This is my pipe dream: a small-holding containing
- A pig, preferably a rare breed with a funny squashed face
- Beehives (me in fetching veil collecting honey)
- A potager patch where blowsy hollyhocks and honeysuckle combine in riotous harmony with wigwams of scarlet-flowering beans and rows of carrots and cabbages
- Not chickens - they frighten me.
This is the reality: commuting to East London and walking the mean streets of Hackney to my job. Yes, I know, not so bucolic... but like superman I can assume a dual identity and these recent bank holidays give me the opportunity to indulge my inner HF-W. I decide to cure my own bacon.
Here's what I did:
- Researched the net and various books
- Discovered you can no longer buy saltpetre any more as it is used to make explosives
- Bought some curing salt off e-bay: curing salt has a small percentage of nitrates which help the preserving process and maintain the colour of the meat
- Found an enormous tupperware container and took it to the butcher's to say 'can I have a piece of pork belly to fit in here'
- Forgot that you have to fit a load of water in the container as well as the belly, so go and buy another container
- Discovered bigger container doesn't fit in fridge - scale down operation
- Mixed up the solution (for 5 litres of water you need 900 g curing salt); I added crushed juniper berries for flavour and weighted it down as the pork belly floats (I used a Le Creuset lid wrapped in a plastic bag)
- After 6 - 7 days I decanted the belly and wiped it dry
- Decided to smoke half of it (my HF-W side was coming out strongly at the time)
- Lit barbecue bucket and when smouldering chucked on fresh rosemary, fennel and sage to create smoke and flavour the meat. Had to keep rushing out to check on it - very exhausting and made worse by T calling me 'saddo'
- Following morning sliced the smoked and unsmoked belly. It looked like bacon, it smelled like bacon and bloody hell it tasted sooooo salty. The smoked half tasted as though it had spent the night in a pub (before the cigarette ban) with no trace of herby flavours ...hmmmm...
- Looked again at books and realised I had forgotten to soak it overnight in fresh water to remove excess salt - swore fulsomely
- Returned belly to container and added water. Lost my balance while returning it to the fridge and fell backwards. Container also overbalanced and slid out of fridge covering floor and me in porky water. Had a tantrum and left spouse to clear up and return bacon and more water to fridge
- After the soaking I left the bacon to dry out for a few days in the fridge.
The moment of truth ... the first slice hits the pan. It sizzles and crisps up nicely, no watery liquid exudes unlike the vacuum-packed stuff. It does taste good, full of bacony flavour with a firm texture.
So was it worth it? Yup, although better next time I think. For my next HF-W adventure I may well experiment with a dry cure ... better for my mental health and (possibly) marriage.