I have always been interested in cured meats, that came out of left field didn't it? lol.... but coming from a Basque family on my father's side (and you know how "different" this makes people... I'm being nice now...) means a strong independent streak when it comes to things and food in particular, and my Dad loved his cured meats and would make all kinds of tasty bits every now and then and if I was in the area, was known to be his "accomplice".... I learned about meat, smokers, fishing, hunting, camping and related items and it gives me a good appreciation when artisan producers present quality products.
Buying meats this way though isn't very satisfying and I've always maintained that if you're serious about a particular kind of food you'll ultimately figure out a way to make your own and make it better plus it will be custom designed to suit your taste, your nutritional needs and special health concerns. This is how it is. Sure, once again we come to the inevitable question I get from everyone: "But it's so much work and takes such a long time"..... Stop it! So it takes time? Anything worth anything is worth working on and if you're really interested, you find the time. Period. So no whining, ok? It's all work and dedication or just go to the market and buy it.
Moving so much and having gotten rid of most of my equipment means it's more challenging yet it doesn't mean you need to get specialized equipment or you can't get it done, hey I've smoked fish on top of the stove and it was easy and wonderful. Just adapt and be flexible but most of all, be creative and stick to it. You'll get there, there is no doubt, I've proven this time and time again. It's worth it too.
Now your taste could range from making your own bacon to Salami, Pancetta or even Prosciutto. It's all good and possible. There are more and more shops opening up offering Artisanal products made with care and wholesome ingredients so it tells you that there are many of us out there that care about this. I wish I could find someone who could mentor me and teach me the old ways to produce these wonderful meats but for the time being, I am teaching myself with my Dad's way plus lots of books from the library and the good old Internet. So far, good stuff is the result and it's making us happy, happy but I know perfection is still ahead.
First of all I'll say that I've read up many of Michael Ruhlman's posts on the subject of all things "pig" and his recipe for making your own bacon is amazing! I find pork belly at the local Korean Market at a reasonable price or this project wouldn't get off the ground, and the International Marketplace is responsible for the fresh herbs and spices that flavor the meats mentioned. Don't forget that I am on an even stricter budget due to the spikes in food prices of late but we are still making and enjoying amazing foods from all over the world on a regular basis due to our flexibility and creativity. Now the circle is complete and Rene is MY accomplice and we are having a great time! He is also VERY interested in all things cured meat.
Between Ruhlman's books (hope you don't mind my bastardizing your procedures Michael and take this as a tribute instead..) as well as many others, plus SO much information on the Web, this is what we've come up with....
Making Your Own Bacon at Home.- If you appreciate fantastic bacon, you will be happy! My favorite is Wild Boar Bacon but haven't been able to find fresh Boar meat... you can buy the bacon online....
Fresh pork belly, I followed the 5 lbs weight for this (if you want more or less, adjust)
1/4 cup Kosher Salt, coarse type (Ruhlman says to weigh it- 2 oz)
2 tsp Pink Curing Salt
4 tbl black pepper, coarsely ground or cracked
4-5 Bay Leaves, crumbled
1 tsp Nutmeg, fresh ground from a nut
6-12 Thyme Sprigs
3 tbl Juniper Berries, crushed (optional)
7-10 Garlic cloves, peeled, crushed or through a garlic press
1/2 cup Brown Sugar -or- Honey -or- Maple Sugar -or- your choice
Large Zip Lock Bags (2 Gal size) or aluminum foil or plastic wrap
NOTE: I've added red pepper flakes, regular sugar, cumin, mustard, etc. to vary the flavor and this is completely optional and up to you. This is just to get a different flavor.
In a large bowl put all the ingredients (after the pork belly) in an mix them all well. Put the pork belly in the zip lock bag (I've also used lots of plastic wrap when I've run out of zip lock bags), and rub the spice mix all over it, rubbing it well like you would a meat rub. Get as much of the air out of the bag and seal it up well. You could put this whole thing into another zip lock or wrap it up with plastic wrap so it's well sealed. Make room in your fridge and put it in there for at least a week. Every couple days or so, get it out and turn it while you "re-rub" the spices again.
Turn the oven to 200 degrees F (or the lowest setting you have) and use a cookie/baking sheet to put the meat on. Let the meat sit in the oven for at least 90 minutes or if you use an instant read thermometer, it should read close to 150 degrees. Once it's there, take it out of the oven and allow to cool. If you're not using it right away, be sure to refrigerate it, otherwise, you're ready to begin using it.
Here are a couple of tips: I am not salty so too much salt makes it unpleasant for me. So go easy on the salt.If you want smoked bacon then go ahead and follow directions for this. Just make sure you've cured it well. This can also be hung to dry like Salami if you like.
Home-Made Salami.- Easy to prepare and satisfying to eat, here's a beginner's guide to making your own Salami.
3 lbs ground meat (pork / beef or ?)
1 tsp garlic powder (not garlic salt)
1 tsp onion salt
1 tsp red pepper flakes, very finely crushed
3 tbl Liquid Smoke
3 tbl Curing Salt
2 1/4 cups water
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients except the meat, until they are really, really well combined. Add the meat and mix together with the spices, again, really, really well. You don't want to have a piece with more salt or pepper than another piece, so mix, blend, fold until it's evenly mixed and you can see even color all over.
Once it's well mixed, shape the meat into "logs", these can be small or good sized, it's up to you but half pound logs are fine or maybe three pound logs if you use it a little bit more. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, insuring it's well sealed and put it in your fridge for about 2 days.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and then place a wire rack in a deep baking pan. Pierce the logs with a fork or small knife all over before placing in the oven and then sit the logs in the wire rack and place in the oven to bake for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Check the logs and if they seem too wet, unroll the foil and bake the logs for an additional 15 minute increments, but lowering the heat this time to the lowest setting your oven has, about 200 degrees. This is to dry out the logs.
The Salami is now ready yet don't despair if it's not exactly the same as the store bought ones. Don't forget that commercially prepared cured meats contain colorants and preservatives, plus chemicals and additives that affect the colors.
I can promise to do a lot more research into this matter and let you know what I find. I'm experimenting on Duck & Lamb Prosciutto, Chorizo Espanol and other wonders, we'll see what we come up with, but as lots of other things, the trip is exciting while the arrival is comforting. I'll report back.
Sending everyone my best wishes for a wonderful weekend and I've already started working on future posts full of interesting new concepts so I hope you will keep checking back to see what I can come up with. Take care and talk soon.............