 days into curing – I folded up the ziplock bag and fastened it with a rubber band, as I was concerned that the curing liquid wasn’t sufficiently in contact with the meat.

After 7 days, I took it out of the fridge, washed all the cure off it, and patted it dry. Here’s what it looked like at this stage.

The next step was to bake it in the oven at a low temperature for a couple of hours, until the internal temperature of the meat reached 65°C. While it’s more traditional to smoke bacon, the Charcuterie book is specifically designed for use by the home cook – who do not usually have access to a smoker. The main thing is to ensure that the internal temperature of the bacon reaches the 65°C. I baked it in the oven and after about 1 1/2 hours it had reached the correct temperature.

As you can see, it turned a much brighter pink at this point, and was still quite juicy. I removed the rind and sliced off a piece. Of course I couldn’t resist trying some! It was delicious, with a much deeper flavour than I was used to from store-bought bacon. It was also quite salty – although I did try an end piece which would have been in direct contact with the cure.

When cooked, quite a bit of fat renders out, but the meat retains its shape and remains chewy and succulent. I chopped the bacon up into thick slices and froze it in batches – the idea being that I can now take out pieces of bacon as I require them and chop them into whatever shape I need. Here’s an example of my bacon being used with some scrambled eggs – it gives a depth of flavour and texture to the dish which is missing with the bacon I’m used to.

After originally buying the Charcuterie book because I thought it would be a good read, I’m now trying to devise ways of doing more recipes out of the book! In this quest I am constrained by not having a spare basement to use for hanging curing meat; however, I am investigating other options! Colleagues at work have not been as enthusiastic as perhaps they could be when I have suggested that part of our work area could be turned into a meat curing area…

All in all I have been very happy with my forays into basic meat curing. And while Fritz may not cure his own bacon, undoubtedly there are other sorts of meats that he does cure. I intend to take this investigation further!



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