In our ever-evolving steps to lead an even more “unprocessed” life, we’ve recently come across an excellent book, “Charcuterie” by local Cleveland author, Michael Ruhlman (along with celebrated chef, Brian Polcyn)…Jimmy and I also had the grand pleasure of meeting Michael and his equally talented photographer wife Donna and he very graciously took time out from his hectic holiday schedule to sign our copy ((thanks Michael!)).
The book covers the craft of salting, smoking, and curing. Along with an interesting introduction and history into the world of charcuterie, the authors have provided all the information and knowledge any home cook needs to jump right in. The variety of recipes from bacon to sausages to smoked almonds make for a very entertaining and valuable read. I HIGHLY recommend this book if you are interested in trying this at home and I also highly recommend Michael Ruhlman’s blog to learn about all things culinary: Ruhlman.com.
Since Jimmy and I are always up for a culinary challenge and a lot of people have been asking us about this, we are going to share with you our own experiences going through “Charcuterie” on this blog. I hope you enjoy it and it will inspire you to get out of the “comfort and convenience zone” and try it also. Sooooo, let’s get started with bacon, shall we??
First, we needed ingredients for the cure (pink salt, dextrose (you can also use sugar), kosher salt) most of which we could not find locally. Thankfully, in the book, we were given a great recommendation on where to find it online (for great prices I might add) so we bought all we needed at Butcher and Packer.
You don’t need any fancy equipment to get started and your home oven will work just fine (as the authors attest to), but, for our use for hot smoking, we are using an inexpensive Brinkmann water/charcoal smoker/grill.
Now, onto the fresh pork belly…finding fresh pork belly was a bit of a challenge at first (butchers didn’t have it readily on hand but you can inquire about it to order it) but, as we had thought, we found it at our local landmark food market “The West Side Market“. (If you have never been there, it’s worth a trip for the old-world shopping experience that it is! We feel very fortunate to have it nearby!)
Here below is the pork belly after the curing process. We trimmed and coated the belly with the dry cure and placed it in a 2 gallon freezer bag in the refrigerator for 7 days (flipping the bag every other day). After the 7 days, the belly had attained a pellicle (a firm tacky surface that smoke will adhere to) and so was done curing and we were ready for smoking!
Once the smoker was ready to go (we used charcoal and hickory chips) and at the lowest fire we could get, we placed the cured pork belly on the racks. It was definitely a challenge keeping an eye on the smoker and heat to make sure it was getting to the temperature we needed (not too hot, not too cold)–I’m very glad we had a digital thermometer for that made it MUCH easier!
After a few hours of smoking and we had reached our desired temperature, we had BACON!!! (isn’t it beauuuuutiful??) 😉
Then, got out our trusty food slicer (it’s a good one, by the way–easy to clean and a German blade!) and sliced our bacon into perfect slices! (you can cut the bacon slices by hand with a knife but, if it’s in your budget and you plan on using it for other things, I recommend getting a slicer!)
Since we had more bacon than we could eat at one time, we sliced up the bacon and placed the slices on waxed paper in freezer bags and we stored some in the refrigerator and the rest in the freezer.
But, of course, we HAD to try some of the fruits of our labor right away so into the frying pan it went! 😉
…and there’s nothing better than your own homemade bacon in a BLT sandwich (with good tomatoes, mesclun lettuce, mayo, and a nice little addition of sliced avocado!-try it sometime!) on toasted freshly-baked whole grain bread!! yummmmmmmmmm!
The leftover bacon grease made for some excellent German Potato Salad also–I will post my recipe for that on another day. 🙂
So, was it worth all the extra time and effort? Would we make this again??… yes, yes, and YES!! (our bacon was far superior to store bought!)
Happy Smoking! 🙂