There is a descent into a darker realm when you begin cooking with a product labelled “CAUTION: Do not swallow”. The possibility of inadvertently killing your loved ones rises and your ability to rely on the way that a preparation tastes before cooking declines. The normal sensory cues that stop most sane people eating food that is deadly can no longer be relied upon. Things must be measured rather than guessed.
Sodium nitrite, the key to this particular charcuterie abyss, alone is not for human consumption. At least it says as much on the bag. But with it and a little pork belly, salt and sugar, you can free yourself from the hegemony of industrial bacon.
The Basic Bacon Cure
(from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie):
450gms of salt
225gms of sugar
50gms of pink salt (6.25% sodium nitrite; marketed as TCM, Instacure #1)
Method: Mix together thoroughly.
Buy one to two kilos of good pork belly. Lay about 50 grams of the cure onto a surface large enough for your piece of belly. Press all sides of the belly into the cure until it is covered with cure. Bag it into a zip-lock baggie, tag it with the date then refrigerate it for a week turning over every day.
The wait is over. The belly firms up a little.
Wash the cure and pork juice from the belly, pat dry, then roast for two hours at 100 degrees Celcius, by which time your house will smell like what I imagine the Sirens would have smelled like to the Argonauts, if Jason had have been in search of the Golden Ham. If it wasn’t nigh on impossible to buy a real American smoker in Australia, this stage would have been supplanted by a few hours over hickory smoke in the backyard. Damn Australian barbecue parochialism.
Slice off the rind and eat it.
Apart from the possibility that my arteries would clog shut in mid-bite, I couldn’t think of any reason not to crunch away on it. Plus I have a congenital inability to discard anything that is remotely edible. The fact that it is crunchy and bubbling in the first place suggests that my oven is running much hotter than 100 degrees, so I may as well reap the only rewards of a faulty thermostat.
Slice and fry to your heart’s continued malcontent. Your own bacon will be richer, juicier and thicker. More fat renders from it when cooked. It is texturally more dense and chewier than your store-bought fare. You’ll wonder how you were ever hoodwinked into buying the facsimile of bacon available in most stores and what other sad cuts of pork have been foisted upon you in the past.