Pancetta

Pancetta, Pork, Bacon, Cured, Herb Crust

Pancetta, cured and ready for slicing.

One of the great advantages to curing your own pork is that it’s a great way to develop zen like levels of patience. The actual hands on effort of making your bacon or whatever is minimal and the only investment is in waiting time.

The sweetcure bacon that I made recently was cured for two weeks which resulted in a delicious, firm rasher that tasted amazing. However, I wanted to try making a bacon with a longer cure time that had an even more intense flavour. Italian stlye pancetta seemed like the ideal candidate as it had both toothsomeness from the longer cure and an intensity of flavour from the herbs used to season the cure.

While I was in Nottingham recently, visiting relatives, I managed to pick up some really good pork belly in Gonalston farm shop. Gonalston is somewhere between a traditional farm shop and a branch of Whole Foods marooned in the Nottinghamshire countryside and they take real care to ensure that their meat is both ethically and locally sourced.

With a really good bit of pork as a starting point, the next step was to devise the cure. This was based very loosely on the basic bacon recipe in Charcuterie with aditional salt and of course the selection of herbs and spices that elevate the dish far beyond ordinary bacon.

The recipe follows:

Jon’s Pancetta
850g Belly pork (trimmed weight)
25g Salt
12g Dextrose
5g Celery salt
4g Fennel seed
3g Red pepper flakes
3g Fresh thyme leaves
3g Oregano
3g Black pepper
3g Garlic powder
3g Prague powder #1
3 small bay leaves – crumbled

Pork, Thyme, Bay, Fennel Seed, Red pepper flakes, Oregano

Trimmed pork and pancetta cure ingredients

The first step in making your pancetta is to skin your pork and cut the meat away from the ribs. Cut the ribs away from the belly and set aside for another meal. Pork ribs, smoked, marinated, or just plain make a great dinner for one and are a perfect accompaniment to beer and televised sport.

Separating the ribs from the meat.

Once you meat is deboned, trim it so it’s roughly square (again, set aside the trimmings and use next time you make sausages) and set aside whilst you make your cure.

Roughly crush the fennel seeds and combine with all of the other ingredients (except the pork – yet!) in a bowl. Mix thoroughly to ensure that all of the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the cure.

Sprinkling the pancetta with cure.

Take the trimmed pork and place it in a bowl large enough to accommodate it comfortably. Next take your cure and spread it evenly across the meat, being sure to work it into all of the meat, using your hands if necessary.

Meat rubbed with cure. Ready for refrigeration.

When your meat is fully covered place it in a plastic bag along with any excess cure and place it in the fridge for five days to a week, turning every couple of days and massaging the meat through the bag to really help the cure penetrate the meat. After a week or so, take your pancetta and place on a rack in the fridge. Some people like to wrap the meat in muslin at this stage but I didn’t bother.

Set aside the pancetta for anything up to four weeks. Anything longer than this and you probably want to use Prague powder number #2 as this is better for longer cures.

After this time your pancetta is basically ready. By now, the meat should have got much darker and be very firm to the touch.  Compare the photo below to the raw meat above.

Pancetta after 4 weeks.

Before you slice the meat, it’s worth thinking about how you’re going to use it. Pancetta is great in a posh bacon sarnie or for wrapping meat  but it’s equally good cubed and stirred through pasta or even sliced very thinly and eaten raw. I decided to cut half of my bacon into thin rashers using the meat slicer and half into one centimetre cubes using the slicer and a knife.

Cubing Pancetta. 'Dead Homies' T Shirt optional.

The pancetta is absolutely fabulous. Gently fried or grilled, it gives a really herbal fragrant bacon with a distinct but not overpowering tang of fennel that provides a wonderful base for a variety of dishes. Raw, it’s just as good, with a taste like Parma ham and the complexity of flavours from the Italian herb blend. Try it!

Finished pancetta. Sliced and cubed.

Double Smoked Sweetcure Back Bacon With Juniper and Black Pepper

Home smoked sweetcure bacon....as part of a 'balanced' breakfast.

I was really pleased with my first attempt at bacon earlier in the year. It yielded a delicious mild tasting bacon with just a hint of smoke that came from the hickory smoke powder I used.

However, I did feel slightly like I was cheating by using smoke powder. Particularly when I realised how simple cold smoking was. I’m not going to go too deeply into the smoking process here because it really deserves its own post which I will write soon but I will say that immersing bacon in oak smoke is a a truly wonderful thing.

Because oak smoke is an intense flavour, any seasonings that go into the cure have to be equally robust if you want them to stand up to the smoke. I chose black pepper, juniper, and brown sugar which, when combined with salt, make a delicious, aromatic, salty sweet bacon which is perfect for breakfast.

I also wanted to use a different cut of pork. Streaky bacon is great (and supermarket streaky is usually British which for me is preferable from an ethical point of view) but back is my favourite when it comes to the breakfast plate.

The recipe follows.

Ingredients.

Jon’s Sweetcure Bacon with Juniper and Black Pepper.
1kg Pork loin
35g Salt
25g Dark brown sugar
2g Prague powder #1
4g Juniper
3g Black pepper

Juniper, Microscales,

Weighing juniper berries

Combine the sugar, salt and Prague powder in a bowl.  Roughly crush your juniper berries and peppercorns and add to the bowl. Mix well, ensuring that all of the ingredients are evenly distributed through the cure. This is vital as it prevents the nitrites from the prague powder becoming too concentrated in one spot in your bacon.

Take your loin of pork and rub it all over with your cure, ensuring you work the cure into all the nooks and crannies of the meat.

Pork loin, Salt, Brown Sugar, Juniper, Prague Powder

The loin, rubbed with cure.

When your meat is well coated transfer it to a freezer bag and seal. Place it in the fridge for a minimum of a week, turning and massaging every other day to ensure that the cure is evenly distributed. Don’t worry if any water leeches out of the meat. This will help to brine it and ensure that the cure penetrates right to the heart of the loin.

After 10 days or longer remove the meat from the bag and rinse under cold water. Pat dry and transfer to a rack before refrigerating for another 48 hours or so. This helps the smoke adhere to the outside of the bacon in the smoker.

Bacon, Cheese, Brie, Chicken Wings, Oak Smoke

Pork loin in the smoker alongside cheddar, brie and chicken wings.

Fire up your smoker and smoke the bacon over oak chips for a minimum of eight hours. My smoker runs for 11 hours which was long enough for me to go to the London Charcuterie Festival in the day time and go out for my mate Sam’s 30th birthday in the evening. On my return from the pub at some shameful hour of the morning I took the meat out of the smoker and transferred it to the refrigerator overnight.

The following day I fired up the smoker again and smoked the bacon for another 8 hours. The idea being to allow one layer of smoke to settle on the meat before giving it another smoke to really intensify the smokey flavour.

Bacon, Pork Loin, Cold Smoked. Oak Chips, Macs BBQ, ProQ

Finish smoked bacon. Lovely colour from two layers of oak smoke.

The bacon is now basically finished. All that remains is to slice it into rashers.  I left mine for another 24 hours after smoking to really make sure the smoke had settled on the meat.

You can slice it by hand but an electric slicer will ensure evenly sliced rashers and will allow you to slice a large amount of pork very quickly.

Slicing Bacon. A serious business.

Finished sliced bacon.

Your bacon is now finished. It’ll keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks or you can freeze the rashers individually and use them when you need a porky fix. They are sublime as part of a cooked breakfast and perfect for a late night emergency bacon sandwich.

A perfect Sunday breakfast. Home made bacon and smoked white pudding with fried egg, toast, and chilli sauce.

Bacon – 2 Ways

Perfect British Bacon

I want this blog to be about more than just sausages.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sausages, but there are a lot more adventures with the pig to be had than just bangers. There’s a whole world of charcuterie and pork recipes out there and I want to try them all! Who knows, I may even try some other meats at some point.

I decided to put the mincer to one side for this blog post and try my hand at making some cured meat, and bacon seemed like the natural step to take for a couple of reasons. Firstly, its pretty simple, and secondly I love it but there’s a lot of crap bacon out there made from unhappy pigs that I’d rather not eat. Beause of this, I felt that it was important to try and source some really good quality British pork for my first attempt at making bacon.

A recent trip to Norfolk yielded lots of culinary delights. Alongside this, this, this, this and an incredible sausage roll here I found my way to Perfick Pork in the small village of Ryburgh. Owned and run by David, a west London emigree, Perfick Pork is a ‘conception to consumption’ business who breed their own Duroc pigs for sale in their shop and online. They also butcher, cure and smoke their pork in house and sell high quality beef and poultry from local fams.

I picked up a couple of kilo pieces of pork belly that had been butchered the day before. After a chat with David about the way they made their bacon. he was kind enough to give me some of his own bacon cure, made to a secret family recipe.

2 Kilos of Duroc belly, soon to become tasty bacon

I’d orignally planned to cure the bacon using a recipe from Charcuterie and one from the sausage making forum that I’d tweaked but the chance to use mysterious powder from a master butcher was too good to pass up. The Charcuterie recipe will have to wait!

The other cure I used was a tweak of the basic dry cure recipe here. I swapped the sugar for dextrose as I thought it’d break down more easily (and because I had some to hand. No big deal if you don’t) and added some smoke powder and black pepper for a bit more complexity of flavour.

Perfick Pork Recipe
1kg pork belly (600g skinned and boned wieght)
30g Perfick Pork secret recipe bacon cure (5%)

Jon’s Basic Bacon Recipe
1kg pork belly (700g boned weight)
2& 1/2g Prague powder number 1
10g dextrose
19g salt
1/2g smoke powder
10 or so good twists of black pepper

The first step in making bacon is preparing the meat. This basically involves cutting the ribs away from the belly as close to the bone as you can to leave a big piece of meat. The ribs didn’t go to waste. They got rubbed with chipotle, achiote, and lime juice, roasted up and served with chips, corn, and cold IPA in front of the football.

I also took the skin off one of the pieces, leaving on as much fat as possible, partly to try and match the perfick pork bacon but also for a bit more variety between the two recipes.

Skinning the belly. Enormous ham knife optional.

The next step was mixing up the cure. It’s important to be as accurate as possible when working with curing salt/Prague powder as it contains sodium nitrite. Out come the microscales for weighing up quantities. I’m going to buy some digiscales as soon as possible for accuracy from the dodgy newsagents in Elephant and Castle shopping centre but until then the retro chemists scales will have to do.

Mix up the cure according to the quantities above (percentage quantities can be found in the original recipe) being sure to make sure it’s all very thorougly combined.

Adding smoke powder to the cure - not the most exciting photo in the world.

The next step is to rub the cure all over the meat,working it into the flesh and making sure  you coat the whole piece thoroughly. My cure went on the rind on piece of belly with 90% on the flesh side and 10% on the skin. Its probably sensible to wear gloves to do this part.

Working the cure into the meat.

Once both pieces were thoroughly rubbed with cure, the next stage is was to package them up ready for curing. I decided on David’s advice to fully dry cure his piece and so I placed it on a roasting rack above a tray. If I’d had the space in the fridge I would’ve hung it but this seemed like a decent second choice. My piece was sealed up in a large freezer bag to let it cure in its own juices. Both pieces then went into the fridge to cure.

Every couple of days I turned the pieces and rubbed the surface of my piece through the bag to make sure that the cure was evenly distributed.

The bacon bits after one week. Dry cure on the left, wet on the right.

After a couple of weeks curing I took my piece out of the bag and left it to dry out a little on another rack. Another two days followed by a quick rinse (of mine) and a pat dry and I had two very special looking pieces of bacon! I then tied them ready for slicing and put them in the freezer for a couple of hours to make them easier to slice

My piece of bacon. Ready to be tied and sliced.

Tying the dry cure bacon ready for slicing.

The Finished Bacon. Tied and ready for slicing.

So far, this had been a relatively cheap recipe. The meat cost just over ten pounds and the various spices on top of that probably added on a couple of quid. However…I really wanted to slice my bacon properly into rashers and so ended up splashing out £40 for this to do the job. Consequently this bacon comes in pretty high on the price per rasher!

Economics aside, having a meat slicer really made the job of finishing the bacon so much easier. I was able to very quickly cut uniform rashers although I had to tie up the bacon to fit it through the slicer.

My new toy. Made me nervous for my fingers.

After five minutes slicing I had two huge piles of delicious home cured bacon ready to eat.

Two piles of sliced bacon. Rind on home cure on the left. Perfick Pork dry cure on the right.

It was really noticable how different the two bellies were. Mine was very juicy with a mild salted flavour. It tasted a lot like commercial streaky bacon but better. More succulent with a pronounced porky flavour. The perfick pork dry cure was completely different. Much firmer and more toothsome with a pronounced saltiness. Both are excellent. Making them was a really simple and rewarding process and one that I fully intend to explore further.

Finished, cooked, tasty, tasty bacon.