By Blake Royer I recently took a 3.4 pound pork...
I recently took a 3.4 pound pork belly, rubbed some salt and spices on it, and a week later, it emerged from my refrigerator as the most awe-inspiring bacon I've ever eaten. I feel simultaneously triumphant and confused: why is this so good, and why was this so easy?
I knew I was going to make bacon at some point once I began curing meat. People devote entire blogs to the subject of bacon; it's considered a pinnacle of eating, and a vegetarian converter. But if you haven't made your own bacon, you're missing out on even further worlds of deliciousness. It's like going from a store-bought pie to a real one. Have you seen the way commercial bacon is made? Huge brining machines filling the bellies with liquid to speed up the curing process to the shortest time possible. Then, liquid "smoke" goes in. It's an unnatural process. Making it yourself, after your first time, seems the most natural thing in the world. Yet hardly any of us know how to do it. Bacon comes from the grocery store.
Again, like all of our meat-curing projects so far--and this is probably sounding like a broken record--homemade cured meat is remarkable not only because of its superior flavor, but also its confounding easiness. To make homemade bacon, I did almost nothing, except find myself some pork belly and decide on some spices.
Which isn't always easy--though any butcher would probably order it for you, and many ethnic markets stock it. I'm lucky to have access to meat from Fleisher's butchers, a purveyor of exceptional pork and other meats in upstate New York, through Tom Mylan at Diner/Marlow & Sons. Fleisher's are real trend-setters specializing in organic, pasture-raised meats that are raised kindly and sustainably, and therefore have a superior taste. They sell Berkshire pigs, the pig equivalent of Kobe beef, whose meat "is dark, meaty and richly marbled with a distinctive lush, juicy taste," compared to regular commercial pork which, in comparison, tends to be white, lean, and flavorless.
Every week Tom gets his meat from them for his restaurant group by ordering entire animals and butchering them in-house--so I called ahead, then stopped by to pick up my belly that same day. When I arrived, he was moving at high speed because his meat order had come in late. As I stood in a tiny square foot corner of the butchering room, just behind the door to the walk-in cooler, Tom took an entire half pig, which had been split right down the middle, and, using a combination of a saw and knife, broke it down into ham, shoulder, ribs, a stretch of pork chops running the entire back length, and finally, the belly. Seeing this happen so matter-of-factly in the back of a restaurant felt very unceremonious. But it was also an astonishing sight: here was a pig, and minutes later, here was a rack of ribs and some pork chops. The pieces of meat I was seeing weren't abstracted; I saw, literally, where they came from.
Tom needed most of the belly for the restaurant, but he sliced me a 3.4 pound triangle from one end, and sent me on my way.