Head Scratchin' Bacon

C’mon. Surely I can figure out what to do with homemade bacon. I mean, it’s bacon. It’s salty, fatty, and comes from a pig. What’s not to like?

A lot, it turns out. I’ve been trying to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t thrilled about my homemade bacon since mid-February, the Charcutepalooza deadline. (You’ll have to take my word for it that the bacon itself was completed on time). Having both missed the deadline and made lackluster meat, I just about threw in the towel, but since then, I’ve taken comfort in the bacon befuddlement of my fellow Charcutepaloozers.

Oh, my bacon, my bacon! What went wrong? For starters, the pork belly had nipples. Now, seeing as how I grew up around hogs, I don’t know why this came as such as shock, but it did. And then there was the sheer quantity of salt. Then I skipped the nitrites. And last but not least, the fat.

Now, this wasn’t just your everyday fatty bacon. Look closely at that picture up top. Do you see any meat on that fat, whatsoever? No. I didn’t think so. It’s one thing to eat pre-sliced strips of bacon. Somehow, when it’s in pieces, you don’t necessarily notice that most bacon is at least two-thirds fat. When you’re looking at an 10″ x 6″ slab of pork belly with an inch of fat on top, on the other hand, it’s pretty hard to miss.

And guess what? Fatty bacon is salty bacon, as I learned from Grow and Resist‘s post about her nearly identical challenges with the project. And since she explained her disappointment in nitrite-free bacon so well, I’ll spare you my version. Let’s just say that it doesn’t taste like bacon.

What it does taste like is salty, roasted, pork belly. Once I wrapped my head around that, I was in a better position to figure out what to do with it. I hacked it into about a dozen 4-ounce chunks, tossed them into a Ziplock, and threw the whole thing in the freezer. Because it’s so, so, so fatty, there’s no need to thaw it before cutting it up—if anything, it’s easier to cut when it’s frozen. Since then, I’ve used some in baked beans, some in a Spanish rice pilaf, and some in a lentil stew. It’s surprisingly good in stir-fried Asian noodles. Since it’s nearly unadulterated fat, it makes a great addition to venison sausage.

So: all in all, not a bacon disaster, but not a runaway success. I may yet try again with nitrites. We’ll see.

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8 comments to Head Scratchin’ Bacon

  • Call it lardon and declare it a success :)

  • Hi, I leave my bacon in about one pd peices, I bake them till the top fat and skin turns pale tan in color, then I take my skinning knife and take off half the top, the bottom gets another bit of baking, and then cooled, sliced into what every size peices I want, and is used like bacon.

    The fat is then sliced off the skin and cut into cubes and both go back in the oven, the skin is cooked till its a cracklin and then quickly sliced and diced before allowed to cool and get hard, the fat is rendered down and then cooled and used as lard for cooking and or baking if its been strained out.

    I agree with you, without doing the above, it would be way to fatty in my mind.

  • Terry

    The first pork belly I got with nipples was off putting. Like you, I knew but didn’t think about it. The River Cottage Meat cookbook shows one as well. YIKES!

    I had a terrific braised pork belly sandwich at The Fork in the Road in Milan (a place you might want to try while you are in the Omega area). It was not terribly lean but man-oh-man was it good!

    The bacon I adapted from a blog that adapted it from Charcuterie, used peppercorns, maple syrup, coriander, cumin, bay leaves, thyme, Japanese hot pepper, and salt. No curing salt. Too salty for me. I rinsed it a few times in cold water which seemed to help some. I used it in Wilted Salad, macaroni and cheese ~ why do I have high cholesterol, you might ask. BACON!

  • Was this a butcher you trust? Sounds sort of like they ripped you off and gave you just the fat and trimmed off the meat. My first one was pretty much 50/50. The second one which is in the cure now is more meaty than that. I made pancetta, but still. Picture here of it completed: http://bit.ly/dGuZr4

    On the nitrate front: the biggest source of nitrates in your diet is vegetables. Veggies like green beans, carrots, squash, spinach, beets and many others have nitrates. I understand that many people still want to avoid it, but in home curing I think it’s an important safety thing.

  • dorisandjilly

    @Scott: Hmmm. Now I’m wondering about my butcher. In general, he is, in fact, one of my favorites–but then I don’t really buy that much meat. It’s quite clear that they regularly sell many more ribs than pork belly, so it is in fact possible that they trim the belly close to sell meatier ribs. Interesting.

    As for the nitrites and nitrates: I, too, have been doing quite a bit of reading on this, and I’m convinced that it’s safe to do smallish, whole muscle pieces, like pork belly, without additional nitrites. It’s dry brined for a week under refrigerated conditions, then cooked relatively quickly. These are not conditions that encourage the growth of food pathogens. You are absolutely right that some sort of preserving agent (nitrites or nitrates) are necessary for anything that involves ground meat or a long hang time. You are also absolutely right about the amount of nitrates in a regular vegetable diet. My issue isn’t some weird fear of chemicals (after all, let us remember I used to work at the Chemical Heritage Foundation!) or overdeveloped worry about carcinogens, but rather with having a big bottle stamped with a poison symbol in my kitchen. Hence, my interest in celery cures. That being said, from a health perspective, there is some validity to the argument that you actually add more nitrates and nitrites when you use celery than with commercial sodium nitrites. So, it’s a balance, and I haven’t found it yet.

  • meg

    Yep, your bacon was super fatty too! I couldn’t believe the fat to meat ratio on ours. I am not adverse to fat…it is bacon after all…but it seemed extreme. Anyhow, I am avoiding the pink salt, found that celery powder worked great for the corned beef. I’ll save my pink saltin’ until I need it for safety.

  • So it sounds like you have something like salt pork (though not technically speaking perhaps? At least you can use it in the same way.

    I always find it weird to see the remnants of the ink stamps from the pre-butchered carcass. Who knows why!

    I feel like I saw (on Chow? Saveur?) a bacon recipe that uses no nitrate/nitrites whatsoever, but I was a bit uncertain about that as it was so conspicuous in its absence. (I don’t like the idea of having saltpeter around the house at the moment so I find this intriguing, but am wary…)

  • For Paul Bunyon’s flapjacks, they strapped bacon to their feet and skated around the pan to grease it. Where’s a giant lumberjack when you need him, eh?

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