Home made bacon – shown with Juniper berries and salt
After one abortive attempt last year, I can finally say that I have made my own bacon – and very good it is too.
Shown above with some salt and juniper berries, I used the recipe given in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “The River Cottage Meat Book” (it’s an excellent book and I highly recommend it!).
It’s a simple enough recipe. In a non-metallic container, mix 1kg coarse salt, a few bay leaves (crumbled), about 20 juniper berries (crushed), 200g soft brown sugar and 25g coarsely ground black pepper. Hugh’s recipe says 2 teaspoons of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), but that’s no longer available in this country due to the threat of terrorists blowing up our small goods.
And then the fun starts.
Get hold of some good pork belly. Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall says organic, rare-breed pig if possible but – as this was my first try – I just found your average bog-standard pork belly and bought two chunks. I rubbed handfuls of the mix into the meat and put it into a large plastic lidded container in the fridge. The next day, I emptied out the juice that had collected, re-rubbed the meat and put it back. I did this for the 5 days recommended in the book and then washed them, dried them, and popped the meat into my Webber BBQ after I’d finished roasting some chickens and the coals were well burned down. I put some smoking pellets into foil and put these on the coals, went away and had a drink or two and came back in the evening to find some of the most luscious meat possible waiting for me. You’re supposed to let them sit 3 days before smoking but I confess that I forgot this step. Oh well.
I devoured several chunks while it was still warm – both as a safety and a quality check. I’m still alive a week later and it’s still delicious, so I guess it passes muster.
If you try this at home, you MUST remember a few important things;
- Hygiene. Wash your containers, counters and cutting boards, bleach them if possible, and ensure that your hands are clean at all times.
- Salt. You cannot skimp on the salt. You are relying on the salt not just to add flavour, but also to both remove enough water from the meat and to salt the meat so that bacteria and other nasties cannot infest it.
- Freshness. Purchase the meat on the day you intend to start. Don’t leave it sitting around in the fridge for a few days while you dither about.
So there you go!
There’s a few things that I’d change the next time I make this. I think I’d add some more aromatics to the cure – I skimped on the juniper berries (pictured) and I shouldn’t have. I also used mesquite wood chips to smoke the meat (because that’s all I had at the time) but it probably would have worked slightly better if I’d been organised enough to buy a more traditional bacon smoking wood, like hickory or apple.
So far I’ve used the bacon in a truly kick-ass Boeuf Bourguignon last night (beat that, Julia Child!), Caesar Salad and also with scrambled eggs (I LOVE crispy bacon stirred into the egg mix).
No store-bought bacon ever tasted like this – it has an incredibly rich, meaty flavour that is almost too porky. Just as some offal can be so strong-tasting as to be almost offensive, this really is intense. The five days in the salt left it well-seasoned, and it isn’t over-salted at all, although if you use it in a recipe, be sure to cut back any additional salt.
I’m calling this one a success.