Charcuterie: (Salt Curing, the Apprentice Challenge) Bacon

Bacon. Bacon. Bacon. BACON! = Tasty Salty Pig Parts (as my friend Chuck’s t-shirt exclaimed.)

I really, really love bacon. But then, there is nothing new or exciting about that. I’d venture to guess many of the Charcutepaloozers joined the year-long challenge stemming from a love of all things bacon.   This month we were faced with salt-curing and a choice of pancetta or bacon. Or both.  Finances meant picking one and we went with our main squeeze, bacon.

(I did salt-preserve some lemons and they are fantastic.  If you are interested in making them, spice as you will and know there are plenty of great instructions out there.   Try here, here, here, here or here.)

True confession: I think the bacon craze has gone a bit far. Bacon in my drinks? No thanks.  And while I love a good chocolate + salty combination, you can keep your bacon-chocolates to yourself.  Perhaps I’m a purest. I like my bacon straight up.  I am of the camp that believes it is hard to improve on a simple piece thick sliced bacon. Unless it is three slices.

I went to visit the Swinery, a local butcher shop in West Seattle.   I talked with the butcher and found out when the next shipment of pork would arrive.  We chatted about meat curing and the use of pink salt.  I was a bit concerned about the use of it for bacon. He said they don’t use pink salt in their bacon (which I love) and that for making bacon, it wasn’t entirely necessary.   On the other side of the fence, Michael Ruhlman had an informative post on the use of pink salt and I must say it was compelling to use it.

Apparently, pink salt gives it the bacon look and flavor we’ve come to know and expect. Keep reading, because I learned more about this tidbit. Pink salt also kills bacteria in cured meat that is uncooked to prevent such unfortunate things as botulism.   Using pink salt in products you will later cook is not necessary from a safety standpoint.

When I buy bacon for the family, I usually get uncured bacon made without nitrites/nitrates.  And we love it.  So it only made sense to at least give it a go without using the pink salt.

charcuterie, charcutepalooza, grow and resist, pork belly, bacon

Pork Belly!

charcuterie, charcutepalooza, grow and resist, pork belly, bacon

Looked better before the cure, sadly.

I should tell you here that I really had to work to get a few shots that looked meaty and not just fatty.  It wasn’t easy.  Our bellies were extremely fatty with not much meat.  I like a meaty bacon (with fat too…it is bacon after all) so was a bit nervous starting off on the bacon adventure.  Would there be any meat? Or would we be making some cured bacon fat?

But into the bags they went with a mixture of kosher salt, sugar and seasonings.

charcuterie, charcutepalooza, grow and resist, pork belly, bacon

Bagged to go

We added brown sugar to one portion and cracked pepper and bay leaves to the other.

charcuterie, charcutepalooza, grow and resist, pork belly, bacon

Seasoned & ready for the cure. No pink salt!

Look at that bacon? It has completed the cure. Completed the oven slow roast.   Not such a pretty color. And Where’s the Pork?  Because all I’m seeing is fat.  And I trimmed it. A lot.

charcuterie, charcutepalooza, grow and resist, pork belly, bacon

Cured & sliced

Using the Bacon

All the ladies at the house are sick. Ear infections for the Babylady. Sinus infection for the Ladyfriend. Bronchitis for me.  Yay us. Not.  Between that and returning from California for Dad’s initial liver transplant workup, cooking hasn’t been on the top of my list.

We were going to do standard eggs and bacon with homemade toasted bread.  However, when I cooked up a slice it was way, way too salty.  Think salt lick.   So I blanched it as suggested in the book for excessive saltiness.   Better, but still too salty to eat alone.   The bacon clearly needed to be added to something else to diffuse the overwhelming saltiness.  We went the way of what I like to call a Winter BLT.

Do you crave BLTs? I do. And they are so disappointing the in the winter.  Winter tomatoes are just plain wrong.  Sure they look like tomatoes but that is as far as the comparison goes. They taste like really, really watered down tomato juice. Blech.  That is no way to treat a BLT.

Sadly, we have already eaten all the slow roasted tomatoes from last summer.  Luckily, I always freeze a few bags of whole tomatoes.  (Ed. note: Have you tried that?  It works!  Great for tossing tomatoes in soups or stews. I just chuck them in a bag, skin, core and all.  Toss in freezer for later.) I pulled out a few and let them thaw enough that I could slice them into thick slices.   Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle of salt and pepper and roast at about 200° F until they are as done as you’d like.

Tada! You now have summer fresh tomato-y yumminess!   Slather a bunch on your homemade toasted bread, top with a few slices of bacon and use some arugula, instead of lettuce.  Arugula is in season and might even be growing in your garden now (it is in ours.)  Plus, it goes well with the salty bacon and intense tomato pop.

Perfect!  As a last-minute bit of inspiration, likely because I am thrilled that 2 of our chickens have decided to grace us once again with eggs, I topped it with an over easy egg. Messy and delicious!

charcuterie, charcutepalooza, grow and resist, pork belly, bacon

Winter BLT. Pretty isn't it?

Lessons Learned & Musings

So the BLT solved the over-saltiness. But it still doesn’t taste quite right.  Bacon-y, but not bacon-y enough.  So, perhaps the pink salt is necessary?   I’m not quite content with that answer however.  A little further research showed that the bacon we usually eat uses celery powder or juice.  Celery powder is naturally high in nitrites/nitrates.   I am guessing then that is what gives it the bacon-y taste and look we are used to when we get uncured bacon.

Sigh. What is a paranoid oncology nurse to do? I have read research saying that pink salt isn’t harmful in amounts used in bacon.  (Even though as little 1 teaspoon straight up would be lethal/toxic to a 220# person. Hmmm.) And I have read research about the carcinogenic effects of nitrates.  And here is what I think. We pick our battles.  We can’t do it all.  We chose our risks.  Risks that may not make sense to others or are inconsistent with our own beliefs.

My belief is that we are exposed to gazillions of toxins and potential carcinogens daily.  A disgusting amount of person-made toxins.  That didn’t exist pre-industrial revolution.  Each of them in and off themselves won’t cause problems. But the additive effect of them all together = big old problems.  That look a bit like big ugly tumors.  Just saying.  That look like a ridiculous number of 20-30 year olds with stage 4 colon cancer.  In the last 20-30 years our food additives alone have gone haywire and that age group is the first to be exposed to it from birth.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

I also believe that substances in their natural state (like celery juice/powder) are far better for a person than a chemically derived substance (like pink salt, which by the way is dyed to pink so you  can distinguish it from other salts and don’t accidentally ingest it because it is so toxic.)   So, in my cooking and purchasing I’ll do without added chemically produced nitrates.   And I’ll take my risks on bacon I eat elsewhere.   I’ll save the pink salt for curing dry sausages and such later in the challenges when necessary for safety.  I am going to give bacon another go and try it with celery powder and compare.  I’ll let you know the verdict!  If you have tried that, please let me know!

Now, what to do with all that salty bacon?

charcuterie, charcutepalooza, grow and resist, pork, bacon

Chopped and into the freezer

Chop it up, freeze it on a cookie sheet and then place in a freezer bag.  You can grab a handful of bacon to cook up to season soup or beans.  Add a bit to a salad.  Really, the uses for small bits of salty, fatty bacon are many!

I cooked some up with some onions and garlic (from the garden yo!) and added it to some roasted and smashed up hubbard squash that was given to me by my friend Amy.

charcuterie, charcutepalooza, pork, bacon, grow and resist

Mmm, bacon!

I added some chicken broth, pepper, a bit of my Sassy Lemon (Fiery Red Pickle) and a dash of cream.  A whirl with the immersion blender and I’ve got dinner.   Except I couldn’t resist a taste for lunch.

charcuterie, charcutepalooza, pork, bacon, squash, grow and resist

I only had sunflower seeds but wanted a crunch. For dinner I'll top with a few roasted pumpkin seeds and a bit of crispy bacon bits.

This soup might be a squash soup hater converter!  I’m looking at you Ladyfriend! =)

All in all, I’m calling February Charcutepalooza: Bacon (Salt Cure) a success!  Stay tuned for March: Brining.  I’m thinking corned beef. Oh hell, I think I’ll be brining and pickling a lot! Pickled and fermented things rock!  My crocks are ready for some action.

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22 Responses to Charcuterie: (Salt Curing, the Apprentice Challenge) Bacon

  1. mosaica says:

    I love everything about your post! I love all the thoughtfulness about nitrites/nitrates, and I especially love the lemons into lemonade ethos. And that hubbard squash soup looks so damn YUM :-)

  2. Kimmy says:

    Love your thoughts on whether or not to use the pink salt. I had the same concerns, but ended up using it due to my concerns of screwing it up and making it not safe. I look forward to an update whether your second round goes a little better! :-)

  3. Jim says:

    I love bacon as well. I even raised my own pigs for 10 years and wished that the entire pig could be bacon. So I am with you on that. However, your comments on toxins, etc left out the biggest toxins of all and that is animal protein. I encourage all to read Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules” Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. And, no more than 1500 mgs of salt per day.

  4. Winnie says:

    Great post. We are on the same page about the pink salt- I don’t want to use it, but am being open minded about the necessity of using it in later challenges. As you say, we are exposed to so many toxins daily… Will look forward to your future bacon exploits!

  5. Tengrain says:

    I wish I knew about Charcutapalooza! Damn.

    I use the pink salt, but only after I did my own research to conclude it is safe (enough) for my risk-avoidence. That said, I almost always add raw garlic and other aromatics to the mix to give another flavor component to my bacon. Othertimes, I add real maple syrup to give it a sweeter flavor.

    (Besides blanching the bacon, you might want to think about a longer roasting or maybe smoking it–though that is admittedly a pain in the ass.)

    Recently I was in Chicago and had a “bacon flight” and one of the many, many impressive flavor profiles was jalapeno bacon. This will be one of my next projects to get that one cured.

    Rgds,

    Tengrain

  6. mosaica- thanks! the soup turned out great and even the Ladyfriend liked it (& she dislikes squash, esp. as a soup!)

    kimmy & winnie- i’ll keep posted on how the next round of bacon goes. I’ll def. try it with a celery powder or juice and compare.

    jim- I don’t think animal protein in & of itself is a toxin. Certainly how the animals are raised can be (& usually are in our messed up food system) and the char on grilled meat is…but I don’t believe ethically raised animals are toxic eaten in healthy quantities as part of a regularly healthy diet & life. Our choice is to eat somewhat limited meat but make sure it is all well sourced.

    tengrain- a bacon flight? heavenly! jalapeno bacon would be incredible I imagine. I think my salty mess up was not rinsing the bacon prior to roasting. I just wiped/dusted it off. I was under the (misguided) impression that the rinse was only if you were using pink salt. Sigh. Ah well, it turned out well in the end as the cooked up little bits are amazing!

  7. Carbzilla says:

    I also think a little bacon goes a long way and always by the uncured kind.

    I have another coupon for the Swinery if you want it. I can pop it in the mail. (Email me). I think the hubs is coming down with some sort of cough thing though I was a phlegm carrier last week. (sorry, should I not say phlegm here?)

  8. Julia says:

    First off, I hope you are all feeling better! I wonder if your bacon is so salty because it was very fatty? The bacon I made the other day was the sweetest bacon I had ever made. It was also the meatiest. The last few times I had made it, with fattier belly, it was a tad on the salty side. Hmmm. My sensei of meat curing said a wise thing: it’s not worth it to eff around with the b-word. If you are going to make something that needs pink salt, either use it or don’t make it. Dying isn’t worth it. However, the single muscle cures are safe to do without p.salt: think guanciale, bacon, gravlax, bresaola. Those dried sausages? I want them and I’m going to use me some pink salt.

  9. Carbzilla- I’d love a coupon- I’ll email you!
    Julia- Yep, I think you might be right… it was really, really fatty. And I thought I was supposed to rinse it only if I used pink salt. Since I didn’t, I just sort of brushed off the salt. I’m certain that didn’t help! =) Next time getting meatier belly! And, I def. won’t be messing about without pink salt when it is necessary. No one needs to die for my random kitchen adventures! Agh!

  10. Stacy Brewer says:

    Great post! Bacon is on my list of things to make someday. I’ll get there eventually. :)

  11. aastricker says:

    Okay. My way overly salted bacon didn’t use pink salt either, but it still tasted like bacon. I think the difference is smoking. Ruhlman has a whole chapter on smoking and we followed his guidelines. Except for that whole overcooking thing.
    I didn’t even think to chop the bacon up. I threw the whole salty chunk in the freezer and have just been hacking bits off as needed. I’m thinking a potato soup is in order.

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  13. So, I’m a little behind on the blog-reading (and posting). I had almost exactly the same experience as you did with the bacon. My goodness but this is alarmingly fatty! And, Huh! This doesn’t taste like bacon! It tastes like…brined and baked pork belly. Which means that next time I’ll definitely be using either pink salt or celery. I’m thinking celery juice, once my fancy new Vitamix arrives. Have you tried this technique yet?

    • Woo, I’d love to hear how the vitamax & celery juice works out! I used celery powder for my corned beef and while it looked different, it tasted exactly like corned beef should. So I can’t wait to try the bacon again. Hopefully with a somewhat less fatty cut!

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  15. Roadpizza says:

    Nitrites and nitrates don’t cause cancer. Nitrosamines do. Nitrosamines are formed when nitrite/nitrate cured meats are cooked at very high temps. And as any fool knows, bacon is best cooked naked. Not because its sexy(it’s not), but because it forces you to keep the heat low enough to not get burned by the spitting fat.

    • This may be true- technically- but I’m still avoiding. Anything (ie pink salt) that is toxic for me to eat in tiny amounts straight up I am going to avoid when I can.

  16. Roadpizza says:

    A nitrite /nitrate molecule is the same no matter where it comes from. My main concern about celery is that you dont know how much is in that celery powder/juice. It can vary from plant to plant, county to county, state to state. And how do you know how much nitrogen fertilizer was used on that particular celery patch? To each thier own, but I’ll stick with pink salt in order to know exactly how much I’m putting in my cure. On another note, I’m glad I found your blog. You are indeed an inspiration. Keep fighting the good fight, and stay on the bicycle, Peace, Roadpizza.

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  18. Sarah says:

    I just had a quick comment about the salty bacon. Right after you’d cured it and rinsed it off, cut out a piece (I usually do the center) and fry it up. If it’s salty, give it a cold water soak for an hour. Then repeat the test. If the bacon is still a bit salty you can soak it again in a fresh cold water bath. And I don’t use pink either. Hardwood smoke is the answer.

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