Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Makin Bacon!

There are few things in this world as fun as smoking your own meat..... and then there is making Canadian bacon. Canadian bacon is one of nature's most expensive meats ($25 a pound) and a luxury that most people only have with Eggs Benedict when they go out for brunch. Also known as Back bacon or Irish bacon, Canadian bacon is actually unbelievably easy and cheap to make. Just like our friend Gravlax, Canadian bacon is a great first step into the world of charcuterie. Charcuterie, as previously mentioned, is the art of curing meats or vegetables. As with most curing techniques, Canadian bacon is cured with salt but there are also other flavors you can add that you will not find in the commercially made versions. This recipe will also call for you to order a special ingredient, but don't worry we'll get to that later. It's cheap and it will last forever and that's all you need to know now (hint: It's the Pink Salt).

Unlike Mr. Salmon that we cured in a dry rub, this pork loin will be cured in a brine. At its basic a brine is a saltwater solution that helps preserve meat, fish, or vegetables. When you add spices and herbs to it, a brine becomes an unlimited source of inspiration and an unstoppable way to add flavors to your food. The salt carries the flavors of the herbs and spices into the meat through osmosis (nerd alert!), penetrating deeper into the item being brined than just salting alone. The osmotic process also plumps up the cell wall of the meat with salt water making your meat almost impossible to dry out by over cooking.

There is no crazy technique needed in making back bacon. It takes care of itself and is pretty hard to screw up (unless you let it sit in your brine for longer than described). It really is all about patience. Most of the time, your bacon is will be out of sight and out of mind. The recipe takes 3 days to complete, and while this sounds daunting, it really means nothing more than your meat is chilling in the fridge. Even when it comes to the actual cooking, the pork just sits on your grill and soaks up smoke. You will do nothing more complicated than adding more wood chips to your smoker. So your total active time of cooking will be around 30 minutes over three days and it will yield you over 8 pounds of Canadian bacon. That works out to $200 worth of bacon for basically drinking beer and watching TV. I think that sounds pretty fucking awesome and if you do too then read on and let's get on with the bacon makin.

8 Pounds of Pork Loin
3 Ounces (84 grams) Pink Salt* (see bottom for notes on Pink Salt and where to buy)
3 Cups (700 grams) of Salt
2 Cups (450 grams) of Sugar
2 Tablespoon (56 grams) of Black Pepper
2 Bay leaves
2 Bunches of Sage
1 Large Bunch of Thyme
5 Large Cloves of Garlic
1 Gallon of Water
4 Pounds of Ice

1. Start first by making sure that you have everything weighed out precisely. The salt, sugar, pepper, and water can be a little over or under but the pink salt needs to be weighed exactly. Large amounts of this stuff can make you sick, so as long as you have it weighed correctly, you have nothing to worry about.

2. In a large pot, or saucier, pour in the water. Add your salt, sugar, herbs, and peppercorns to the water. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Simmer everything together in the pot for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and let it cool while you get together your ice (at least 10 minutes).

3. Place a bucket on your scale and zero it out. Now add enough ice to weigh out 4 pounds.

4. Add your hot brine and mix thoroughly until cool. There should still be some ice left in the mixture to let you know that it's cool enough to add your meat. If the ice is all melted then test the temperature with a thermometer. If the brine is over 40°, put it in the fridge until it cools down.

5. Add you two pieces of pork loin into the brine and weigh them down with a plate. Place the container in the fridge and let them sit in the brine for 48 hour.

6. Pull the meat out of your brine. Rinse it off and pat it dry. Put the meat onto a rack on a sheet pan. Place this back into the fridge uncovered and leave those suckers in there for 24 hours. This is where your pellicle will form. A pellicle is when the meat becomes tacky from the proteins in the meat coming to the surface and concentrating as the meat dries. You want this tackiness because it gives the smoke something to stick to. DO NOT skip this part! If you do then Canadians will find you and make you watch reruns of The Littlest Hobo.

7. Now that your porky lovelies have had a chance to dry out and get sticky, it's time for the smoke!!! If you do not have a smoker box in your charcoal grill or a smoker box for your gas grill (like mine in the bottom left of the picture below) then you will have to wrap wet wood chips in aluminum foil and poke holes in the top for the smoke to escape. 

I will add here that I am not really in the habit of cleaning the inside of my grill. The racks yes, the inside not so much.
 8. Close your grill cover and hot smoke these bad boys like Bob Marley on a 3 footer full of Kind Bud. You will want to hot smoke these until they reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees. They should be lacquered and caramel colored somewhere around 2 to 3 hours.

9. Once your bacon has hit 150° you should move it onto a rack and let it cool. Once it is cool, you can wrap it up. I usually freeze one of the pieces because it will take you some time to eat 4 pounds of bacon no matter how lean it is. The bacon will keep in your freezer for up to 3 months without getting too much freezer burn.

Now you are a bacon makin machine. How's it feel? Pretty fucking good righ? Now don't get too cocky, you still have to use it in recipes. I like the classics for my Canadian bacon such as a CBLT, Bacon Egg and Cheese Sandwich, Eggs Benedict, or my new favorite, Creamed Chipped Canadian Bacon (used in conjunction with Mr. Roux). But experiment with it! You just made 8 god damned pounds of this stuff, you have some to spare. And now that you know how easy it is to make, you'll have no problem making more to find that perfect Canadian Bacon recipe. Imagine how much happier your friends and family would be if you gave them Canadian bacon instead of a shitty gift certificate to Couch, Toilet & Infinity for Christmas this year.

As always, if you have questions please feel free to ask me either in the comments section or at john@rouxde.com


*Notes on Pink Salt- Pink salt (aka Sodium Nitrite) is a curing salt that is dyed pink so you will not get it confused with regular salt or sugar. It is not harmful in small amount like in our recipe, but in large amounts it will make you sick, so be vigilant when measuring it out. Its primary use is to prevent botulism bacteria growth, but it also sets the red color of the meat (no, it is not a dye), keeps the fat from going rancid when it dries and enhances the flavor of the meat. It's not something that you can find just anywhere, but you can get it super cheap ($2.50 a lb) online right here.

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