(You can click on any picture to see a larger version of it.)
The February Challenge was the Salt Cure. We could either make bacon (the Apprentice Challenge) or pancetta (the Charcutiere Challenge). I chose to make bacon, although I did end up also making a small piece of pancetta since I had so much pork belly.
The first task was to locate a nice pork belly. After calling around and sending dozens of emails, I heard back from Ben at Salume Beddu who was willing to sell me a nice, locally raised, Berkshire pork belly.
I don't know what I was expecting, never having seen a pork belly before, but this thing was huge! Over 9 pounds.
Since I didn't have the book yet, I decided to follow the recipe on Michael Ruhlman's blog. His recipe only calls for 5 pounds of pork belly, so I had some trimming to do...
It only took me two tries to whittle the belly down to a five pound chunk:
Oh oh, not just nipples, but skin! Should I remove the skin or leave it on? The recipe didn't say! What if I leave it on and the cure can't penetrate it? I studied the picture on Michael Ruhlman's blog... did his bacon have skin on it? I just couldn't tell.
In the end I decided to err on the side of caution and I removed it. Badly. You can see the hack job here:
porky jello) and intense flavor.
The problem now was that my perfect five pound piece only weighed 4.2 pounds. Following Michael's instructions, I recalculated the pink salt and salt based on the new weight of the pork. I tried, I really did, to just whip out a calculator and spend 1 minute doing that, but readers of this blog (all 3 of you) know that I have this obsession with Excel. So of course I ended up spending an hour creating The Cure Calculator*.
After wasting an hour playing with Excel, I put the cure and all the seasonings on. For the seasonings, I threw everything on it that Michael Ruhlman mentioned in the recipe, including: black pepper, bay leaves, freshly grated nutmeg, sugar (the recipe actually called for brown sugar, but I used maple sugar), garlic, juniper berries, and fresh thyme.
Then I sealed it up in a ziplock and stashed it in the refrigerator, removing it once a day to smoosh it around to distribute the cure.
Fast forward 1 week. I'm going to cruise through the rest of the prep so I can get to the good part: Eating it!
Removed it from the bag, rinsed it, and cut the whole thing in half. One half went into the oven per Michael's instructions, and the other half went into the smoker with some chunks of maple.
Fresh out of the oven:
So what did I do with all this beautiful bacon?
Most of the smoked bacon is gone at this point, enjoyed in sandwiches and for breakfast along with eggs and toast. I saved one smallish portion of it to make Frisée Salad with Lardons and Poached Eggs, but I probably won't be able to get to that recipe until next weekend.
The unsmoked version also ended up in sandwiches and breakfasts, but I saved about half and braised it slowly (210 degrees for 4 hours) in my intense pork stock. After chilling it in the broth for 24 hours, I sliced it and used it in a variation of this dish: Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallops with Crispy Braised Kurabota Pork Belly, Pickled Cabbage and Violet Mustard Gastrique.
(Hmmm... told you I can't plate)
This turned out really good and I would definitely make it again for company. The combination of the fatty braised-then-browned bacon with the seared scallops was super rich, but really nice. The pickled cabbage and gastrique cut the richness perfectly.
*The usual Caveats apply