Truly, truly I say unto you… go forth and cure yourself some bacon right now. This instant. Print this recipe and go. It’s that delicious.
I have been wanting to try my hand at curing bacon for quite some time. I had a vague idea that it would need to hang in a cheese cloth in a cool place for a while, maybe two weeks… but I put off investigating for far too long because if I’d known what I was missing out on or how easy it actually is, I would have never delayed.
I purchased an entire half a pork belly a while back, and after making a few delicious roasts, I was down to my last, fattiest piece. Inspired at last by my inability to find commercial bacon cured without nitrates, I moseyed onto all-knowledgeable Google, and settled on Michael Ruhlman’s recipe, for the most part.
Ruhlman uses nitrates but notes that you can choose to avoid them. Nitrates, known as pink curing salt, keeps meat bright pink during the curing process, and adds that “bacony flavor” we’re all used to. My nitrate-free bacon turned out much like he predicted: porky and spare rib-like.
I vastly prefer the deeper and more complex flavor of home-cured, nitrate-free bacon, at once salty, smokey, sweet and porky, as opposed to nitrate-cured bacon, which I now find overly salty and harsh.
· 5 lb (2.5 kg) pork belly section, skin on
· 3 ounces iodine-free salt (I used Celtic Sea Salt, you could also use plain kosher)
· 4 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
· 4 bay leaves, crumbled
· 1 teaspoon nutmeg
· 1/4 cup brown sugar
· 5 cloves of garlic, smashed
· 2 tablespoons juniper berries, lightly crushed
· 5 to 10 sprigs fresh thyme
· 2 teaspoons liquid smoke
I added the liquid smoke simply because I did not smoke my resulting bacon, but please omit it if you’re able and willing to get out your smoker.
I generally do not use sugar in my recipes, but I decided to with this one simply because I had never before cured bacon. However, on my next go ’round I’ll either cut the amount in half or omit it completely, since I thought it was a little on the sweet side and not necessary for preservation purposes because of the amount of salt already in use.
Lightly pound the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle, then generously coat the slab of belly on all sides with the cure. Slide it into a sealable plastic bag and stick it in your refrigerator for 7 days.
If you think of it, give it at little massage and empty out the moisture drawn out by the salt, but don’t stress if you forget. It’s all good.
On game day, rinse the cure off the belly and pat dry. Place it on a baking sheet (or on a rack on top of the baking sheet) and lightly cook it at 200F (93C) until its internal temperature reaches 150F (65C). My cooking time varied a bit from Ruhlman’s recipe — it took about 3 hours for my bacon to reach 150F. If you have a heat tolerant thermometer which can be left in the bacon, your life will be easier.
Don’t worry when it shows signs of being cooked — that’s what you’re going for. When you’ve reached the magic internal temperature, take it out and delicately slice the skin off the top, preserving that precious fatty layer. Save the skin for soups or chilis, or do what I did and chop it into small squares, stick it in a hot oven (about 400F, 200C) and watch it bubble into some instant, delicious, bacony crackling. Mmmm, Mmmm!
Once you’ve licked your fingers of all that crackling goodness, thinly slice the bacon and voilà! You’ve got flavorful, porky, nitrate-free bacon ready for frying. Lasts for about a week in the refrigerator.
Repeat the process as often as possible.