Makin’ Bacon 101
It’s quite a stretch to go from turning up your snout at swinery and slathering dry cure on a pork belly, let me tell you. Why the sudden change of heart? It wasn’t so sudden, really, kind of like conquering the final frontier, which for me happened to be pork. I slipped out of lifelong vegetarianism a few years back, but always viewed the swine side of life as a jiggly pink world I wasn’t much interested in until recently. I made a personal commitment not to be so squeamish about foods I perceived that I “didn’t like” in order to expand my culinary horizons. When I get a notion in my head I tend to go after it with the tenacity of a pit viper, much to the annoyance of those around me who have had the great pleasure to accompany me on a 12 hour shopping marathon, for instance. Once I embraced pork I had an awful lot of catching up to do, from pulled pork to tenderloins, prosciutto to pancetta.
The apparent holy grail of pork is bacon, and Jonas couldn’t have been happier that I was finally eating it, hence cooking it for him. I’m not sure his happiness transferred fully the day I walked through the door with a 6 lb slab of pork belly, but when I told him of the projected bacon yield, he forgot all about the smelly raw belly and what compromised refrigerator space it would bring. I lathered it up good and dirty with a mixture inspired by Michael Ruhlman in his inimitable book Charcuterie, but with some noticeable Linda-isms thrown in for flair.
For example I used sorghum as my sweetener where others may have opted for brown sugar or maple syrup. I’ve had a thing for sorghum since I picked up a jar of it a few years back at a fruit stand of all places. For those of you curious, sorghum is a syrup much like molasses that is made from an annual grass. It is popular in Appalachia, and a common dish is sorghum with biscuits. I like the lack of cloying sweetness it possesses- in fact it’s a very well-balanced sweetener that I’ve come to use all the time despite the fact that I couldn’t be farther from Appalachia here in Seattle.
In any case, bacon makin’ is pretty simple- you cure it for a week, turning the slab every other day to promote circulation of the gooey juices that emit from the belly. At that point you can either bake it or smoke it to give it that true bacon-ey flavor. I opted for the smoking method, which entailed plying my good friend Sharon with wine so we could sit around her Weber smoker in the rain all afternoon. In hindsight perhaps this wasn’t the best way to smoke- we may have been paying a slight bit more attention to the wine than the piggy. All wasn’t lost, however, as when her husband Tony got home he took matters into his man hands and stoked up the smoker good and proper. What had taken us all day was finished in half an hour once he got home, so next time I think I’ll make sure there is a man around to do the smoking since we girls are obviously better at the drinking part.
After the slab is nice and smoked up (you want it to reach an internal temperature of 150°) it is critical that you remove the tough outer layer of skin while the belly is still slightly warm. We did this with a boning knife and attempted to use the smoky skin to flavor a pasta sauce that was simmering on the oven, however at this point there were five of us in the kitchen and more skin made it directly into our mouths than in the sauce!
Since I had opted to make bacon on the sweeter side of the savory continuum, I felt breakfast was the ideal showcase to taste test-drive the flavor. The morning post-smoke, we poached a few duck eggs, fried up some bacon, and grease-fried toast in the bacon fat. Suffice it to say I will not soon return to store-bought bacon since the flavor has the amazing lingering ability to force you to fry it up at all odd hours of the day. If you really want to get down with your badass bacon self, consider trying my frozen BLT- a dessert concoction consisting of bacon maple ice cream, lettuce sorbet and tomato gelato.