Friday, April 23, 2010


So here comes the first of the really fun stuff - dry-curing. The belly and jowls went into a cure of salt, sodium nitrite (just a touch to ward off botulism), sugar, and various herbs and spices. They sat in the cure for almost two weeks, giving off water that had to be drained daily. At the end of the two-week period, they were hung to mature. One of the jowls I rubbed with a paprika/marjoram mix before hanging, to give a slightly Central European flavor to counter the more Italian cure mix. (The herbs and spices in the cure are consistent with pancetta. I just didn't roll the bacon.)

Here hang the guanciale:

And here hang the belly bacons (note that the one at front still has its ribs):

For those of you who haven't obsessed over this for years, I should point out the critical difference between this and store-bought bacon. The dry-cure method is the original peasant approach to making bacon - the idea being to protect the meat from microbes, and preserve it in a form that can hang indefinitely to be used as a staple. The initial curing process leeches water from the meat, and the hanging process dries the meat further. The result is a piece of meat that weighs significantly less than when it was fresh.

The makers of store-bought bacon abandoned this practice many years ago, as it lowers the weight and takes too long. The bacon you get in the store has been injected with brine to give it a "cured taste". Not only has it not lost weight, it has actually gained water weight from the injection. That's why when you throw it on the skillet, it immediately starts warping, crinkling, and spitting water. You paid for that extra water (they charge you by the pound, remember?). You should feel ripped off.

The proper dry-cured bacon will not do this. It will not shrink or spit; instead it will render copious amounts of fat while still maintaining its integrity. It is a thing of beauty.

I don't have pictures of it cooking, but hopefully the following pics of the finished product will tell the tale. The thin end of the belly, after hanging, I decided to make into breakfast bacon. Accordingly, I basted it in maple syrup and smoked it over apple chips for a couple hours. Fresh from the smoker, it looked like this:

Stiff as a board, with just enough moisture and none to spare. I sliced it up for future use:

Beautifully streaky, but mostly dry to the touch.

You could eat this raw like prosciutto. As it happens, a couple minutes in the toaster oven and they crisped up for the best BLT I ever had (to be bested when we harvest our tomatoes).

I'll follow up on the guanciale later, when I slice it up for pasta carbonara. Right now I'm still resenting the guanciale for the finger thing.

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