Brines are great, I love them as a way of introducing flavours and I love the way you can chuck a whole heap of pig in a bucket and simply pull various bits out at different times (hocks first, then belly, then back, then hams). However its a lot more space and time consuming to get right and, in my view isn’t where the beginner looking for convenience and confidence building should start.
‘Salt box’ is another oft used term for basically burying your pork in salt rather than brine. A solid, rather than liquid, immersion if you will. Again its a great method in some circumstances but, again, is not where I think we should start. It uses a ton of salt you don’t need and requires perfect timing or otherwise unnecessary soaking before your product is at the right salinity to enjoy.
Then there is the ‘EQ dry cure in a bag’ routine. Its simple, clean, easy and on the right lines but can also often lead to the meat being in contact with the brine created if you are not careful and this is not good. Its a great method when introducing flavours which may be liquid or sticky but again fails the test as the best place to start for me. Its also absolutely not ‘dry cure’ but more a carefully measured, limited brine method.
So, here we are at last, my suggested starting point for all beginners bacon is the simplest of all. Measured dry cure.
First, get your (highest quality you can find) meat, trim it up and weigh it.
Next, decide what final salt content suits your tastes, there may be some trial and error here to find this definitively, for your own tastes, but nothing suggested here will be inedible or even unpleasant as a starting point from which to find your happy medium. I would recommend starting somewhere between 2.5 to 3 % (so to keep it simple either shoot for 2.5, 2.75 or 3%). you may eventually decide you like less, or more, thats up to you.
I typically use a sea salt/sodium nitrite mix (99% salt and 1% SN) but a homemade mix of your chosen salt and Cure#1 will work just as well, and it is the total weight of this ‘curing salt mixture’ (salt plus cure) that you want to add to your meat.
So You have weighed your 5kg of lovely pork belly and you have weighed out 125g or 150g of curing salt mixture.
Then rub it all on to the meat concentrating around three quarters of it on the meat side. Make sure you apply it to every side, edge, nook and cranny until all of the salt mixture has adhered. You may be surprised by how little there actually is, but it will just cover it all nicely so don’t be tempted to add more and ruin the purpose of ‘measured’ dry curing.
Now lay it in the fridge over a plate, tray, dish etc ideally on a rack and turn every day or so. Fridge temps are fine as we are using nitrite so there is no waiting for nitrate to convert or reliance on the bacteria that do that being at a comfortable (for them) temperature. It will just get straight on with curing the meat.
The average belly will have completed its initial cure in just three or four days (I know! Great isn’t it!) but the beauty of this method is that if you leave it longer, forget or are otherwise delayed for any reason it just doesn’t matter as there will never be any more salt in the meat than the correct amount you added to begin with, so it will never ‘go over’ or need soaking to make it palatable.
What it will need, and this is vital, is a (very) quick rinse and pat down and then to sit back in the fridge to equalise for at least two days before use, a bit longer if you can bear to wait.
Made this way it will keep well, will only improve if hung or left for a bit longer to mature and can be seen as a ‘base bacon’ providing you with the basic cure from which any experiments with flavours, sugars, aromatics, smoking methods etc you may choose to add are only limited by your imagination, safe in the knowledge that the underlying product will be safely cured, not too salty and ready to eat within a week (which is comforting).
We will look at all of these other steps and variations in later posts but for now a basic bacon is so easy, so simple, so make some!