I have what some might call a bacon malaise. I am convinced without doubt that everything tastes better with bacon. What irks me, the more I eat and the more fancy schmaancy cured bacons I come across is the cost of the bacon compared to the oink it originally came from. So I cured my own and here are the results. I’ve mapped out everything so you can muster the courage to try it yourself.
After much discussion with several delightful butchers and a considerable amount of umming and ahhhing, I selected a 2.5kg piece of boned loin from some organic toffee nosed pig raised on unicorn smiles and green pastures which should (I hope) give me about 80 rashers. Basically dinner for a week and perhaps one or two rounds left over to freeze.
Rest of day spent peering in the fridge at my pig, two dogs skittering about my feet showing great interest.
Late evening: May have decided to call my bacon pig Dotti. Dogs still showing unnatural amount of interest.
Day two: sweetening the deal
Ok to be honest this is where I start to panic. 2.5kg of Dotti floating about my house does truly make me wonder if I should leave this preservation process to the experts. I don’t even really like handling fresh yeast – all that fermenting activity makes me feel ill so I’m not entirely convinced my bison on a cave wall attempts at preservation is one of my smartest moves.
I didn't realise there was quite so much to think about with salt, but my butcher is full of advice (and a bit over zealous for this little amateur) but I admire his commitment and take his advice. And his sodium nitrate. Honestly if the butchery wasn’t so well lit he could well be mistaken for being my dealer – passing over little baggies of mysterious looking white powder. I wanted to just use salt Dotti but my new mate tells me, “sodium nitrates been around for bloody ever.” Mix it with a brine of water and salt. Let Dotti have a long 12-hour wallow in the bath. So I did, I added about a teaspoon of the nitrate mix, Gave the salt tub a good lug into enough water to cover Dotti. She suddenly looked like those weird jars in the biology labs of school days.
I get nervous, I don't want Dotti in the nitrate anymore. Time to change the cure. I lift out the meat, give it a rinse and decide to salt Dotti. Before you start, you need a lot. Granulated table salt has chemical additives to help it flow freely and the sexy Malden crystal stuff costs as much as a real drug habit. Sea salt though, is pure, comes in big crunchy lumps and is refreshingly cheap. I exfoliate Dotti. It's a worryingly charming sensation. If she were alive, she’d have the sweetest pins in the paddock. I start to feel badly for Dotti that was. She would have picked up for sure.I then give her another good going over with the salt and then pour over the remaining maple syrup mix.
Day five: metamorphosis
Oh hello Dotti! There has been a change. Overnight she went away to band camp and came back all firm and grown up. The pale and flabby meat is dark and firm. It is so definitely bacon.
The salt doesn’t dissolve. I obsess slightly, plunging my hands in the muck to give her a rub down as often as I make myself a cup of tea. In other words this happened at least six times in the day. I can barely concentrate before my mind wanders back to Dotti in her little salt lake in the fridge.I feel like I am storing food for the winter. Its very Hunter & Gatherer. I kind of like it.
I am in love with Dotti. I no longer want to eat her. I call my butcher for some counseling. Evidently Dotti is now free to sit in the fridge. Pahh hum bug. How does he know? Crazy man. How-does-he-know? I’m seriously attending to Dotti at hourly intervals. I may have even caught myself chatting to her. I wonder if I’ve let things go too far. This is why, somewhere along the line, salting meat became a process we handed over to experts.
Day Seven. Let there be bacon
I wash Dotti of salt and marinade. She is a beauty. She belongs in a Renaissance painting with her creamy fat and ruby meat – Christ she looks good. Dotti would turn the most ardent of vegetarians. I’m sure of it. Research tells me that at this point, the bacon can be soaked for a few hours if you prefer a less salty taste. I didn’t believe this for a second. I leave Dotti for about as long as it takes me to sharpen my knife and work out her worthy accompaniments. Hell I even go so far as to take to her with a knife then give the end result a wee rub of salt. I’ll be honest, there weren’t slices so much as there were slabs. I throw two slabs into a hot pan. At first I can’t work out what’s happening, figuring I’d ruined Dotti then I realize why it looks odd. There isn’t that pallid pool of weird whitish water emerging on the skin and over my pan as with the commercial bacon varieties. It’s glorious.
On a good day, bacon makes me salivate, but today the smell is making my stomach howl and grumble like a pack of dogs in the pound. I could describe the taste but that’s only a small bit of it. It’s the joy; the knowledge of knowing that I made it myself, joined the part of food history where this kind of care and attention to food was a daily occurrence. It’s the realization that it’s not some fancy mystery. Any fool with access to a pig and some salt can pull it off. I’d be lying if I said it was as homely as jam making but really, best of all, with my feeble writers income I get to make all the comments about bringing home the bacon without one element of exaggeration.