Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Belly Full of Bacon

I feel bad. I'm looking through this blog, and all I see is meat, which is unfortunate because that's not how my family and I eat. Sure we love pork, venison, fish, and (a little) beef, but we mostly eat beans and greens. One of my kid's favorite meals is beans and rice. Broiled mackerel with sticky brown rice and a homemade teriyaki sauce comes in at a close second. Third place would have to go to roasted beets served on a bed of beet greens with sardines. We love our oily fish in this house.

My sisters hate me. I could probably get my kids to eat a pound of raw oysters served over a huge salad with spaghetti and hot sauce if I told them too. My poor sisters have resorted to Fluffernutter sandwiches and chips twice a day. Occasionally my nieces will eat a few grapes or a baby carrot providing a brief respite from their near constant state of constipation, but for the most part, three of the four food groups are rarely represented on their plates.

The point being, my kids eat everything. We eat everything. Usually we have meat a couple nights a week. The rest of the time we subsist on veggies and grains. From the looks of my blog, you'd think Ted Nugent lived in the guest room. He doesn't. There are a couple of times a year, though, where Uncle Ted might want to stop by. I know he's a much bigger fan of beef and game than pork, but I think it's safe to say that bacon makes almost everyone happy. That's why last night, I started making 40 pounds of the stuff.

The last time I did this, I had just gotten Michael Ruhlman's book Charcuterie, which if you don't have it, I highly suggest clicking that link back there and picking it up, because today we'll be talking about bacon and pancetta, two of the easiest and most rewarding things to recreate from the book.

The most important ingredient in this process is, of course, pork belly; quality pork belly. I've noticed a huge difference between buying pork belly from the butchers in our meat packing district here in Chicago, and belly from sustainable sources. Nothing compares to Slash. That was the name of the first whole pig we bought from our good friends at Prospera Farm in Berlin, WI. The fat was delicate and ethereal. When the bacon was cooked, that soft white ribbon turned completely transparent when it hit the pan. It was magical.

This most recent batch is from Slagel Family Farms. The yet to open Butcher and Larder will be carrying their products in Chicago in the near future. The bellies are pretty incredible. Although these came without skin (which is is nearly required for making good beans in the future), the fat was still beautiful and there was a great deal of meat on these weighty pillows of pork. 

I pulled off a few "special" pieces of belly for other uses. I have two large chunks marinating in a spicy chipotle ancho rub which I will braise, sear, and use in tacos tomorrow. There are also a few choice pieces stashed in the freezer. If bacon is king, uncured belly is the porcelain faced prince of the kingdom and, on special occasions, he'll do just fine.

The haul below is going to hang out in the fridge for a week, then I'll rinse it, and hang it up to dry. When I do, I'll be sure to add those pics as well. There's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing several rolls of pancetta hanging in your own pantry. I already have several friends who will be directly benefiting from my efforts, and based on the interest, I'll probably be doing this whole thing again in another month.

What began as a way to pay for my own yearly bacon habit has turned into something far more sinister. I feel a little like a drug dealer. I buy the stuff wholesale, cut it up with my own flavors, break it out into much smaller portions, and sell it to my friends. Who knows, we'll probably end up sampling the goods when they drop by to pick up their stash. Come to think of it, this lifestyle could be a very dangerous to my health. In a year or two my cholesterol levels are going to be shot.


  1. You need comments--you are too funny and write too well not to have people commenting on your posts.
    Questions first: Where are you hanging the cured pancetta and belly?
    Have you tried any maple syrup cured belly? OMG. Really good.
    I set a piece of eye of round in cure last week and am going to try a braesola.
    Guanciale--have you done it?
    And there is nothing wrong with selling good shit to friends.

  2. Thanks Sharon. It's nice to have such a positive first comment on this blog. I was expecting the first commenter to be a bit more vitriolic.

    The belly is hanging in my pantry. We live in a vintage condo and our pantry is separate from the kitchen. I've put a small humidifier in there to keep the moisture content somewhat right. It also has a nice big uninsulated window, that, here in the Midwest, allows just the right amount of cold in.

    Let me know how the bresaola turns out. Are you letting it go for months? Guanicale is next on my list. Very similar to bacon. I also want to do some fat back into salt pork. I really need to get my hands on a commercial cooler or a glass front refrigerator. Maybe for my birthday.

    Best, FA

  3. Yes the braesola will dry cure in my basement for about 60 is still in the salt cure unitl the 15th.
    I live in LA and have a full undergound basement that stays about 58 degrees, 65% humidity. I will need to add a humidifier for a while for that.
    Do you know of Matt Wright? Cures some beautiful meat in Seattle...take a look at his curing case-one of my winter project's is his curing chamber
    Just finished some great handmade sausage---bought a pasture raised pig this year with my daughter and we are cooking our way thru it...I am jealous of your access to venison and toher wild game tho--miss that.

  4. Thanks for the link. I was just talking with my wife about that same thing earlier. I need to put that together.

    I love buying whole pigs. It's such a great challenge to use everything. I still have a bag of ground pork fat in a freezer up north that I need to make use of.