Last weekend I entered a charity bake off and my Bacon Blondies did quite well. This wouldn’t have been a proper Food With Legs project if I hadn’t cured and smoked the pork belly to make my own homemade bacon. I will post the full recipe for the blondies in a separate post but today I’m going to focus on the bacon.
Making homemade bacon is a process more than a recipe. I have posted before about how this process starts by searching for ingredients. Fresh pork belly is not in every grocery store but I have found a reliable source at my local No Frills (Carlo’s at Yonge and Steeles) and curing salts are even more difficult to find. This was my first time using Canada Compound’s ReadyCure product and because it contains only one percent sodium nitrite (versus the six and a quarter in pink salt, Prague Powder, etc.) I needed to do some math to adapt the recipe.
It is very important to note that precision is really necessary when it comes to measuring sodium nitrite (and curing mixes, like ReadyCure, in which it is an ingredient) because too much can literally make you sick and too little–combined with too long in the fridge–can allow botulism to flourish.
Most recipes on the internet for curing bacon are calibrated to work with five pounds of pork belly. I imagine this is because that’s how much is called for in Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. For this amount of belly Ruhlman uses two teaspoons of pink salt. Other recipes only require one teaspoon and because I knew I would be using the bacon right away and because of concerns about the long-term effects of consuming sodium nitrite I went with the smaller amount.
It is very important to recognise that pink salt is a combination of sodium nitrite and regular salt (sodium chloride). Some recipes, including this one from the New Times’ website call for two teaspoons of sodium nitrite where they should call for “pink salt” or “curing salt”. In my opinion this is extremely irresponsible of them because if a reader actually managed to get their hands on straight sodium nitrite that amount (two teaspoons is almost ten grams which is approximately one-third the lethal dosage) could make them quite sick. Because I take this safety concern seriously and would feel better if anyone who uses this recipe re-checks my math I am going to show all of my work here–my grade nine math teacher, Mr. Clifford, would be proud.
According to this website one ounce of cure #1 (a.k.a. pink salt) is equal to two tablespoons. There are six teaspoons in two tablespoons so one teaspoon weighs 1/6 oz. or 4.72 g (UPDATE: Thanks to commentor Todd who pointed out the original typo here. The number has been corrected.) Cure #1 (and all other pink salts that I know of) are 6.25% sodium nitrite so the recipe is actually calling for 0.295 g of sodium nitrite, 4.4 g of filler salt (the other 93.75% of Cure #1) and 56 g of additional salt.
Canada Compound’s ReadyCure is only one percent sodium nitrite so five pounds of belly would require 29.5 g of ReadyCure and that would mean reducing the additional salt to 31.2 g. Also, because my piece of pork belly was only 25 ounces all amounts were multiplied by 0.3125 (5 lb = 80 oz; 25/80 = 0.3125). The recipe below is calibrated for one pound (16 ounces, 454 grams) of pork belly and can be easily scaled up from there.
This bacon was destined to play a starring role in blondies so I knew that some modifications would help. Blondies have some strong flavours like chocolate as well as more subtle ones like vanilla so dialing back the salt and smoke in the bacon would both help it complement the other flavours instead of overwhelming. In my opinion, the best way to control the saltiness of home-cured bacon is to change the amount of time it cures for and five days seemed about right for this application. Also, I decided to smoke this bacon for one hour which is roughly the amount of time it took a small pie plate of wood chips to burn out on my Cobb BBQ. The cinnamon was added because taste testers really liked it (apparently it’s an aphrodisiac for men, but really so is bacon) and because it plays so well with chocolate.
For me much of the interest and challenge comes from the two unusual techniques involved in this process. In cooking it seems that for ninety-eight percent of the recipes very good results can be achieved by following the directions exactly. Not so with curing and smoking. Time is what matters in both cases because saltiness and smokiness can only penetrate dense pork gradually. No recipe can ever call for 38 grams of smoke or a precise final concentration of salt in the meat so achieving desirable results become a matter of using all of the cook’s senses and a good deal of judgement.
- 454 grams (1 lb) skin-on, de-boned pork belly, usually belly with a generous amount of fat that is roughly equal to lean is desired but in this case I was happy to find a leaner piece that wouldn’t render as much fat into the blondies
- 6 grams ReadyCure (not the same as pink salt, Cure #1, or DQ Curing Salt. If using any of these reduce amount to 0.85 grams per lb of pork belly)
- 6.25 grams kosher salt (if using any of the other curing salts–that are 6.25% sodium nitrite increase amount to 11 grams)
- 4 grams dark brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (this is too small a quantity to weigh)
- Mix all of the cure ingredients in a small bowl. It is important to make sure that the curing salt is evenly distributed. Rub the cure into all exposed surfaces of the pork belly, including the skin side. Place the piece of belly in a re-sealable, plastic bag and fold the bag around the meat to make sure there is no air left in the bag and so that any liquid that comes out of the belly remains in contact with the meat.
- Refrigerate for five days, flipping the meat once a day.
- Remove the cured belly from the plastic bag and wipe the cure off with a damp paper towel. Place on a wire rack over a baking dish and return to the refrigerator for a day or two. This step will allow the pork to dry and form a pellicle that will grab and hold the smoke flavour.
- Use your preferred method to lightly smoke the bacon with hickory, apple, or maple wood. For me this meant an hour on my Cobb BBQ with hickory chips.