Bacon. The essence of cured pork. Is there actually anyone apart from veg(etari)ans who doesn’t love bacon? So if you are curing your own meats there will inevitably come a day when you will also want to make your own bacon.
Now there are two different kinds of bacon. The most common overall is streaky bacon made from pork belly. It is immensely versatile; it can be fried to a crisp, you can wrap other food with it or you can used it diced to pork up many different dishes.
And then there is back bacon which is most popular in the UK. It is made from the loin with a little bit of belly attached. The uses of back bacon are fairly limited compared to the streaky variety. Essentially it is only used as centrepiece of the traditional Full English/Scottish/Irish breakfast and in bacon sandwiches.
But when done right it, a slice of fried back bacon is a gift from heaven. Frying back bacon is fundamentally different from frying streaky bacon. You want the thin strips of streaky bacon to be as crisp as possible (without becoming dry, of course) while a rasher of back bacon should be thicker (about 2 mm) and still give you the feeling of biting into succulent, juicy meat; still nicely browned of course.
In Germany – and probably in many other parts of the world as well – it is almost impossible to buy proper back bacon. There are some butchers who make it on request for Brits living in Germany but it is not normally seen in butcher’s shops and on supermarket shelves.
One reason more to make my own.
- 2.8 kg of a boned and skinned rack of Swabian Hall pork chops
- 30 g per kg nitrite curing salt (0.5% nitrite content)
- 10 g per kg demerera sugar
- 3 g per kg freshly ground black pepper
- Curing: 2 weeks
- Surface drying: 1 day
- Cold smoking: 8 to 12 hours
- Drying: 5 to 7 days
- High quality vacuum sealer with structured bags
- A place suitable for cold smoking
Smoking is not strictly needed for back bacon, probably more than half of the back bacon sold in the UK is unsmoked. But smoked bacon is just so much better…
Mix salt, sugar and pepper in a small bowl and thoroughly rub the meat from all sides. Place the meat in a vacuum bag of sufficient size, making sure that all of the cure makes its way into the bag. Evacuate and seal the bag and place it in the refrigerator for two weeks or longer. During this time the salt will distribute evenly in the entire piece. There is no need to turn or move the bag during the curing process.
This process will take longer as a wet cure in brine but the method is practically foolproof because if you wait long enough it is impossible to overcure or undercure as long as the amount of salt is calculated correctly. This also means that it is no problem to leave the meat in the refrigerator for a few weeks longer if you don’t have the time to move on.
The next day give it a round of cold smoke, about 8 to 12 hours depending on your setup. My smoker is not very big so I cut off a piece and left it unsmoked. As there was quite a large part of thin belly on my piece of meat I cut that off as well and hung it separately for smoking in order to turn it into a kind of skinless Bauchspeck.
After smoking air dry the bacon for a few more days before slicing it, either in the fridge or hung in a cool cellar. You should also do this with unsmoked bacon. This will prevent the infamous white goo oozing out of the bacon slices during frying which is caused by a high water content. You usually have this with cheap bacon from the supermarket which tends to be “speed cured” by injecting brine into the meat.