Bourbon Cured Bacon
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. Or share his bourbon cured bacon. Because here’s the thing; once you let your friends taste bourbon cured bacon, they’ll suddenly start appearing early in the morning for a whole range of spurious tasks. Many of these will benefit you.
“I had too many sweetcorn plants germinate, so I thought I’d drop these off on my way to work.”
“I thought I’d pop in early and give you a lift to the pub. Mind you, it’s not open yet so we need to kill a bit of time.”
“Here’s that money I owe you; no, really, I’m sure I borrowed a tenner the other night!”
It can work the other way too. I tend to suggest to anyone who I need a favour off that I’ll rustle up a bit of breakfast. That tends to make sure they turn up.
The irony is that rather than revel in this good fortune, you’ll turn into a bacon miser. You start to begrudge the bacon beggars every last slice (I say slice rather than rasher, because I hand cut my bourbon cured bacon, which means it’s nice and thick). You start to wonder whether they are really worthy of bourbon cured bacon. Mrs IG even keeps a pack of supermarket bacon in the freezer, for ‘visitors’.
Of course, as with any petty miserliness, or indeed any petty begging, there is a simple answer. make the stuff. It’s so simple that I don’t understand why anyone would bother nipping to the shops for a pack of watery bacon produced in a chemical vat in Cleethorpes (other towns with bacon plants making watery chemically flavoured bacon are available).
So, here’s how I do it!
Belly Pork – Get a good quality bit, not the supermarket crap. I use outdoor raised pork bellies with a good layer of fat on them. I get them skin on, bone in. I tend to bone the belly out to preserve as much meat as possible, but if you don’t have a decent boning knife, or if you can’t be arsed, just slice the ribs off. Keep the knife tight to the bones and follow them, and when you reach the cartilage just follow it lengthways. Either that or buy one off the bone. I tend to look for bellies that are a minimum of three inches thick, but any belly will do. Weigh the belly (in kilos), and then use the following formula for the other ingredients.
Coarse Salt – 22g per Kg of meat
Muscavdo Sugar (or any decent brown sugar) – 22g per Kg of meat
Cure #1 (*see note below) – 5g per Kg of meat
Maple Syrup – 30ml per kg of meat
Bourbon – The amount varies on how I feel. It can anywhere between 50 and 100ml per Kg of meat. In truth I just pour it until I feel it’s enough, then add another splash. I use Knob Creek, but any will do. However, the better the bourbon, the better the bacon. Please don’t use Jack Daniels. Unless you really must.
NOTE: Cure #1 is also known as Prague Powder #1, Pink Salt and Curing Salt. However, that doesn’t automatically mean that every variant under those names is the same. The Cure #1 I use is 6.25% Sodium Nitrite, and 93.75% salt. Stick to the amount in this recipe. You will see other ratios quoted, but these are often for comminuted meat or brine solutions. Unless you know what you’re doing, don’t try to adjust for other ratio curing salts or saltpetre.
Mix up your salt, sugar and Cure #1. Place the boned belly, skin side down, in a large zip-lock bag or vacuum pouch if you have a vacuum packer. Tip the salt/sugar/cure mixture onto the meat and rub it in as best you can. Don’t excessively worry about getting it well worked in.
Next, pour in the relevant amount of maple syrup. Putting it into a bowl or jug to measure can be messy, so I tend to set my kitchen scales to ml, weight the bottle, pour in directly, reweighing until the appropriate amount has been poured.
Next add the bourbon. Either pour it into a jug to measure, so just glug it in. Bourbon never killed anyone (aside from the people it has killed, obviously).
Now, get as much air out of the bag as possible and seal. Give it a bit of a massage. Put it onto a plate, meat side down, and pop it into the fridge for 24 hours.
What will happen is the salt will draw moisture from the meat, and that – together with the other ingredients – will form a brine. As the moisture is sucked out, so capillary action will suck the brine back in again.
After 24 hours, remove the bag, give it a general massage for a few minutes, and return it the fridge, skin side down. Repeat this process for 5 days (6 days if it’s a right thick bastard), massaging and turning every day.
Once this has been done, remove the belly, rinse under cold water, pat dry with kitchen paper, and return to the fridge on a rack of some type (I use a grill rack over a bowl, or a roasting pan with a grid) for 24 hours. You want the belly to dry, so airflow is important. If you just chuck it on a plate it won’t dry! Discard the liquid. Don’t even think about trying to use it again.
Now you have a decision to make: to smoke or not smoke? Well, I always smoke mine, usually with Hickory wood. If you have a smoker, then you know what to do. I tend to smoke at around 93C (200F) for three to four hours, until I hit an internal temperature of around 65C (149F). Put the belly skin side up, and make sure you consistent smoke for the first 90 minutes. After that the bacon takes on less smokiness.
If you have a basic BBQ, then simply load the charcoal on one side, put the bacon skin side up on the other, and aim for the temperatures and durations above. Remember that meat typically takes on smokiness for the first 90 odd minutes, so after that you can finish it off in a low oven.
If you don’t want it smoked (what the hell is wrong with you?), or can’t smoke (really, buy a bloody smoker or at worst a charcoal BBQ) then just pop it in an oven at the above temperatures.
Once finished, let the bacon cool. If you want to square it up for cutting, the off-cuts and bloody delicious! While it’s still warm, remove the skin unless you want a rind. Trust me, thick cut smoked bacon can have a rind like leather. Don’t throw it away. You can either use it to flavour soups and stews, or mince it up for Cotechino!
If you intend to eat the bacon ifresh, slice it as you need it. This presents less surface area for bacteria to attack. Keep it in the fridge and treat like normal (yeah, it’s nothing close to normal) bacon. Alternatively, slice it and freeze. When cooking, it just needs grilling until the fat bubbles and turns golden.
Another option is to keep the bacon in a chunk, then prepare some potatoes and broad beans. Pour a little honey over the bacon piece and chuck it in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes. Eat it as a roast joint.
An alternative to the above recipe is to replace the maple syrup with black treacle, and the bourbon with a good rum.