Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Porcine Persuasion

A little more than a year ago I stumbled across Michael Ruhlman's technique for home-cured pancetta. If you didn't click on that link, go back and click on it. I'll wait. If that picture of the meat just dangling there doesn't have you salivating all over your keyboard then you are either a vegan or a moron...I suppose you could be both, in fact I'm pretty sure if you are a vegan then you're both. That photo had me so hyped up, I installed a bar in my pantry just so that I could see the same thing in my kitchen hanging there during the drying period.

Having just bought a pig from some friends, I decided to have a go at those ominous packages of belly at the bottom of the freezer. What proceeded over the next month was obscene and memories of this time are hazy and clouded by bacon grease. I must have purchased the bellies of more than six whole hogs (since mine were all gone I needed more, right?). I made several variations on the cure including everything from sweet ingredients (brown sugar, molasses, berries, crystallized ginger, maple syrup, and more) to savory ones (thyme, ancho chillies, cumin, bourbon, and so on.). You could smell the curing meat all over the house. Everyone who stopped by stood slack jawed at the ever expanding collection of belly hanging in the pantry and loaded in the freezer. The pictures that follow are only a sample of my indulgence.

I took these before things got really of hand. The two large sections hanging in front of the baking shelf ended up being two very different pancettas. I also roasted some of the belly many times over which resulted in a chewy and sticky kind of bacon which I sliced thick, cut into inch squares, and cooked slowly in a cast iron pan until totally brown. I covered those with chocolate and sprinkled them with grey salt. I served them at a party as a post-dessert and most people didn't realize until later that they weren't eating a tray of amazing caramels.

One of my other favorite dishes from this period was a creamy bowl of Anson Mills polenta with a couple thick sliced pieces of the homemade pancetta and a fresh fried farm egg. For breakfast. With beer. The kids had orange juice. It was a dark time for everyone.

Most foodies these days repeat the mantra, "Everything is better with bacon," and I suppose it is. But I have to say, there is a line. I jumped clear over that line for a while. I'm back now, but seeing that damn picture again on Ruhlman's blog, and not having bacon around the house, is absolutely killing me. Because once you've made your own, buying bacon at the store just feels wrong.

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