IT IS April 23 as I write, which is both St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday, although some say it was Francis Bacon who really was the Bard of Avon.
I’m having no truck with that. In fact, I’m thinking ‘Did Shakespeare really eat this bacon?’
Recently I’ve been making my own bacon at home to an Elizabethan recipe which uses ginger and caraway in the cure, along with salt and sugar. In the finished product you can’t really isolate either spice but they meld together in a gentle, subtle way. And it’s just the thing Shakespeare could have eaten.
The recipe is courtesy of Maynard Davies, regarded by home bacon curers as the absolute tops, who took the trouble to research the cure. But it comes second hand, being quoted in that excellent book, The Gentle Art of Preserving by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi (Kyle Books, 2013).
Their version of this recipe can be made in a sealed ziplock plastic bag, or similar, without any of that draining and repeated rubbing in conventional dry-curing as outlined here.
You can use either pork belly (for streaky) or loin (for middle cut) and it’s probably best to ask your butcher to bone the joint for you. I always keep and freeze the bones until I have enough for a stock or feel like boiling or baking beans. I buy mine from Waterall Brothers (www.waterall.co.uk), the pork specialists on Sheffield’s Moor Market.
I ask for a kilo of bacon at a time, or just over to allow for the bones to be filleted, which is the size which will fit the bag. If your butcher cuts too big a piece simply cut off what you don’t need and use the meat some other way.
This recipe doesn’t use curing salts (the type which turns bacon a pleasant pink and makes it last longer) but if you care more about flavour than looks then ordinary table salt will do (rock or sea salt will prove more expensive).
For each kilo of boned meat you will need:
18g brown sugar
3g each of ground ginger and crushed caraway seeds
Mix them all together in a bowl and with your fingers massage all of the cure into the joint, ensuring most is on the meat side and just 10 per cent on the skin.
Now slip it into a ziplock or similar. I put this bag inside a big plastic bag to prevent leakage and pop that into an empty ice cream container for good measure. Then all you have to do is leave it in the fridge for seven days (date the back with a marker pen), remembering to turn the bag every day to make sure the resultant brine covers all the meat.
When its time is up take it out and discard the bags. Drain the bacon (it will feel much firmer than when you put the joint in) and resist the temptation to rinse it but pat it dry. Now you must dry it for a couple of days. I put mine on a plastic draining tray (so the air can circulate) and put it back in the fridge.
You now need a sharp carving knife with which to cut it, particularly if you want rind-on bacon. If not, carefully slice it off. If you think the slices are too thick simply lay them between two sheets of clingfilm and bash them flat with a rolling pin.
A kilo is a lot of bacon so I freeze my bacon in batches of six rashers so I need to cure bacon only once every three weeks or so.
As far as I can discover, William Shakespeare never mentions bacon once in his plays and poems but that doesn’t mean to say he didn’t eat it.
FOOTNOTE: Maynard Davies is the author of several books on curing bacon, hams and other cuts, beginning with Adventures of a Bacon Curer in 2003. Two others, Secrets of etc and Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer (2007 and 2009) may well be rebranded books. There is a fascinating video of him, interviewed by Sophie Grigson, available at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Sf9RhKlkODk