Makin’ My Own Bacon
A while back I came across Michael Ruhlman’s blog post on making your own pancetta . I mentioned this to my mom and we decided to try and make our own bacon. We started with Ruhlman’s basic recipe and instructions and added our own choice of spices for the finish. Mom chose the addition of juniper berries and star anise because these are spices she often uses with roast pork. The recipe is on the link, but Ruhlman has also written an entire book about curing meat called Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing which I think I’m going to have to get soon because we may try and make sausage next!
I’d never made bacon before so I read up a little on it. Basically, from what I can tell, the difference between pancetta (Italian bacon) and what we’re used to as “American” bacon, is that pancetta is dry cured and American bacon is usually smoked. Commercial bacon like you find in the grocery store usually has water listed as one of the first ingredients. Yes, water is harmless but does not make for great bacon. The water is used to inject smoke “flavor” into the bacon and when the bacon cooks, the water boils away, leaving you with a shriveled, shrunken piece of pork product.
Finding the “pink salt” (aka sodium nitrite) was the hardest part. After a fruitless trip to a South Pasadena “gourmet” store, we ended up buying a 5 lb bag of the stuff, brand name “Prague Powder”, at Canton Food Company, a Chinese restaurant supply store in downtown Los Angeles. The next question I’m sure someone will ask is “Why are you using nitrites in your bacon? Aren’t they bad for you?” The answer is “yes and no.” There are many things out there which can be bad for you in large quantities, but I don’t eat enough nitrites, or bacon for that matter, for it to have much of an impact. Nitrites are what cures the bacon and give it the good color and taste we all expect. Without them, you would need to use much more salt to cure the bacon. Oh yeah, and sodium nitrite keeps the botulism bacteria from growing (which is a really good thing if you ask me).
I’d love to try Ruhlman’s BLT Challenge (build your own, make everything from scratch) but I don’t think I’ll be able to do it. Even though the date has been extended to September 20th, my garden tomatoes are almost all gone and I don’t have any lettuce growing. But maybe you’d like to try?
How to Make Homemade Pancetta
I probably don’t need to tell you all this, but even though this bacon is cured, it still needs to be thoroughly cooked. We immediately sliced off 3 pieces and fried them up. There was almost no fat rendered off in the pan, and of course no water. The pan was almost dry throughout the cooking process. The bacon was chewy, salty, and a little sweet. While it was good, my first impression was that the flavor was a bit gamy for my personal taste (more on this below). Next time, I don’t think we will hang it for so long, if at all. We may try hot smoking it instead.
Later that day, we followed another of Ruhlman’s suggestions and cut off a chunk of the bacon, wrapped it in foil and slow roasted it in the oven. This cooks it and makes it moist and tender. Then, we cut the piece into lardons and fried them up, serving them with toothpicks for canapes at Sunday Family Dinner. Needless to say, the lardons were a hit and disappeared off the plate in a flash.
By the way, there was a bit more fat in the center section than there was on the end piece we sliced and fried earlier in the day. Because of this, and the added moisture in the center (the end piece was pretty dry), I think it tasted a little less gamy than our first impression. Next time we may try hot smoking the bacon instead of hanging it after the first 7 days just to see how it’s different. Mom fried up some eggs in the leftover fat from cooking the lardons and said it was amazing.
So, what do you think? Want to try and make your own bacon? I think it’s worth it.
Here are some great video tips on cooking bacon; http://bacn.com/howto/current/
Wow, your bacon looks delicious! Great job and lovely photos.
Sounds delicious! Where did you find the pork belly with the skin on?
It came from an Asian food market near my house.
It’s not something likely to be found in a “regular” supermarket. I recommend people check with a specialty butcher.
Also, and likely to be less expensive, check at ethnic markets with a butcher counter which caters to Asian or Latino customers.
Your bacon is beautiful.
I did the Homemade BLT challenge
and it was a lot of fun. I did mine with pancetta and basil, since I didn’t grow lettuce, but I did grow basil.
I got to your blog thanks to my DH who is a regular reader of Volokh Conspiracy.
Good for you for doing the challenge. I was thinking of doing it with Arugula if I can get it grown in time.
Thanks for letting me know how you found me too. Eugene has been a friend of mine for almost 25 years and he nicely (and without my asking I might add) mentions things he likes from blog from time to time. I can’t say I’m able to do the same as I’d like to keep my blog non-political and we don’t exactly see eye to eye most of the time. 🙂
Yes, there is often a concern of using the sodium nitrite (pink salt) for preparing foods. To make foods look reddish, many Chinese use red yeast rice as a replacement, which is sold in grain or sometimes powder form.
As you said, when making the pancetta, I might try to hang it for shorter period of time and have it smoked then. Thanks for the idea.
I have a similar article on my website.
We cold smoker ours for approx 8hrs.
The final result was amazing
Wow, that looks delish! I have to definitely try that!
How can that NOT be worth it??
What a great project — that pork belly looks just gorgeous. And thinking about the lardons is making me drool.
Does Ruhlman give any instructions for naturally curing bacon (w/o the nitrates)? I’d totally be all about that!
Making your own bacon sounds like fun!
Wow! What a fun experiment. I love cured meats and this looks delicious. Thanks for the book info, too. Sounds really interesting and informative.
I dont know if you are interested but here is another method for makeing bacon that works great.
thank you for posting your work, it always nice to see someone else that enjoys making off the wall items. Or at least not that common of items. I got started with making my own cheese and then migrated into bacon. Seemed natural to me. Thanks again.
Gotta love homemade bacon! This looks great 😀
This bacon sounds amazingly good! 😀
This is wonderful – I’ve procured the salt, and in a week or so will start my own bacon.
Question: When you wrapped a chunk in foil and slow-cooked it in the oven, approximately how large was the chunk, at what temperature did you bake it, and for how long (I guess that’s three questions)? I really want to try that.
L-The piece we roasted was probably a little less than 2lbs. It was cooked at 200 degrees for about an hour and a half to two hours, wrapped in foil, until it reached an internal temp of 150 degrees. Most of this information can be found in the book Charcuterie, but the part about wrapping in foil came from another website my mom read.
Love your website and recipes! I am having 10 “ladies” in for lunch next month and want to make your wild mushrooms with polenta recipe but need 4 other recipes to create as well. We are a group that has meet for 20 years!!!!! We each take a turn coming up with a menu for five of us to cook and then bring to the monthly luncheon, we swap out so that none of us gets burned out, but it encourages us to try to things.
Could you make any other suggestions for the lunch?
Thank you! I think for a lunch some of my salads, like the quinoa with shrimp, or side dishes like grilled asparagus would do well. They can be made up in advance and will hold for an hour or so well at room temperature. Then maybe the strawberry and chocolate ganache tart for dessert?
Hmmm.. ” a lean piece of bacon” Is that an oxymoron 😉
Try using honey rather than sugar in your marinate or rub. The pork will not go off as quick.
Living here in Thailand we often come across this problem with pork.
I am going to try this with Chinese 5 Spice.
I know this is an old thread, but hopefully you still get alerts on comments.
I live in the Los Angeles area near Pasadena and, from your comments, it appears you do as well. Do you have a recommendation on a store where I could get the pork belly?
Have you tried Super King? Or maybe a local Carneceria or Asian grocery like the A1 market in Echo Park? Anything with a butcher’s meat counter.
Sorry this reply is delayed. I hope you get this, the blog is not giving me alerts to new comments like it should.