I was tempted to call this article “The Girl and the Pig,” because I am hooked on bacon. More specifically, I am hooked on my own home-cured bacon. Prompted by a whole lot of time on my hands thanks to sheltering in place, as well as an affinity for charcuterie, I decided to have a go and cure pork belly, aka bacon. I am now here to say that you — any of you — can do this too, and once you try it, there will be no turning back. Not only are the results positively swoon-worthy, but the process is ridiculously simple, except that you need to plan ahead.
Curing pork belly takes time — a week, in fact — but don’t stop reading. There’s nothing to do in that week except designate a little refrigerator space to your DIY project and remember to flip the pork every other day. The hardest part will be waiting. To make this exercise in patience worthwhile, I encourage you to buy a good amount of pork belly. It’s not expensive, and you might as well reap a generous stash for the time it takes to cure.
All of this may beg the question: What to do with five pounds of home-cured bacon? (Oh, to be so lucky to have that problem.) Well, so far I’ve eaten quite a bit, frozen half, and given some away. While I often use bacon as an ingredient in salads, stews and pasta dishes, this bacon is so good, I only want to eat it straight up, fried in a skillet or baked in the oven. So, in the spirit of simplicity, I’ve included a recipe for caramelized bacon chips, roasted in the oven with sugar and spices.
Home-Cured Pork Belly
Recipe adapted from Saveur Magazine
Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 3 hours and 20 minutes, plus 7 days curing time
Yield: Makes 5 pounds
5 pounds pork belly with skin
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Rinse the pork and pat dry with paper towels. Lay the pork on a large sheet of parchment paper. Combine the salt, sugar, peppercorns and bay leaves in a mortar or spice grinder. Coarsely pound or grind and then mix in the garlic. Smear the spices all over the pork. Transfer to a large resealable plastic bag, turning to distribute the spices. Place on a rimmed baking tray and refrigerate for 7 days, flipping the bag every second day. After seven days, the pork should feel firm to the touch. If not, refrigerate an additional day and check again.
Remove the bacon from the bag and thoroughly rinse under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Place the bacon on a rimmed baking sheet or baking dish. Roast in the oven until the meat is brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 150 degrees, about 3 hours.
Transfer the bacon to a cutting board. Slice off the skin with a long, thin knife. Cool the bacon to room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator and cool completely. Once cold, cut into portions, if desired, and wrap in plastic. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week or freeze for up to three months.
Caramelized Bacon Chips
Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes, plus cooling time
Yield: Makes 12 ounces
1 cup light brown sugar
12 ounces thinly sliced bacon, cut in 2-to-3-inch strips
1/2 tsp. cayenne, or to taste
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spread the sugar on a small plate. Dredge the bacon in the sugar, making sure that a good amount sticks. Arrange the bacon in a single layer on a grill pan or in a cast iron skillet. Sprinkle the cayenne and cinnamon over the bacon.
Transfer to the oven and bake until deep golden brown, without burning, turning once with a spatula, 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and transfer the bacon to a plate lined with parchment paper. Cool completely. The chips will continue to crisp as they cool.
Lynda Balslev is the co-author of “Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture” (Gibbs Smith, 2014). Contact her at TasteFood, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit the TasteFood blog at tastefoodblog.com.