I decided to do a little bit of curing… I’ve been in a curing mood lately. I think it must be the season… it’s just natural to want to preserve things in the cold wintry weather. I had a couple of nice pig bits in the fridge that I wasn’t going to get to and it was long past time to do some bacon-making anyway. I had a belly and a couple of gigantic jowls. The jowls were over a pound each and beautiful pieces of meat… that’s right, I said it – those jowls were gorgeous. Range Bros Capay Valley pork never fails to amaze me… it’s always incredible.
Curing meat in this sense is so easy it’s kindof stupid not to do it if you really do love a good piece of bacon. It is one of the oldest methods of preserving food and pretty much every culture utilizes it in some way. The difference between this and store bought bacon is unbelievable. It’s so easy – you salt the meat, let it sit for a week, take it out and smoke it or roast it or hang it to dry and you have bacon or pancetta or whatever. The difference between bacon and pancetta is basically just that bacon is hot smoked after it’s been cured and pancetta is air dried. Guanciale is essentially pancetta made with the pig’s jowls. For some reason the cheeks of a lot of animals are some of the most amazing parts. Some of my favorites are beef cheeks, pork jowls and yellowtail cheeks. Broiled yellowtail cheeks are one of the best pieces of cooked fish you’ll ever taste… but that’s another story.
So with my belly and my jowls, I’m going to make a slab of bacon and a couple of nice chunks of guanciale. The essentials that you need – pig and salt. The things that help make it a little better are some sugar, garlic, brown sugar, herbs and sodium nitrite, a super common curing salt that goes by the name “pink salt”. You don’t absolutely have to have it but it definitely helps. The pink salt helps the meat keep its bright pink color and it helps prevent botulism in other applications… you don’t really have to worry about that here and that’s why it’s really just useful for helping maintain the color.
And salt… I love it. I love salt so much I wanna take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant. It’s without a doubt the most powerful ingredient or tool in the kitchen. I swear by Diamond Crystal kosher salt. To me it’s the perfect texture and weight for cooking – nice big grains, but they’re soft and fluffy at the same time. Whatever brand it is, always use kosher salt for cooking… put that cannister of iodized table salt back in the cupboard and go to the store. Now. Save that shit for baking cookies and cakes.
It’s best to weigh out your ingredients when you’re doing something like this where you need specific ratios because the different consistencies of different salts makes it tough to get accurate volume measurements.
The recipes that I use for these and pretty much any charcuterie I do are all based on stuff from the book, not surprisingly titled – Charcuterie. It’s by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn and it’s really brilliant. It’s definitely one of the most used books on my shelf… most cookbooks I just read for inspiration but this is one of the ones that is really a reference I turn back to all the time.
Try it out…
– Get a slab of pork belly(2-4lbs), and mix up some cure. Basically 2 parts salt to 1 part sugar and a little bit of pink salt. I think what I used ended up being about 1/4c of salt, 1/8 cup of sugar and about a teaspoon of pink salt.
– Slather it on the belly, toss it in a big ziplock bag in the fridge and turn it every day or so to redistribute the cure.
– After about a week, if it’s firm it’s done. If not, toss it back in for another day or two.
– At this point you just rinse it off and dry it and it’s almost ready to go. Right now you basically have half-cured salt pork. You can roast it in the oven for about 2 hours at 200F, or toss it on the grill with some wood chips and smoke it. After that you just slice it up and fry it and wallow in that fatty goodness.
*I like the smoking method it because it really tastes like bacon that way but honestly it’s a slab of cured, fatty pork belly… it’s gonna be good no matter what you do with it.
To see the finished product, go here.
Guanciale… maybe another day.