Don, the host and teacher of our workshop, is now our good friend, and local All Things Meat guru. He’s a big man, with a bigger heart, full of life and a passion for food – my kind of people. For those who don’t have a local source, check out Michael Ruhlman. The following recipe is adapted from his, with a little of my own spin. The first batch we made on our own ended up being too salty (it will happen, I’m told), but mostly because I didn’t measure properly, and used too much cure for the meat. An ounce per pound is a good rule to follow.
If you do end up with super salty bacon on your hands, don’t waste it – improvise! I salvaged ours by chopping up the cooked bacon and creating a new recipe: Bacon Basil Salsa. It’s a sanctified salsa sensation in your mouth. Once you take a bite you’ll be doing the Happy Dance in your seat. If you have home-grown tomatoes, onions and basil, it’s even better. If you make your own Cotija, let me know. You would rock my world if you showed me how.
(Makes 5 oz. of cure)
¼ cup (2 oz.) coarse kosher salt
2 tsp. pink curing salt #1
4 Tbsp. *coarsely ground black pepper
4 bay leaves, crumbled
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup brown sugar or honey or maple syrup
5 cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat side of a chef’s knife
2 Tbsp. juniper berries, lightly crushed (optional)
5 to 10 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
5 pounds pork belly, skin off
(I like to cut into five 1-lb. pieces for more cure-to-surface action)
2-gallon, or 1-gallon zip-top bags if you don’t have a container big enough to hold the belly(ies).
Mix salt and spices together.
Put your pork in the zip-top bag(s) or on a sheet tray or in a plastic container. Rub the salt and spice mixture all over the belly. Close the bag or cover it with plastic wrap, and stick it in the refrigerator for seven days (get your hands in there and give the spices another good rubbing around midway through, or if you’re really hands-on, flip it and rub every day).
After seven days, take the pork out of the fridge, rinse off all the seasonings under cold water and pat dry. Put meat on a rack on a sheet tray and place in a 200 degrees F oven. Leave it in the oven for 90 minutes (or, if you want to measure the internal temperature, until it reaches 150 degrees F). If you have a smoker, by all means smoke it!
Let it cool and refrigerate until you’re ready to cook it. (It’s easier to slice after it’s been refrigerated.)
*If you have a battery-operated pepper mill, or a coffee bean grinder you use for spices, by all means use it for the pepper! Manually grinding those peppercorns will (seemingly) take forever. And tire-out your wrists and forearms like you’ve been wringing chicken necks all day. Not that I know, but I can certainly imagine.
Tomatoes, preferably homegrown (say 2-3)
Basil (about a cup, chopped)
Onion (half a large one)
Home-cured bacon (to taste)
Cotija cheese (3-4 oz., crumbled)
Chop, mix, devour.
As you can see, quantities are flexible…