Charcutepalooza! Project: Homemade Bacon
It’s the 15th of February and as promised, today is the post about HOMEMADE BACON. As you all may have read in my previous post, here, I am participating in Charcutepalooza – a year long project focusing on the art of charcuterie. So far the experience has been both educational and fun. Making charcuterie is a challenge for me – a completely new field of cooking that I never knew much about. The fact that dry curing, one of the oldest methods of preservation, is rarely practiced in the home is in actuality quite stunning. What’s more is that for someone interested in food, I really knew nothing about it. Sure, I would buy bacon (and I have bought my fair share over the years), but never would I think about making it at home. This project has made me more aware of what we are capable of doing at home, while connecting us with the roots of true and authentic cooking. It’s trying something new – venturing out into unknown territory. And I’m all about jumping in head first and trying it out. To me, there’s nothing more fun than that.
This month’s project was to make either bacon or pancetta. I chose to make bacon because the process was a shorter one than making pancetta. Since I knew I would be traveling this month, I didn’t want to over exert, especially on one of my first projects. I could not believe how EASY it is to make homemade bacon. I mean, you really work for about 15 minutes and then just wait and go about your business until it’s done curing. Once you buy fresh pork belly, all you have to do is dredge the entire belly in a dry cure that can be flavored with whatever you want – I used garlic, bay leaf, and black pepper. Although now that I’ve finished the first batch, I have all kinds of idea – spicy bacon with smoked paprika and cayenne, basil pesto bacon, sorghum syrup + vanilla bacon, and maybe an Indian spiced bacon! After seven days in the cure, you roast (or smoke) the entire pork belly for about 2 hours until it reaches a temperature of 150 degrees F. Once you remove the skin, the bacon can but sliced, used immediately, or frozen for a few months.
Now, let me tell you about TASTE. When this beautiful, home cured bacon is cooked, its taste is UNBELIEVABLE. Because mine was roasted and not smoked, you could really taste the ingredients from the cure. The bacon was garlicky, which gave it a great savory note; it was spicy because of the black pepper and the herbaceousness of the bay leaf rounded everything out to make this the best tasting bacon that I’ve ever had. Seriously, it’s the most flavorful bacon EVER!
And because the bacon is so easy to make (I mean, seriously, it just sits there for 7 days), I’m pretty sure I’ll always have homemade bacon around my house. Who knew that making your own cured meat products would be so easy? But that’s what charcutepalooza is all about – try something new, challenge yourself to be a better cook, and you will be rewarded. This was quite the reward.
So now that I got my own bacon, I’ve been making a lot of stuff. Of course, you gotta have a B.L.T. If there is a better one than mine, I’ve never seen or had it. You could make my Apple Cabbage & Bacon slaw, Spaghetti Carbonara, or even Huevos Rancheros! But for all you fellow Charcutepalooza-ers out there, I made a really special dish. One day, a few years ago, I went to Miami for my little sister’s graduation. While we were there, my dad and I had the pleasure of dining at Michelle Bernstein’s restaurant, Michy’s. We were even luckier because it was restaurant week, so I got to have 3 courses! My favorite course was actually the appetizer – some steamed asparagus, with a poached egg, and bacon lardons. The flavors were amazing and I couldn’t get over how a few simple ingredients really came together to produce a very tasty dish.
This is my take on Michelle’s dish. I’ve grilled the asparagus to give a smoky flavor to the dish, since the bacon was not smoked. With a perfectly poached egg, parmiagiano reggiano curls, and a simple balsamic vinaigrette, this dish is just incredible, full of so many different flavors and textures. The vinaigrette in my mind is essential, as its heightened acidity cuts through the richness of all the other ingredients. At the end of the day, the bacon is the star of the plate and everything else helps to elevate the bacon.
Grilled Asparagus Salad – Bacon, Parmigiano, Poached Egg, Balsamic (serves 4)
(recipe courtesy of Vivek Surti)
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toss the asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill asparagus for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until it is nicely marked and tender. Take off the grill and set aside.
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Bring a large, wide pan filled with water to a simmer. Season the water with the vinegar – this will ensure the egg whites coagulate around the yolk when you poach the eggs. Crack the eggs and put them into individual bowls (or crack one at a time). When the water returns to a simmer, use a slotted spoon and start stirring the water clockwise until there is a bit of a vortex in the middle of the pot. Drop one egg into the middle of the vortex and watch as the egg white comes to surround the yolk. Let the egg cook for about 3 minutes, and then immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. At this point, your egg is almost perfectly cooked. Repeat with remaining eggs.
When you are ready to serve, insert the eggs back in the poaching liquid for about 45 seconds so they warm all the way through. This will result in great, runny yolks. If you want a hard yolk, just cook it longer, for about 2 minutes.
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Whisk together the balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard. Slowly stream in the olive oil, while whisking, to emulsify the dressing. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.
8 strips of bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces or lardons
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
First, cook the bacon by putting it in a cold pan over medium heat. Keep turning bacon, every few minutes, so it is evenly cooked, the fat renders, and it is crispy. Drain on paper towels.
To assemble the dish, lay a few asparagus spears on the plate. Top the asparagus with the poached egg. Scatter the bacon around the plate. Using a vegetable peeler, curl some long pieces of parmigiano cheese around the other ingredients. Spoon some of the vinaigrette over the salad and around the plate.
Serve. Eat. Be Merry.
I can’t wait for next month’s Charcutepalooza project! Now that I’ve completed my first project, I feel much more comfortable going forth. I’m ready to face any challenge and start making some tasty cured pork products. If this bacon was any indication, it’s going to be one tasty and exciting epicurean adventure!