Back to bacon basics…

As my last attempt at making bacon was horribly salty (though nicely cured),  and, I eventually decided, unusable, I made two decisions:-

1. Ignore the reams of advice available online as too contradictory and, in many instances, plain wrong.

2. Use a commercially-available curing product, and simply follow the instructions.

Then, once I’ve mastered the basics, I can think about getting more creative.

To that end I’ve bought two 500g-ish portions of pork belly (from Ocado – pretty good quality), and two batches of dry-curing salt, both used at very much lower concentrations than I used previously.

The first is Supracure and the other is Laycock’s Dry Bacon Cure. Each gives slightly different results, so I’ll see which finished product suits me best. Supracure is used at a rate of 5% by weight of meat, Laycock’s 7.5%, to which flavouring/sweetening agents can be added if desired.

Both contain nitrates/nitrites, which I’m not thrilled about (Supracure has much lower levels than Laycock’s), but I don’t buy into the paranoia that surrounds such products. After all, I’ve been eating bacon and ham cured with them all my life and come to no harm, just like the vast majority of people. And they do protect against the risk of botulism, no matter how slight that risk might be.

I must confess that the amount of cure seems absurdly small (25g for a 500g piece of pork in the case of Supracure), and I think the best course is to put the cure in a salt cellar so it can be sprinkled evenly over the meat, then rubbed in (wearing disposable vinyl gloves**). This is best done over a plate, so that any cure that falls off can be retrieved then, when the meat is bagged, it can be added to the bag.

**If, like me, your fingers have tiny cuts from the foil-backed blister packs that drugs come in these days, apart from the hygiene question, you’ll quickly regret not wearing gloves!

Any ragged bits of meat are best trimmed off before curing, and do make sure than any holes or cuts in the flesh get their share of the cure.

The recommendation is that the meat is cured in open containers in the fridge. However, I don’t have any suitable containers** and, if I did, the brisk airflow through my fridge would desiccate the meat. There’s also the risk that any loose cure would be distributed throughout the fridge, to the detriment of whatever it lands on and, call me old fashioned, but raw meat needs to be wrapped.

**I actually have a container that will take both pieces of meat, but as I’m using different cures that would just confuse the issue as they’d inevitably become mixed.

So, then, as before each piece will be bagged and labelled separately. put in the fridge, and turned daily. Both should be ready in about 4 days, after which, as with the last batch, they’ll be washed, dried, and set on a wire rack in the fridge to dry out for a couple of days.

I need to figure out a way to mark each piece of meat while drying – the simplest way, I suppose, is to cut notches in the rind, one notch for Supracure, 2 for Laycock’s.

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2 thoughts on “Back to bacon basics…

  1. Watching this experiment with interest. Can you let us know what the difference in colour is of the finished bacon? My understanding is that it is the saltpetre which imparts the desired pinkness to cured pork products, and this is the vital component included in commercial cures, and is now nigh impossible for home-curers to obtain. (Thanks, amateur bombers!)

    I remember when you could buy big boxes of saltpetre in garden centres and hardware shops. I never occurred to me at the time to mix it with sulphur and charcoal, and plot to blow up Parliament. Hindsight, eh? :)

    • There’s saltpetre (potassium nitrate), in the Laycock mix. It’s not particularly essential – you can cure with just plain salt – using pre-prepared mixes, though, I can get a feel for the quantities needed (the last batch was hopelessly over-salted), before doing my own thing.

      Saltpetre protects against botulism, too, but unless you ignore basic hygiene and common sense, the risk is vanishingly small.

      The main function these days is purely cosmetic – it gives a pinker finished product; it doesn’t actually taste any better.

      Saltpetre, by the way, used to be distilled from stale urine – no idea if it still is!

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