For more food-related blogs from Georgia Pellegrini, check out her website www.GeorgiaPellegini.com.
The first time I saw a wild boar smoking slowly under the soot-blackened eaves of a dome-shaped grill I was mesmerized. I was standing 100 yards from the banks of the Mississippi, deep in the beating heart of the Arkansas Delta.
The body of the pig was cloaked in thick slabs of bacon which were coated in thick layers of molasses and the whole thing oozed and dripped onto a tray of cut green apples.
The mere sight of the animal left a permanent imprint on my brain, and the taste set into motion my quest to relive that culinary experience as many more times as I could in one lifetime.
I know people who are vegetarians, except for bacon. The sheer, sinful, irreplaceable majesty of pork a delicacy too precious to pass up. I guess you could call me their proxy executioner, since I enjoy hunting in the same way I do cooking and eating and other kinds of things required to live.
There are so many delicious parts to a pig, but I think hands down the most crowd pleasing is bacon.
Bacon is easy to make at home. It is most often sold in strips, but when you make it yourself, you can enjoy its true versatility — cut it into batons known as "lardons" for classic French dishes, or into thicker cubes for soups, stews and beans, or gently grill a whole slab at once and serve it as a main course.
If you want to slice it thinly, freeze it first, then use a long slicing knife. Bacon freezes well because of its high fat content so it is easy to always have on hand. And you can make a dry cure recipe and store it in a plastic container indefinitely to use on many different meat products.
With dry curing, it is best to use weight measurements for all ingredients because it is the most accurate form of measuring, but I've provided approximate volume measurements. And as always I've provided step-by-step photos to help you along.
And as an extra bonus this week, I'm giving away two Bowie knives to help you field dress, on your quest to bring home the bacon. Come get the details on how to submit your entry at: www.georgiapellegrini.com/blog.
• 1.5-2.25 kilograms (3-5 pounds) pork belly, skin on if you plan to smoke it, skin off if you don't
• 50 grams (1/4 cup) dry cure
• Dry Cure
• 450 grams (2 cups) Kosher salt
• 225 grams (1 cup) sugar
• 50 grams (10 teaspoons) pink salt #1 (this is used in many types of cured meat products to keep it safe, and can be found on Amazon or other places on the internet)
1. Trim the pork belly of any dry meat and glands, and neaten the edges.
2. Combine the salt, sugar, and pink salt. Place the pork belly in a non-reactive baking dish or sheet tray covered in plastic, and cover with the mixture, pressing it into all the cracks and crevices. Do this until all sides are evenly and well coated.
3. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days, turning the pork belly over once a day to make sure it cures evenly, until the meat feels firm throughout. The thicker the belly, the longer it will take to become firm. The pork will release a lot of liquid as it cures, so it is important that the cure stay in contact with the meat the whole time.
4. Rinse the pork belly. Dry it thoroughly.
5. The belly is ready to use. If you want to smoke your bacon, preheat a grill or smoker to 200 degrees F and burn wood chips for at least 30 minutes, then add the bacon. If you have a stovetop smoker then follow the directions that come with it. Hot smoke to an internal temperature of 150 degrees F.
6. Remove the skin now with a sharp knife while the fat is still warm. You can save the skin for cracklin' bread, which I'll show you another day. The bacon will keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator or you can cut it into manageable sizes, wrap it in plastic, and store it in the freezer for several months.
Makes about 1.25-2 Kilograms (2 ½ - 4 pounds) bacon
Editor's note: Georgia's passion for good food began at an early age, on a boulder by the side of a creek as she caught her trout for breakfast. After Wellesley and Harvard -- and a brief stint on Wall Street -- she decided to leave the cubicle world behind and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City.
Upon graduating at the top of her class, she worked in two of America's best restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as well as in one of the premier destination restaurants in Provence, France, La Chassagnette. It was there that she decided it was time to really get at the heart of where our food comes from and head to the source -- Mother Nature. She bought a shotgun and set her sites on the cutting edge of culinary creativity intent on pushing the boundaries of American gastronomy, from field to stream to table.
Her new book, "Food Heroes: Tales of 16 food artisans preserving tradition" will be coming out this year. She currently roams the world, hunting, tasting good food and meeting the good people who make it. You can read more about her work at www.GeorgiaPellegrini.com.