It sounds impossible, but here’s how to make bacon even better

In this time of overwhelming bacon opportunities, there's one you don't see much of: The kind you make yourself. — Reuters pic
In this time of overwhelming bacon opportunities, there's one you don't see much of: The kind you make yourself. — Reuters pic

NEW YORK, Feb 12 — Bacon used to have a slow season. Sales of the ubiquitous burger topping—and its parent product, pork belly—were known to heat up in the prime-time grilling months of summer, while in the winter, sales traditionally cooled off.

That’s changing, though. In July 2017, Bloomberg reported that pork belly prices had increased 80 per cent for the first half of the year, and that bacon prices, already high, were projected to continue to climb. The major reason was simple: Ongoing demand, no matter what time of year it is.

Approximately 80 per cent of the top 500 restaurant chains in the U. offer at least one bacon item on the menu. The cured meat has become so pervasive that a “bacon critic” position was created at the breakfast-oriented website, Extra Crispy; five-day bacon camps are put on by Zingerman’s Deli in Michigan; and completely gratuitous bacon dishes like “fully loaded guacamole” with a crumbled bacon garnish, are pushed out.

Even fake bacon is prized. Now that high-quality plant-based burgers are getting more popular, faux bacon is the holy grail for such companies as Bill Gates-backed Beyond Meat.

In this time of overwhelming bacon opportunities, there’s one you don’t see much of: The kind you make yourself. Yet makin’ bacon is supremely easy, requiring just four ingredients—all available at the supermarket—and no specialised equipment.

The expert

Maria Sinskey, the culinary director at her husband’s Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa, Calif, created an especially home-friendly version for her cookbook, Williams-Sonoma Family Meals: Creating Traditions in the Kitchen (Oxmoor House).

“Making your own bacon gives you total control over a food that is frequently out of control,” says Sinskey, who was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine when she cooked at Plump Jack Café in San Francisco in the 1990s. “You get good-quality pork, customise the seasonings to your taste, and make it your own. Why not?”

The procedure is simple: Rub a carefully measured mix of seasoning on a pork belly. “Three days later, you’ll wake up to bacon,” promises Sinskey. She notes that a dry cure like this is easier than a wet cure, so you don’t have to deal with sloshing containers of brine solution.

Sinskey’s bacon is nicely salted, with a hint of sweetness. Because it is not smoked, the flavour shines through; she compares it to Italian pancetta. Use it as you would store-bought smoked bacon, whether for salads and sandwiches, as a side for eggs, or in any recipe that could use a bacon boost.

Store it, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator for a week. For longer life, slice it, place parchment paper between the slices, wrap them in plastic, and store in the freezer; you’ll have bacon on demand for months. If you like your bacon on the smoky side, cook it on an outdoor or stove-top smoker. Or just replace some of the kosher salt with smoked salt for the cure.      

The recipe

This recipe is adapted from Maria Sinskey’s Williams-Sonoma Family Meals: Creating Traditions in the Kitchen. Note: This bacon is nitrate free; nitrates pump up the pink colour of most store-bought bacon and also accentuate the cured flavour. This bacon has a more direct pork flavour.

Makes about two pounds

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 tsp sweet pimenton (optional)

2 1/2 lbs skinless pork belly, about 1 ½ inches thick

Coarsely ground black pepper (optional)

Method

Mix the salt, sugar, and pimenton (if using).

Rub three-quarters of the mix into the meat side and the remaining one-quarter into the fat side; rub it in around the sides of the slab, too.  

If using black pepper, pat into the fat side of the meat before adding the salt-sugar mixture.

Seal the belly in a Ziploc bag, pressing the air out.

Refrigerate for 3 days, turning each day. (Liquid will collect in the bag; do not pour it out.)

Rinse the bacon briefly with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Place it on a rack over a pan and refrigerate, uncovered, to dry for two hours. Slice the bacon from the slab—thick or thin, according to your preference—and fry it up. For smoky bacon, cook according to manufacturer’s directions over an indoor smoker or smoke it on an outdoor grill.

(Testers note: If you want to test the cure after two days, cut off a couple of slices. Rinse them with cold water and pat completely dry. Fry the slices and taste. If you want the bacon saltier, return the pork belly to the bag and refrigerate for one additional day.) — Bloomberg

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