Preparing the cure and combining it with the pork belly was probably the most fun part of the process for me. This is the part where you can start to get creative if you want. I chose a more mundane route myself, mostly because I wasn’t feeling all that creative yet and I wanted to make sure that I could actually make bacon before experimenting with the recipe.
This first step in this process is preparing a basic cure. This is simply a combination of kosher salt, sugar, and “pink salt.” “Pink” or “Curing Salt” contains sodium nitrate. While some people choose not to use this product when making their bacon, low temperature foods (like bacon) are considered to be in the “danger zone” when is comes to growing bacteria. Curing salts prevents this from happening. And since I believe in that whole “better safe than sorry”-thing, I chose to use the pink salt in my cures.
Once you have your basic cure ready, you can start thinking about the flavors you would like to add to your bacon. Recipes and ideas can be found in books and online, but I chose to follow the recipes in my Charcuterie book. I went with one batch of sweet brown sugar cured bacon, and the other a more savory recipe with garlic, black pepper, and bay leaves. So as not to break any copyright rules, I am leaving out the recipes from the book I used. However, if you are not using any specific book to guide you through the process, there are a million online sources out that there that you can use.
In order to apply the cure, you simply coat all sides of the pork belly with your mixture. It’s just like applying a dry rub, but in my case I poured my cure into a cookie sheet first so that I could get an even coating.
Here we can see what my savory cure looked like once it was on the pork belly:
The hard part over, the only thing that was left was to put the pork belly into a ziplock bag and place in the refrigerator for a week. During that time, the meat sweats a bit and creates a liquid int he bag with the meat. Since this liquid needs to be in contact with all sides of the meat, you need to remember to flip the bag over once a day or every other day.
Here you can see the two slabs curing in my fridge. The darker brown one is the brown sugar cure and has already been curing for about 3 days. The lighter is the savory bacon and that one has only been in the fridge an hour or so and has not yet created much liquid.
Next time: now what?