The Guys at Bray Cured have kindly put together this smashings bacon curing recipe using Pökel Salz and yes it's festive! Bray Cured mix traditional artisan charcuterie production with modern ways of doing things, to create a delicious range of charcuterie items.
Are we near enough to talk about Christmas food yet? Hold the chocolates and the multi-pack wine deals for now, but when it comes to curing, much like the Christmas cake, you’ve got to be well ahead of the game. And so, it’s absolutely about time we start thinking about the Christmas table.
Turkey? Of course. Cranberry, roast potatoes, parsnips, sprouts. Yep. Cheese, port, gingerbread, smoked salmon. Could be, could be. Leading lights of the Christmas table though these are, this post is all about that Best Supporting Actor of festive food, a good bit of bacon.
It’s probably that we’re eating bacon year-round which causes us to overlook it a bit at Christmas. Sure, we eat plenty of it in the holidays too, but while we’re tucking into some of our absolute favourites and treating ourselves, quite often we’re opting for ‘that’ll do bacon’.
Well, not this time. For 2021, let’s get something special topping our turkey, peeping seductively from between a couple of sprouty orbs, and upgrading the scramble of our eggs. Thanks but no thanks, local radio DJs turned actors, for this year our culinary panto will be guest-starring the bacon version of Christophe Waltz.
With bacon popping up in so many places, upgrading yours to something special is going to make a massive difference to dishes across the season. And the bacon we’re thinking of is a delicious slab of dry-cured, air-dried loveliness which will have your guests skipping over the crispy spuds and sticky parsnips to fight for the scraps from the bottom of the sprout dish.
How to make this lovely bacon? Well, at Bray Cured we’re doing seasonal signature cures to order online. You just pick your spice mix, weight, and finish, and we do the hard work, curing through to aging, shipping you the goods just before Christmas. We’re using some awesome traditional British breed pork, so it’s set to be special.
But if you’re a sleeves-up kind of creator, why not do it yourself? We’ve put together a recipe for Christmassy dry-cured, air-dried bacon below. Absolutely within reach for DIY curers and handy cooks, you’ve got to give it a go.
1.4kg pork belly, boneless. Decide whether you want the rind on, and if not, get the butcher to remove it.
This will make streaky bacon. If you want to do back bacon, get 1.4kg of pork loin. On the pork, the flavour you end up with is going to come down 60% to the meat, 30% to the process and 10% to the spicing. Therefore, get good pork which justifies the time you’re putting in.
Also, we’re assuming you’re going to air dry this bacon for 5-6 weeks to really intensify the flavour. In that time, it will lose a large amount of its weight, hence 1.4kg of meat becomes 1kg of bacon. You can dry the bacon for as little as 1 week though, so if time is a factor, you can start with less meat, as it won’t lose as much weight.
49g Pökel Salz (a conveniently packaged low salt, nitrate-free dry cure mix)
20g Brown sugar
10g Maple syrup
2.5g Black pepper
5 Cardamom pods
3 Star anise
20ml Port, sweet sherry or Madeira
If you want to smoke your bacon, you’ll need some smoking chips, dust or bricks depending on your method (see the methods below).
You’ll also need string, muslin (optional - see method) and a vacuum sealing machine or a sealable plastic bag.
- Trim any gristle, cartilage or bones from the meat, leaving the fat intact as long as it’s good and even across the meat. If it’s uneven, trim it up so the curing process will be even too.
- Double check the weight of your meat. Adjust your cure mix if your meat is more or less than 1.4kg. You don’t want to end up with bacon that’s too salty, or not cured. Keep a ratio of 3.5% of Pökel Salz to meat (35g per kg).
- Weigh out and mix your dry cure ingredients well. Keep back the port and maple syrup for now.
- In a tray or a deep bowl, cover the surface of your meat in cure mix, making sure to coat the whole surface on all sides, and get into any gaps or flaps. If you’re planning to roll your bacon and tie it, cover it in the cure before you do so. You don’t want an uncured centre.
- Tie your bacon tight now if you want to roll it. You can get the job done without classic butcher knots, just pass the string over and under three times before you pull it tight, and it won’t go anywhere while you double knot it.
- Put your bacon in a vacuum pouch or a sealable bag. Add the port and maple syrup before you seal it. If you’re using a sealable bag, get as much of the air as you can out of the bag before you seal it.
- Put your bag in the fridge and leave your meat in the bag to cure for 5-7 days. Each day, turn the bag over and give the meat a massage for a few seconds.
- After 5-7 days, remove the meat from your bag, pour away any liquid and brush the excess spice mix off.
- You could also tie the meat at this point if you didn’t do it before and now fancy it rolled.
- If you want your bacon smoked, then with the meat still a little damp, get it in the cold smoker for around 6 hours.
- On the cold smoker, you could either go for something purpose-built like this [LINK TO COLD SMOKER PRODUCT] or make your own with a 60cm by 10cm cylinder of chicken wire. You’ll smoulder some wood dust (smoulder, not set on fire) in this contraption, and pipe the smoke into a container where your bacon is hanging.
- It shouldn’t be an issue at this time of year, but keep the temperature as low as possible when cold smoking (i.e. start early in the morning or in the late afternoon), and make sure your smoke source isn’t too close to the bacon in your container. Ideally, you’d pipe the smoke in. A garden incinerator bin can be a good place to set the smouldering device, with a bit of tumble dryer ducting pumping into a container, which could be a grand old barrel, your BBQ, or even a large cardboard box.
- Once your bacon is smoked (or immediately after it comes out of the cure if you aren’t smoking), hang it up. To hang the bacon, you need a spot where the temperature will always be between 12 and 17 degrees, where there is good air circulation, and where the humidity is around 70-80%. For this reason, sheds or porches are good, chimneys can work, cellars are ideal (but who’s got a cellar?), and boiler cupboards are awful. In the right conditions, your bacon will happily dry and intensify over 4-6 weeks (though you can use it sooner). If you like, you can wrap the bacon in a piece of muslin, though with its saltiness and the time of year, insects are not going to mess with it anyway.
- While the bacon is drying, you might get some white mould action. This can add another flavour dimension, but if you want rid of it, or you get a mould you don’t like the look of, get a cloth dipped in vinegar and wipe it away.
- When your bacon is nicely dried (or when you’ve run out of time to dry it further), you can slice or dice it with a sharp knife. For storage, vacuum seal, freeze or leave it to continue drying where it is.
- All that remains is for you and your guests to enjoy, and your bacon to start rehearsing its acceptance speech for the Christmas Table Oscars.