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.
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.
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.
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, 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 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!
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?
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.
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.
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.