Sunday, February 14, 2016

Makin' Bacon!

So for the past two weeks I've been doing the #Whole30 meal plan, which is essentially a way of cutting out all the things that might be making me feel like roasted dog crap every day, and eating the things that might not make me feel like roasted dog crap. I've blogged in more detail about it over at my main page, here: Whole30 Week 1 - I Survived, but essentially I'm off grains, dairy, added sugar, legumes, and any processed foods. I'm eating meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. This sounds awful and a bit restrictive on the surface, but since I like to cook anyway, and I've been off wheat flour since 2007, I figured it was something I'd give a shot.

Now, y'all know how much I love bacon. I mean, I love bacon a lot. And since Whole30 focuses a great deal on proteins and good fats, I thought to myself, "Self, we can eat all the bacon!"

And yet. AND YET, GENTLE READERS...

Commercially produced bacon is full of sugar, which is why it tastes so damn good. Some of it has both sugar AND weird preservatives in it, both of which are off my menu right now. What, then, is a bacon-lovin' gal to do?

Because the Google-fu is strong in me, the first thing I did was search to see if there were any brands of Whole30-compliant bacon out there. And yes, there are. But they're incredibly expensive - not that it's not worthwhile to spend extra money to get what you're looking for, but quite frankly, I'm not in a position to spend $20 on a pound of bacon. I just can't.

So I did what I always do when I find something I want. I FIGURED OUT HOW TO MAKE IT.

Yes, my pretties, I have made my own bacon. And it's so good that I think my life has just changed forever.

The first thing I did was go visit my new friends at Blystone Farm, which is about fifteen minutes from me. It's a huge family-run farm that also has a shop where you can buy meat that was just strolling the grounds a couple of days before. It's the kind of place where you go up the driveway and travel right past these HUGE cows lazing in the sun and you know that the meat you're buying comes from happy, fat, well-treated animals. I managed to snag a three-pound package of pork belly, for about $15 - and the only ingredient in it? Pork.




The Curing Process

So, step two was to go ahead and season it for curing. Robb Wolf, who is sort of the guru of the whole Paleo movement, has a great blog post about how he does his bacon, but I didn't have half the stuff on hand that he uses, so I figured I'm kitchen-savvy enough to come up with alternatives, based upon the things I already own. I'm never going to cook with caraway seeds so I couldn't justify running to the store to buy them. Anyway, here's what I used, for a three pound pork belly:

1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground white pepper (yes, it has a different flavor than the black)
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp dried rosemary
2 tsp dried sage
2 tsp dried oregano
3 Tbsp pink Himalayan salt*
2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

I ground everything but the garlic up with my handy dandy mortar and pestle (if you don't own a set you really should - I have five), added the minced garlic, and then rubbed the whole mess over my pork belly. Yes, it was a little weird to type that sentence.

Then the pork belly went into a zippy bag - actually, TWO zippy bags since I had to cut it in half to make it fit - and then sat in the deli drawer of my fridge, taunting me.

Heat That Sucker Up

After my pork belly sat minding its own business for a week, it was time to smoke it. Now, here's the thing. I live in Ohio. It's February. Yesterday's high temperature was 6. SIX DAMN DEGREES. So I'll be damned if I was going to go outside and fire up my smoker. Hell to the no, peeps. Which meant it was going to have to slowly warm up in my oven. Not a problem.

I took the pork belly and rinsed off the cure seasonings, put it in my favorite baking dish (skin side up!) and plopped it in the oven at 200 degrees, for about three hours. Once the internal temperature reached 160, I figured it was good. Also, I may have used a candy thermometer as a meat thermometer but since I never actually MAKE candy I figured it was ok.

Next step? Let it cool - and I actually let it sit overnight in my fridge because I was tired and didn't feel like slicing it before I went to bed.

Slice It, Slice It Real Good...

This morning, I got up, pulled my pork belly out of the fridge, and cut it into strips. Holy cow pig, it LOOKS just like regular bacon. This is one of those times when I actually wish I had a meat slicer, because although I used a really sharp Santoku knife, the strips are still fairly thick. Because of that, I ended up cutting each strip into halves, just for ease of cooking. 

As I was frying my bacon strips, I noticed that they didn't smell as bacony as the bacon I buy in the store, and I wondered if that could be because of the extra stuff they add into the commercial brands. There was definitely a delicious porky smell, but more mild, like you'd get with a roast in your oven, and less smoky and bacony. So... how would the flavor compare?

The Final Verdict

I can't even begin to explain how GOOD this tastes. It's not sweet, like regular bacon, but it's got an earthy, salty flavor that is just amazing. I'm sitting here enjoying a few slices with my spinach and eggs this morning, and it's just... so... INCREDIBLE.

I fried up about 1/4 of my bacon this morning, and put the rest into freezer bags for later. It's one of the most delicious things I've ever made, and it's super simple. Also, it cost me $5 a pound, which is about what you'd pay for high-end commercially produced bacon WITH additives, and 25% of what you'd pay for Whole30-compliant bacon anywhere else.

I'm legitimately in awe of how tasty this is. Looks like I'll be going back to the farm shop next week for more pork belly!
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*Random note on ingredients: I'm thinking I could probably cut the salt back to 2 Tbsp instead. It's not overpowering with three, but it could probably be less and still taste amazing.