Well, after spending a few days researching home-made bacon online, two things have become absolutely clear – many people simply haven’t got a clue, and of those who know what they’re talking about, no two agree.
So, OK, I do know how to cure bacon – I did it with the panceta last week – and frankly, any fool can throw salt all over a slab of pork, leave it for a week and get bacon. It might not be the best bacon, but bacon is what it will be – so it’s not hard, then.
The reason I’m collecting information is so that I can pick other people’s brains, create a synthesis of the best websites and, based on that, come up with a process that will produce the best bacon I possibly can.
One thing that struck me is that hygiene doesn’t seem to be high on anyone’s list of priorities, and just washing one’s hands isn’t good enough. When processing the meat for sausages, I always wear disposable vinyl gloves, because if I introduce any bugs during the prep stage, once it’s minced, they will be spread throughout the whole batch. Odds are they’ll be harmless, or killed in cooking, but why take a needless risk?
So, bugs are in the environment – even if you take a flame-thrower to your kitchen, it still won’t be sterile – it pays to wear gloves, and be scrupulously clean in all other respects, when handling raw meat.
And as I do, preferably keep a high-density polypropylene chopping board just for raw meat, and keep it spotless. Not wood, too hard to clean – I keep that just for bread.
Best wear gloves then, especially as you’ll be in intimate contact with the meat as you rub the cure into it and, perhaps, repeat the process a couple of times (opinion are mixed on this, but I think it’s more desirable the thicker the meat, for example, when making back bacon, instead of the thinner streaky, which is where all newbies seem to start).
I’ve ordered some maple syrup, and a bag of molasses sugar – easier to handle than actual molasses and somewhat sweeter. I’ve also ordered a piece of free-range pork belly from Ocado, which will come in my next grocery delivery on January 3. More cost effective as the finished bacon will come in at about a third the price of the commercial product. The meat I was planning to buy, from Graig Farm,** is better kept for when I’ve proven to myself I’m proficient; not that – when it comes to food – I’m riddled with self-doubt!
**Anyway, they’ve shut up their online shop, apparently overwhelmed by demand for Christmas meat. Why they can’t take orders for after Christmas online I have no idea.
I’m thinking of ordering some sodium sulphite. Not for the first batch, but the thicker back bacon will, I think benefit from the addition safety it provides, And, as I’ve said, I don’t share the view that the stuff is dangerous in any normal meaning of the word – you’d have to consume an absurd amount to come to any harm. It also exists naturally in green vegetables – you don’t hear the panic-merchants claiming that eating your greens will give you cancer. Do you?
I said earlier that there’s not much of a consensus. There’s often a lack of common sense. The people I’ll eventually be ordering my nitrite curing salt from say “use at the rate of 5%”. Yes, and? Where’s the rest? 5% per what? I have no bloody idea!
It says 2kg is enough to process 40kg of meat so, fairly obviously, you use it at the rate of 50g per kilo of meat, which is at the rate of 5% of the weight of the meat. Clearly, then, you will need additional salt, and knowing in what proportion would actually be useful. Sadly, they don’t mention it.
Anyway, I reckon 250g of salt, plus 50g of curing salt, will do for a kilo of pork belly, scaled up or down according to the actual weight.
However, the more I read, the more I’m convinced that I don’t actually need sodium nitrite at all. True, if I’m sloppy in the processing, there might – and I stress might – be a risk of botulism developing, but I know damn well I’m not going to be sloppy! After all, I’d be the first victim, and I don’t intend to be.
In my last post, I said that “hanging” my finished bacon in my fridge to dry out was a no-no, because fridges are damp. I’ve given that a lot of thought and I’ve decided that, as a generalisation, that’s a crock.
A normal fridge, or one – more common these days – with auto-defrost, will have moisture in its atmosphere from melting ice. Mine, however, is frost free. It’s cooled by recirculated, sub-zero, air, which is actually an effective desiccant so sitting the bacon on a wire rack, in the airflow (and turning it round every day), will get the job done nicely, and faster than hanging it in the bedroom where, frankly, it’s in the way.
I’ve decided, too, that a pain though it is, I’m going to start making sausages again, staring with chorizo, in the new year – I hadn’t realised until recently how much not being sure I’d even be here for the new year has been cramping my style, psychologically. Still no idea how long I’ve got but, what the hell, it is what it is.
In the meantime, I’ll carry on doing what I want to do, with suitable adjustments for spoonie-ism. I’ve bought a table, as I said a while ago, at which I’ll be able to sit to prepare food, rather than have to stand in the kitchen. It is, though, like most things these days, self-assembly, and so far I’m still waiting for a day with enough spoons to get it put together.
It’ll happen, though.