My wife bought some bacon from our local butcher the other day. Do you know what? She said it tasted different to supermarket bacon and also looked different.
The odd thing was, she actually meant that the locally cured bacon didn’t taste as good as the pre-packed stuff. This spurred me on to think about this and to investigate further. Granted, local bacon will generally look and taste how the farmer or butcher wants it to; after all, he or she is the one curing it. This gives a multitude of options, from cut, to size, to colour, to taste. I guess to understand we need to know HOW bacon is created.
The simple answer is curing, but what steps are involved?
Firstly, you need your cut of pork. For streaky bacon, buy belly pork. for Back bacon, use loin. The meat should have any bone removed. About 1.5kg is good. You will probably find that the cut is smaller than commercial bacon as smaller pigs are used.
Now you need to cure the bacon, which is the process of drawing out moisture and preserving the meat. This method does not use nitrates, so the result will be a greyer colour than mass-produced bacon. But that’s what we’re after, isn’t it? Home-made bacon.
To make the rub, take 500g of good quality coarse-grain sea salt (table salt for example has additives to prevent clumping), with similar sized flakes to give uniform curing. A good health food shop would be a good place to start. You also need around 500g of sugar, adjust to suit your personal taste. Granulated is fine. Traditionally we didn’t use sugar, obviously, but our tastes have changed over the centuries. If you just used salt, you would be rather surprised at the taste!
You can also add spices if you like, to give a unique taste to your bacon. Dried juniper berries can add a good depth of flavour.
Mix the sugar and salt, and rub well into the meat, making sure to cover it fully, including getting in the nooks and crannys. Now place the meat and any remaining rub into a good quality sealable bag (zip-tie freezer bag for example), removing as much air as possible, and place in the fridge.
Each day for 5 days, re-work the rub into the meat through the sealed bag. As the moisture is drawn out, it will become more like a brine.
After the 5 days, remove the bacon from the bag, and place in a bowl of clean water for about half an hour. discard the brine, and clean and dry the bag. Remove the bacon from the water and pat dry, then reseal in the bag, removing as much air as possible, and refrigerate for another 5 days to allow the cure to penetrate the meat.
Now you have proper home-made bacon. Thinly slice and fry for a slice of satisfaction!
The bacon will keep for up to 10 days in the fridge. But I bet it doesn’t hang around that long!
I am going to look more into the history of curing and preserving. You can add things like nitrates to enhance the colour of your bacon, but when did this come about? I know that potassium nitrate (available from some butchers) also kills off bacteria such as botulism, and some people may want that reassurance.
The next step would be to smoke the bacon if you want, but that is something I have yet to try.
So now I know HOW to make my own bacon, but I need to start investigating why it seems that the local butcher’s bacon seemed to not taste as good to my wife. Or is it that as consumers, we have become conditioned to mass-produced food?