Making Bacon at Home
Bacon is one of the few things in the universe that improves anything and everything it accompanies. It has spawned everything from baconnaise and bacon chocolate, to popcorn and jam.
The problem in the UK is that we’ve let our standards slip over the decades and for some reason we have allowed deceptively* priced supermarket bacon become our norm.
In this post, I document my first ever attempt at curing pork to make my own bacon. Spoiler alert, it’s easy, tastes incredible and you should try too!
Here we go, my first bacon adventure. 4 different cures, left to cure in fridge for 1 week, thoroughly washed, each piece cut in half to allow for 1 smoked, 1 non-smoked of each cure, then badly sliced and tested for breakfast. Simply put, wow.
Cures and notes:
#1 – localfoodheroes.co.uk – “my favourite cure” – As suggested as a good starting point by Quiet Waters Farm. Seemed pretty similar in ratios to cure #2, except with the total quantity. There was just enough to cover the meat well. Uses nitrite.
#2 – Tim Hayward (Food DIY) – Basic Dry Cure – Again, similar in proportion to #1 but the amount of cure was about 10x as much. Enough to thoroughly saturate the meat and fill up the bag to be cured in. Uses nitrite.
#3 – SmokeDust.co.uk – Chinese Five Spice – Bought rub, used quantity according to instruction which was similar in total quantity as cures #1 and #4 (i.e. just enough to cover the meat). Uses nitrite.
#4 – SmokeDust.co.uk – Juniper & Pepper – Bought rub, used quantity according to instruction which was similar in total quantity as cures #1 and #3 (i.e. just enough to cover the meat). Uses nitrite.
Firstly, #2 started extracting liquid the quickest out of all 4. I suspect this was generally due to the quantity so it all had a very thorough covering.
All were turned over daily, only #2 had to be drained because the volume of liquid was so much. In hind-sight, maybe I should have left as is.
Removal from fridge and rinsing off the cure let me see how much water #2 had lost. It turned into a rich, dark red and was firm to the touch. The fat had started pulling away from meat (see pic). All the others looked almost the same as when they were first cured. I cut the 4 pieces in half, length ways to allow a smoked and non-smoked test of each. I smoked in the pro q on apple wood for approximately 8 hours before wrapping and leaving in the fridge for a day.
Slicing…was horrendous. The finished rashers you see below are the 8 best ones from however many I attempted. I tried semi-freezing to firm them up but still not much better. Lesson learnt, ask my butcher to use his slicer.
#1 Nice and delicate, couldn’t pick out any flavours (there weren’t any, really) but it was moist and good tasting. 2nd favourite.
#2 The flavour was too salty and the meat a bit too dry. There’s nothing to suggest this couldn’t be altered by a combination of some or all a) larger piece of meat. b) shorter curing time c) not draining the liquid each day and d) slicing properly so it’s not so thick. 4th favourite but not sure how great of a comparison I gave this, noting the alterations I’d do.
#3 Was mine and my wife’s favourite. I initially thought the 5-spice would add an unwelcome, too savoury of a note to the bacon but I was wrong. It was sweet, had hints of maple syrup and only a very subtle 5-spice flavouring.
#4 Not bad by any means, and a nice change from the other flavours but it wouldn’t be my go-to flavouring. I found it difficult to notice any juniper flavours, but there was a hit of pepper and sweetness.
Smoked vs Non-Smoked:
I generally prefer smoked over non-smoked from the supermarket, but it was difficult to really tell a huge difference. Maybe the cooking in the WFO muddied the waters some-what however. Some pieces had a touch more saltiness to them than others, but I wasn’t sure if those were the smoked pieces or not. If I had to make a call right now, after only having eaten one rasher of each, I’d say I’d be tempted not to smoke again. That being said, I’ve got a freezer full of badly hacked rashers to get through before making an ultimate decision.
Each rasher was tasted individually before being placed in a warmed brioche bun and duly destroyed in a matter of seconds.
There’s plenty more bacon experiments planned and others awaiting writing up.
*Regarding the “deceptively” labelled supermarket pricing – it’s covered in more detail in a future post, but essentially, the price is cheaper as you are paying for water, not meat.
**Nitrites are an essential part of a safe curing process as they prevent botulism. They are treated with respect and understanding and when carefully measured out (instructions included in pre-packaged cures) they are actually used in much smaller quantities than present in everyday leafy veg such as spinach.
This article was originally posted as a guest entry on my friend Marcus Bawdon’s website prior to me setting up my own blog, swing by and check his site out, it features great recipes and amazing photography – a continuing inspiration. CountryWoodSmoke.com
Thanks to Nic Williams for the Brioche recipe.