As you may have read in my review of Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, I will be participating in Charcutepalooza, a year-long challenge to make 1 (or more!) pre-determined recipes from this book a month throughout 2011. This is the first challenge I have had the chance to participate in (duck prosciutto is coming some time soon), and sourcing aside, this technique went really, really well. Better than I had feared and almost as good as I had hoped. But enough about that for now, and on to the drama!
The Saga of Sourcing Pork Belly In South Florida
Pork belly should not be this hard to find. In a region of 5,547,051, a region that represents a broad cross-section of the United States at large, a veritable United Nations melting pot of an area, pig bellies should not be this hard to find.
Ooh! They have it online! I’ll just order it there if my trusty butcher doesn’t have it. My trusty butcher had a backup freezer mishap and no longer carries pork belly. But possibly to be expected, since he caters to an older Italian and Jewish clientele. After exhaustive searching online, pork belly is either ridiculously expensive or the shipping doubles the price of the meat. Screw that.
So, today my Darling Husband (DH) and I went on an impromptu meat excursion. Whole Foods: may be getting some in next week for the Super Bowl, but doesn’t generally carry it. Ok, on to the wilds of west Broward County. One of the butchers there is bound to have it…. after stopping at 3 butchers with varying sanitation levels, carrying various levels of goat head, we struck out. C’mon people… if you carry goat freakin’ head, you should carry pork belly. 1 place did have it, only sliced. They also carried two varieties of chopped goat head, frozen rabbit and every other part of the pig conceivable. I had no idea tripe could be had in hefty sliced blocks.
Ok, so a swing and a miss! Maybe I should call butchers ahead of time and focus my efforts south.
It started with a few e-mails to butchers, with no luck on quantities under 60 lbs. and progressed to phone calls. After trying 4 or 5 places–some sold case lots only, a few only spoke Spanish, and a few didn’t pick up–I finally tracked down what I was looking for at Rosa Brothers (1100 NW 22nd. St. in Miami). The best part… Rosa Brothers has tons of cuts and kinds of meat, had zero problem filling my order, and it only cost me $6! Add them to the list!
(Im)patiently waiting for my curing salts to come in from Amazon and I think I may have a slight problem: bacon is the last thing I think about before falling asleep, and the first thing I think of upon waking. I even found myself humming the Chipmunks Christmas Song with new bacon-y lyrics…
“Bac-on, Bac-on tiiime is here!
Time for yum and time for cheer!
We’ve been good, but we can’t last..
Hurry bac-on, hurry fast!”
In the meantime, just look at this piggy goodness:
Day 6/Cure Day 1
Yay, my curing salt is finally here! On with the bacon makin’!
The (Robert Smith-free) Cure:
Pork belly dredged in the cure and ready to be put up:
Oooohhhh… pretty. Salty bacon snowflakes.
Ok, so I don’t have the container I thought I had, you know, the little square glass brownie dish that I.. oh, wait. Exploded over my stove burners in a hail of red wine and rosemary. Oh yeah, that’s right. I forgot. Well, the full baking dish will just have to do for the night, because I couldn’t have anything handy on hand like a gallon plastic bag. that would make life just too easy.
Cure Day 2
This friggin bacon is giving me drama going into the bag, and it barely seals. Hopefully this won’t end in bacon-tragedy.
Cure Days 3-7
Hangin’ out in the fridge, lookin’ pretty.
Cure Day 7
It’s finally done! Firm all the way through! *Happy Dance* Freshly cured & prepped porcine goodness. (apparently I was too excited to take a picture of this step)
I shoved the meat thermometer in the thickest part and set my lovelies to bake low and slow.
Actually, since I had three pieces of varying thicknesses instead of 1 big hunk, the cooking times were a guess. I couldn’t get a proper lock on the temperature, so I cooked each strip until firm (gotta love good instructions!).
And here’s what we got:
As suggested by suddenly my favorite person (sorry DH!) Mr. Ruhlman, I sliced off a little piece to taste. Holy crap, I can taste the pork in the bacon. It actually tastes like it came off a pig. A bit on the salty side, which is just fine by me. Next time I think I will try aiming for more sweet with some maple sugar in the cure. My DH was less impressed thrown into near dancing with glee, and opted to reserve final judgment until he could taste the finished fried product.
The vegetable gods were smiling on me this week, and I got some Yukon Gold potatoes in this week’s CSA box. So, here’s what I made with my newly-minted bacon first.
Those of you that know me well (or read this blog), know that I could live off of this dish, in one form or another, almost exclusively. This, along with the occasional pasta veggie dish, yeast rolls or pasta from work or microwave pop corn is pretty much what I lived off of on my days off from work in college. Breakfast for dinner is also what I happen to use as my bacon yardstick, so it happily works out just fine. See? I classed the joint up a bit with some leeks.
You want what is called “dippin’ eggs” for this recipe; aka sunny-side up or even over medium. Whatever your preference for the whites, you want barely-cooked yolks, so the yolk spills over the potatoes and leeks at the slightest fork prick, cascading down the sides and pooling at the bottom of the dish waiting for a swipe with potato or bacon. My favorite way eat eggs is barely cooked yolks and almost burnt whites. To achieve this feat of uneven cooking, crack the eggs into the pan, season, wait for the whites under the yolks to become opaque, separate all but the tiniest bit of white surrounding the yolk from the rest of the whites (a note of caution: you must do this quickly, with authority, or the whites will stick to your spatula edge and make flipping even more difficult), very carefully flip the mostly white-less yolk, cook until the remaining whites around the yolks stop jiggling, pull the yolks, crank the heat up to medium-high and cook the whites until you’re too impatient and can’t wait any longer, or until the smaller pieces violently sputtering and jumping around the pan look too threatening.
Eggs & Hash Browns with Home! Made! Bacon!
This recipes serves 2-3, depending on who is plating. I have zero skill at portion control when I’m hungry, so I say it feeds 2. My DH rolls his eyes and says it feeds 3-4, especially if you’re not eating this meal for dinner.
4-6 large eggs
4 Yukon Gold potatoes (3-4 cups when cubed)
3 leeks, white and light green parts only
Half a pound fresh bacon, sliced in 1/4 inch thick slabs and then cut again width-wise into 1/4 inch by 1 inch batons.
Salt & pepper
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
In a large skillet over medium-medium high heat, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil, add the bacon and fry the until the fat has rendered out and your desired crispness level has been achieved. For me, that’s on the burnt side. Hell, I’ve even eaten bacon that has been on fire, who am I kidding? Most people would cook this a little less.
While your bacon is cooking, chop your potatoes–you’re looking for a size somewhere between a store-bought frozen “country-style hash brown” and “country potatoes” in a restaurant–1/2 to 3/4-inch rough cubes.
After your bacon has crisped, remove to paper towels to drain. Depending on how much fat has rendered out of your bacon, you may need to add some fat to the pan. Add or subtract until you have roughly 3 Tbsp. of fat left in the pan.
Add the potatoes to the skillet and add salt & pepper to taste. Sautee 5 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid sticking as much as possible.
While your potatoes are cooking, slice the leeks in 1/4-inch rings. Rinse either under running water or in a water bath, separating rings, until all grit is removed. Drain and add to pan with the potatoes. Cook, stirring often, until leeks are soft and potatoes are crispy in spots on the outside and done in the middle, about 8 minutes more. If your potatoes are sticking too much and look dry, add a little olive oil to loosen things up again. I usually start off with a wooden spoon to stir and then switch to a heavy spatula, as my pan loves to cling to potatoes. That’s ok. Just stir frequently and scrape the bottom of the pan as you go. You’ll get tasty little curls of crispy potato crust. Taste for seasoning and add if needed.
Remove to your serving vessel of choice and top with the bacon.
Turn the heat on your pan down to medium/medium-low and add 1 Tbsp. butter. Crack the eggs in the pan, salt & pepper to taste and cook to your desired doneness.
Add cooked eggs to the hash browns & bacon and serve.
This bacon is good. Like, really good. Right there under my specialty double-smoked foodie variety I buy at the butcher shop. Not even in the same class as that limp, too fatty store-bought pre-sliced crap. Where have you been all my life?!
After tasting it fried, my DH also gave the bacon an enthusiastic yum (and maybe a little growl). I think we’ll be revisiting this technique often in the years to come.