The pork has been sitting in its bath of now dissolved sea salt and molasses sugar for a week, and is just about ready.
It proved quite impossible to get any sort of consensus as to the most appropriate method so, in the end, I just thought sod it, and went with what felt right. The basics were always the same – cover the meat with the cure (as I said in Stage One, it’s impossible – it simply falls off), put it in a plastic bag in the fridge, and turn it every day – other than that, there was no agreement.
When I made the panceta a few weeks ago, I was surprised at how little water the cure extracted from the meat – about 10% by weight. Looking at the information on packs of dry-cured ham, particularly the starting weight compared to the finished weight (expressed as xxxg of raw meat per 100g of finished product), the xxxg figure was around 10% higher, so mine seemed OK.
The amount of water extracted from the current batch looks very much higher. Of course the dissolved salt and sugar will add to the volume, but the meat also looks visibly smaller.
I’m not unduly bothered if this batch is less than wonderful – it’s my learning curve –as any errors can be corrected next time. The meat was just something basic from Waitrose, what I’m aiming for next time is a nice slab of organic, free-range belly pork and, ultimately, a loin joint to make back bacon.
But back to today (or tomorrow, I’m feeling pretty rough today, but bacon is forgiving and an extra day in the cure won’t harm it), it’ll be taken out of the cure, which gets poured down the sink – don’t be tempted to re-use it – and washed under cold, running water. And now we come to one of those critical places where there is no sound information. Some sources say just wash and dry it, other say wash it then soak in cold water to remove excess salt.
So I’ll compromise, and go with a short soak, about half an hour (removing too much salt will surely compromise its keeping qualities, which is the whole point of the process).
So, a short soak, followed by drying with a clean tea-towel, and we come to the drying process itself.
Again, opinions vary widely, some say hang it up somewhere cold and airy for a few days to a week, others say put it in the fridge, while yet others say the fridge environment is too damp.
Well, I’ve considered this at length, and it’s going on a grill rack in the fridge.
A conventional fridge, with its icy chiller plate, might well be damp, especially during its defrost cycle, but my fridge is frost-free, and cooled by sub-zero air, which has a pronounced desiccating effect on anything left unwrapped so it’s clearly not remotely damp, and the bacon will dry nicely, especially close to an air vent.
I’m not entirely sure of the purpose of drying. If the bacon were to be kept in the piece, then it would protect against mould if the outside is hard and dry, but as it will be sliced and, in my case, frozen, that’s irrelevant.
It will, then, be getting a quite brief drying cycle, possibly no more than a day, during which period it will be turned several times, after which it will be sliced.
And that, in a couple of day, will be Stage Three…