It was when some white gunk oozed out of the bacon rashers in my pan – and these hadn’t been cheap – that I had finally had enough. I didn’t want gunk, I wanted bacon which tasted like I thought I remembered it did!
That gunk was brine which had been injected into the bacon to speed up the curing and make it weigh and cost more. It wasn’t so long ago that the butchery trade magazines carried adverts for products with the claim: “Make more money, just add water.”
So I decided to make my own. I researched the different cures, wet and dry, and how to smoke bacon. It looked daunting. And there was this curious chemical saltpetre, to make the meat pink. How could I get hold of it and be sure I was using the correct amount for the relatively amount of bacon I was using?
Books like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Meat were useful and I soon got the picture. All you really need to cure bacon is salt. You can add sugar, also a preservative, to offset the saltiness and add sweetness. And whatever herbs and spices you want. I don’t bother with saltpetre. My bacon is a pleasantly pinky-grey.
I dry cure belly pork to make streaky. I get my butcher, the admirable Konrad Kempka on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, to cut a two pound (one kilo) joint for me because that’s the size which fits into the Tupperware box which goes in the fridge. He also obligingly debones it for me. Keep the bones, you can always find a use for them.
My cure for 2lbs of pork is 3oz of salt, 3oz of sugar, Demerara preferably but you can use granulated, which I mix together in a tub. Then I grind up whichever spices take my fancy, fennel and allspice last time, but I have also added bay and coriander. Mix thoroughly with the salt and sugar.
I rub about a quarter of the cure all over the bacon, top and bottom and sides, massaging it in well, in all the nooks and crannies, pop it in the box, leave the lid loose and forget about it for a day. That’s all you do. Simple isn’t it?
Well not quite all you do for next day you will find the pork sitting in a pool of liquid, the water which has been leached out. The joint, floppy the day before, is also firming up.
Drain the liquid, and rub another quarter of the mix into the meat, as before. If it was skin side up first time put it back into the box skin side down. And repeat until your mix is used up. If you forget don’t worry. I have left the bacon in for 48 or 72 hours with no ill effects.
Four or five days later you, or rather the belly pork, is done. It is now bacon. Give it a rinse. If you think it will be too salty soak it for an hour or two. Then drain and dry. I wrap mine in a clean tea towel for 24 hours then replace the wrapping with greaseproof paper.
Cut your slices with a sharp carving knife. If your slices are too thick simply put them between sheets of greaseproof and whack them with a rolling pin. Cook them as you like. I prefer a ridged griddle. Your rashers will shrink more than shop bought ones (less water, no gunk) and this way is kinder than a frying pan.
They will taste good. Mine tend to be on the salty side (you soon get used to it) but you can always soak for longer. The general rule is the bacon will keep for the length of time it was cured so I cut the bacon joint in two and freeze one half.
You don’t have to stick with rashers. The bacon makes good lardons or a substitute for pancetta in Italian recipes. Cut it into steaks, grilled and served with Puy lentils, French-style.
What I really like (moment of smugness coming on) is to serve myself a bacon sandwich made with my own bread (it does have to be white) and my own brown sauce.