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.
- 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)
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.
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!