I found an easy recipe online I wanted to try, since I had several slabs of pork belly just sitting in my freezer, calling my name, begging me to try making bacon. I modified the original recipe to my own wishes... the original called for 2 and 1/2 lb. pork belly (1 kg) and what I thought was an obscene amount of white sugar and molasses (1/2 c white sugar and a tablespoon of blackstrap) which I thought was silly and an unnecessary step, since brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses added to it. I just used about 1/3 cup brown sugar instead, to a 5 lb. (app. 2 kg.) slab, and was right to do so as the end result is distinctively sweet. Not overpowering, but just on that edge to my taste. Like salted caramel-y goodness. If you prefer a more savoury bacon, you could go even less sugar or add a hair more salt, and it will still be delicious. Probably Maple syrup instead of sugar would work as well, the darker the syrup, the better, if you like a pronounced maple flavour. But I suspect it would affect the curing process. If you plan to use the bacon right away when done, or freeze until use, a perfect cure isn't necessary, but the texture of the meat will be different than the bacon you're used to.
I don't have a smoker and I didn't want to babysit a BBQ., so I wanted to try liquid smoke (hickory in my case, and it has to be the real stuff, not artificial). The original recipe called for smoke to be basted on the meat right before it went into the oven, but I felt this wasn't enough and so added it to the brine. Turns out I was right again, the hickory flavour is amazing, delicious, and not overpowering.
Another 'modification'; original recipe calls for the meat to be placed in a plastic bag with the brine ingredients, for seven days, turned and rubbed daily. I didn't have a ziploc bag to fit, so I shoehorned the slab in the biggest glass cake pan I own, covered it in tinfoil, put it in the fridge, and promptly forgot about it. A lot. I turned every 2-3 days, and it sat in the fridge for 10 days before I had an afternoon free to get it "cooked".
Also, the recipe called for kosher, pickling, or other non-iodized salt (sodium chloride) and "curing salt" (sodium nitrate). The first I didn't have, and wasn't making a special trip to get, so I just used table salt. The second is the stuff that makes bacon (and other processed meats) look pink. I didn't care for the extra nitrites, nor did I care if my bacon is still pink after cooking it, so I substituted regular old table salt for both, and it worked a charm. It is SO delicious, quite literally the best bacon I've ever tasted. And I've eaten a lot of bacon
As a final note, uncured pork belly can be hard to find, since butchers hoard it all for bacon. If you can't find uncured pork belly, any slab or chop cut with a decent layer of fat on it will work. Side pork is great. You need a bit of fat marbling, though, so don't use something like trimmed loin. If you do, you'll end up with something more like ham, and you'll have to add oil to the pan to fry it. More work for less reward
On to the BACON!
■ 3-5 pounds pork belly
■ 1/3 cup brown sugar
■ 4 tablespoons salt
■ 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more, to taste
■ 4 tablespoons of genuine liquid smoke in the flavour of your choice, plus a bit to sprinkle on the meat before roasting
Rinse the thawed belly and thoroughly pat it dry. Or, be lazy like me and don't. Whatever Trim off any thin edges so that the piece is one long rectangle. Or at least so that the chunk will fit in the container of your choice. (You can save these excess pieces of belly for making sausage or lard.)
In a small bowl, mix the sugar, salt, smoke, and pepper together and rub it evenly into the meat (like a relaxing, porcine spa treatment). Place the meat inside an oversize seal-able plastic bag. Or do what I did, and put half the brine mixture evenly over the bottom of a pan, stuff the meat in, put the other half of the mixture on top of the meat and go at it like a deep-tissue massage. Cover the pan, or close the bag, and lay it in the refrigerator for 7-10 days, massaging the liquids that will collect through the bag (salt and sugar will draw moisture from the meat. This is fine, and necessary. No liquid out, no cure.) and turning it daily. Or whatever
After 7 days, inspect your bacon. It should be firm to the touch all over, like touching a cooked steak — a sign that it has been cured. If the
flesh still feels spongy and soft in spots, massage the meat again with an additional 2 tablespoons salt and check it again after
1 or 2 days.
Once the bacon is fully cured, discard the juice. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Give the meat a sniff, and sprinkle with more liquid smoke if you think it needs it. It's hard to overdo this step, in my opinion. Place the belly, fat side up, in a roasting pan or on a cookie sheet and roast for 2 1/2 hours-3 hours, until the interior temperature of the meat reaches 150 degrees F.
Cool, and if you want to cut or slice your enormous chunk of bacon, place in the freezer for a bit to firm it up. Refrigerate for up to ten days, or freeze indefinitely, or fry it up and enjoy right away!!! If you think this looks like a LOT of bacon, once you taste it, you may find you are wrong. It's incredibly more-ish.
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