Bacon 101

Here, I’m going to set out an actual dry cure method using a measured equilibrium (EQ) approach which is the simplest and most efficient way to make bacon with a known salt content and which, as long as it has been given at least the minimum time given to cure, does not rely on precise timing and will not get anymore salty if left longer and nor will it require any soaking or other nonsense to make it edible.

For those interested in brine cures, which have a lot of benefits, in terms of the subtle introduction of liquid born flavours, you can simply follow the ham cure section below as this will work just as well for bacon or any other cut you choose for that matter.

Anyway here we go with basic bacon 101, which will provide with top quality, dry cured bacon inside a week and no excuse to ever pay through the nose for supermarket crap of unknown origin ever again.

STEP 1: THE MEAT

Any cut will do, we are working on the basis here that for starters, we are going to be using pork, but for those reading who don’t dabble in hog, you can do this with lamb or beef quite happily.

Always get the very best meat you can, either direct from your farmer who’s livestock and methods you know and trust, or from a butcher who can vouch for the same things in terms of where it came from. Like all good food, the results are inextricably linked to the quality of the ingoing ingredients. If you want the best bacon, you need the best pork.

Having sourced your meat supply, decide on your cut. I’m a huge fan of well made shoulder bacon, but there’s no getting away from the fact that loin (back) and belly (streaky) are the favourite cuts. Personally, I much prefer streaky as it it’s fat content produces a much more flavourful result and I find it tends to take cure flavourings much better, but each to their own.

Once you have your meat, you can skin it or not, depending on your preference and trim to the size you want your bacon, then, most importantly, weigh the meat and make a note of this.

STEP 2: SALT AND CURE MIX

There are various ways of doing this with ready made proprietary ‘all purpose’ curing salt, which will be a mix of salt and sodium nitrite (the fast acting antioxidant and curing agent), or you can mix your own by using salt and cure #1 (often known as prague powder 1). This is a very carefully measured and perfectly consistent mix of salt and sodium nitrite, which can then be mixed with the rest of the salt to provide a cure mix of a known strength.

There are now also celery juice alternatives for use in curing, which give a consistent and known strength if for any reason you prefer to use vegetable based nitrate rather than the fast acting nitrite commonly used. I would note here that many people have made a lot of effort to promote nitrite free curing methods. I would say however, that most of the reasons given for this in terms of perceived health risks are fundamentally misinformed and ignore many of the reasons we use nitrite when making bacons for taste, colour and flavour as well as safety.

For me, bacon without nitrite is salt pork. A perfectly respectable product in its own right, but hey, if you like grey bacon, and insist on thinking there is something wrong with nitrite use, knock yourself out.

Having sourced this ingredient, you can decide upon the percentage rate that you prefer. Generally, a good guide, is between 20 and 25 grams per kilo and the increments between these two levels will have a surprisingly large effect on taste. I tend to go with 2.25 to 2.5 myself, but this is a personal thing. When talking in terms of grams per kilo, this is total salt/cure mix, so we’re talking 20 grams of all purpose cure or 20 grams being the combined weight of salt and cure #1.

Carefully weigh out the right amount of salt/cure mix for the weight of meat (see step1), so for every kilo of meat you weigh out for example, 20 grams of salt/cure mix.

STEP 3: APPLICATION

At this point, all that is to be done to create great, simple, classic tasting bacon is to rub your salt/cure mix all over the meat until all of the weighed out mixture has been applied evenly in a rough, 75% meat side and 25% fat/skin side, ensuring that every bit of the mix adheres well, especially in any pockets.

What I am concentrating on here is the ingredients actually needed to cure safely and to provide a simple and delicious bacon. Sweeteners, spices and aromatic herbs can be added on top of this basic mix to you hearts content, and experiment away knowing that underneath these additions is an effective and reliable cured product.

STEP 4: CURING PHASE

For dry cure, the meat simply then needs to be rested on a slightly tilted tray or plate (alternatively on a wire rack above a suitable tray or plate), in a fridge with the occasional turning. For a period long enough for the salt/cure mix to be drawn right through the muscle. As all meats vary to some extent, in terms of density as well as fat content and dispersal, definite curing times can vary slightly, but a reliable rule of thumb is that one day for every half inch of thickness to the centre of the meat, i.e. a two inch thick belly would need two days, a four inch thick loin would take 4 days. Then add a day to this total. Meaning that your belly would be 3 days and your loin 5.

STEP 5: EQUALISATION & FLAVOUR DEVELOPMENT

Once the initial curing has had enough time, give the bacon a quick rinse and set back into the fridge to equalise.

This stage is very important for achieving a consistent flavour, as once the curing agents have got to the middle, and met one another as they headed in from each side, they will then tend to spend the next period balancing themselves out through the meat, insuring a consistent level throughout, regardless of the impact that fat caps or differences in density may have had in the process of the cures.

After letting the bacon equalise for minimum of two days, ideally nearer a week, you will have firm, dry, perfectly cured product with a consistent and well developed flavour throughout.

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