Sunday, 5 April 2009

Bringing home the bacon - How to make your own

Anyone who was up on the main road near my house last week may well have seen a cyclist riding somewhat unsteadily into town. That would have been me as I wobbled home with a whole pigs belly on my back, it makes for an interesting riding experience I can tell you.
A whole pork belly
I found a recipe for home-made bacon in The River Cottage Meat Book which required no fancy equipment or expertise, a large plastic container and a few select ingredients were all that was required. It seemed wrong not to make it.

I used a whole pork belly for my bacon which I had to order in advance, I got mine from a fantastic farm shop -actually the farmers kitchen- which is just a few miles from where I live. Belly pork is the cut used to make streaky bacon, it is quite a fatty cut which makes it ideal for adding flavour and richness to soups, stews, pasta etc...
My bike outside the farm shop
There are two methods for making bacon, brine curing where the pork in soaked in a brine solution and dry curing where a salt cure is rubbed directly into the pork. My bacon was dry cured which results in a firm, dense texture similar to Italian pancetta, Ideal for adding to stews, casseroles and pasta dishes or just sliced thin for a bacon sandwich.
Rubbing in the salt cure
The cure I used is a simple mixture of:
  • 1kg Salt
  • 250g Brown sugar (this helps counter some of the saltiness and adds good flavour of it's own)
  • 20 crushed Juniper berries
  • 4 crushed Bay leaves
  • 2 tsp Saltpetre (optional)
This makes more than enough for 1 whole pork belly.

The saltpetre is the only ingredient that is hard to find, it is a key ingredient in the making of gunpowder and few shops are willing to sell it to the public (If you know a friendly butcher who makes his own bacon or sausages you might be able to buy some, failing that try Ebay). It's purpose in the cure mix is to help the pork retain it's pink colour, it is by no means an essential ingredient and can be left out, your bacon will still taste great.
The finished product
Getting all the ingredients together is the bit that takes the most time, once you come to actually make your bacon it's a breeze.

First you'll need a large clean plastic container to store the pork in while it cures, I used a rectangular bucket but anything will do. Cut your pork belly into two or three pieces, small enough to fit inside the container.

Rub handfuls of the cure mix into the pork. Make sure the pork is well covered all over with the cure mix then stack the pork in the container. Cover and store somewhere cool such as a cellar or pantry.

After about 12 hours you will find that a lot liquid has leached out of the pork, drain this off and rub with more of the cure mix, re-stack the pork alternating the layers so the piece that was on the bottom is now on the top.

That's it! Continue for about 5 days for good sandwich bacon, curing for up to 10 days will give your bacon a much longer shelf life but it will be very salty so you'll need to soak it before you use it.

So far with my bacon I've made countless bacon sandwiches and one batch of pasta carbonara, it tastes amazing, much better than anything I've ever bought. Unlike bacon from the supermarket this won't shrink when you fry it and no strange white liquid will come out!


Hopie said...

Wow, what an interesting adventure. That pork belly looks good! I bet homemade bacon is delicious.

Kadeeae said...

Can I ask, where did you keep it while curing? How cold does it have to be?

Also have emailed you on a change of my url. :-)

Sam said...

Hopie: The pork belly was a fantastic piece of meat, I'm going to buy another just to roast as it is.

Kadeeae: I kept mine covered in the cellar, it doesn't have to be really cold but should be cool. The salt prevents the pork from going off so there's no need to worry about that.

Amanda said...

Brilliant! Well done, Sam.

Kadeeae said...

Thanks Sam, I've printed off your instructions as I'd like to give this a go later on in the year.

Karen said...

I'd love to do this... what fun! The bacon looks great, too... real meaty. Are we going to see some recipes using this? :)

Anne said...

Sounds like a fun bicycle ride!!

I've never even thought about curing at home, well done on making it! Look forward to seeing lots of bacon enhanced recipes!

Nic said...

You are adventurous - brilliant!

Joie de vivre said...

I've seen recipes for homemade bacon before and it looks amazing! I can't wait to see how you use it now.

Pam said...

I am so impressed! I bet it would make the best carbonara.

Just Cook It said...

Brilliant. Am very impressed with this.

Maggie said...

What an amazing achievement!

gastroanthropologist said...

Absolutely love pork belly. I never thought to make homemade bacon...will definitely be giving this a try.

Thistlemoon said...

Wow, what an awesome farm shop! I think it is great that you made your own bacon! Sounds like fun.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Wow Sam! This looks so professional!

Anonymous said...

Awesome! I have a friend who makes his own bacon - he even has a smoker on his porch!

I love the look of that farm shop. You're lucky to be so close to the source!

Joie de vivre said...

Thanks for your comment Sam. Just coming by to give some blog love!

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Wow that's impressive. I don't think I've ever seen a *whole* pork belly. How long did it take you to get through the whole thing? I've been wanting start curing my own meats, but given that we live in a 550 sq ft manhattan apartment, I'm not sure how my wife will feel about me hanging meat in the closet.

Sam said...

Marc: I still haven't finished it yet! It should keep for weeks just left in the fridge but to be on the safe side I've chopped mine into large pieces and frozen it.

The actual hanging only takes about two days so maybe you could convince your wife!

James said...

This has to be tried! I used your cure recipe: