Here I am again! It’s amazing how much you can get done when you’re trapped in the house and desperate for something to do.
I badgered my vegetarian wife into taking me to the butchers this weekend. I bought a large piece of dead pig.
Years ago I used to do this once a year – procure half a pig, take a day off work and prepare the whole thing myself – jointing, slicing, sausages, salamis, the works.
It’s not practical these days but there’s one bit of it I miss – making the cured meats. It’s not difficult though it does take a bit of attention and I can keep myself in cooked breakfasts for the year.
First catch your pig
This is a full loin – with bone – from a Gloucester Old Spots pig. I prefer Tamworth but they’re harder to come by and the Old Spots is still a fine breed.
The first thing to do is get the bone out – it might look daunting but it’s no harder than filletting a fish , your butcher would do it for you but I’m stubbornly independent about such things. You’ll also get a piece of tendloin out of this, the best thing to do with that is cook it immediately and eat it.
Shut the door when you’re doing this or it will take twice as long as you stop to shoo the dog out seventeen times.
As it is you have a fine roasting joint but it ain’t bacon. To make it bacon you need to cure it, and you didn’t even know it was ill.
Bacon is not just simply salted pork, there’s more to it. Salt dehydrates meat and inhibits bacterial growth but salted meat needs a soak before it’s palatable. Bacon cure also has sugar – another preservative that also offsets the flavour of the salt and sodium nitrite – which is essential.
Forget what you’ve read in the press about bacon causing cancer – or better, look it up in a reputable journal that knows the difference between the presence of an effect and the strength of the effect. The nitrite is there for a very good reason, it stops the growth of botulism which is still a very real risk in curing meat.
I make a lot of fuss about not measuring things and going by eye in the kitchen, this is not one of those times – mess up curing meat and you’ll either get rotting meat, food poisoning or a salt overdose. Measure your cure out carefully.
I used to mix up my own cures from scratch, this time I bought a ready mixed basic dry cure for bacon. It can be rubbed straight into the meat but I’m going to bugger about with the recipe a bit by including honey.
There’s enough cure here for my three kilos of meat ( just 100g ). If you add honey to it it sets like plaster ( whoops ) so I’m going to rub a couple of tablespoons full of honey over the joint first. I’ve cut the meat into two so I can fit it in the fridge.
It’s vital that every exposed surface on the meat gets covered – all the knife nicks, every little pocket and cavity or you’ll find grey-green patches on your bacon. The press keep going on about avoiding red meat, No! Red meat is fine, it’s the green meat that’s bad for your health.
The spine and rib cage aren’t going to waste – they’re salted overnight, rinsed, roasted, gnawed on ( bacon spare ribs a great! ) and finally thrown in a slow cooker with some veg to make a fantastic stock for tomorrow’s soup.
If you’ve done it properly your fingers will be sore, the dog will follow you everywhere trying to lick your hands no matter how much you wash them and your nascent bacon will begin to sweat brine. Wrap it tightly in cling film – or roasting bags and put it in the fridge. Turn it every day for a week. It will leak pink brine all over the place so I’ve usurped the vegetable drawer.
I also picked up a couple of pigs cheeks to try an Italian speciality – guanciale – a spiced cured meat that makes fantastic Carbonara.
See you next week when we’ll bam things up a notch turning our lovely bacon into the ultimate food of the gods- smoked bacon 🙂