Omija is an interesting berry: its Latin nomenclature is Schisandra chinensis, the latter portion of the name being a hint that it is native to Asia–particularly Northeast Asia. Back in Korea, I first experienced the stuff as tea, but got curious about what it would do to a beer. The one experiment I managed before leaving, I didn’t add enough berries, so it was nice, but a very restrained effect. But I had some berries left over, and decided on a very different experiment: adding them to so bacon cure.
Adding berries or other fruit to bacon isn’t that unusual, but I don’t know if anyone else had ever added omija to bacon. I may have been the first person foolish enough to try it, in fact, though I don’t know for sure. Maybe there’s some part of China or Japan where it’s used as a sausage additive or something, I don’t know.
In any case, the results were phenomenal. Seriously, they were mind-blowing. The omija added a sort of rich flavor to the meat, without sweetening it, and somehow this enhanced the pork flavor, while simultaneously altering it in a way that I can only characterize as… well, as amazing. I was stunned by the effects, honestly.
I recommend everyone out there try it for themselves, but of course, to do that, I need to post a recipe, right? Okay. Here, to start with, are some not-great pics from my phone.
You start with Michael Ruhlman’s bacon recipe. Then you add a handful of omija to the baggie. That’s it. Here’s a recipe, though, which is basically based on Ruhlman’s recipe from his (wonderful) book Charcuterie:
Home-Cured Omija Bacon
1. Get yourself a couple of kilograms (okay, 2.3 or so) of fresh pork belly, as fresh as possible, and some big ziplock bags and/or a big container to store the pork while you cure it. Wash the meat, and pat it dry with a paper towel.
2. Get a bowl and mix the following together:
- ~64 grams of kosher salt
- ~2 teaspoons pink curing salt #1, if you can get it.
- A handful or two of omija berries. Best preparation is simply to freeze the berries overnight before making the cure, and crushing them in the bag before adding them to the cure.
- anything else you want to add: a quarter cup of brown sugar, crushed peppercorns, a few cloves of crushed garlic: it’s up to you. I think I went with sugar, and that was it… or maybe just the omija berries. The berries are enough on their own, trust me.
Note: If you can’t get the pink curing salt, well, you’re cooking the bacon before you eat it, so it should be safe as long as you keep it frozen before you cook it (and don’t keep it in the fridge longer than you would any other raw meat). Without pink salt, the bacon will probably turn grey when you cook it, but it should still taste phenomenal.
3. For the cleanest, tidiest results? Get that big ziplock bag out, and put the belly inside it. Then dump the cure mix into the baggie with the meat, seal it, and shake it up, moving the meat occasionally to make sure the cure gets everywhere on the meat. Open up the bag and rub the cure mix into the meat if you have to. Seal the baggie with as little extra air inside it as possible, make sure it’s really sealed, pop it into the container, and put it in the fridge.
4. Every day, turn over the baggie in the container. Pork juices (water) will leach out of the meat, dissolve the salt, and create a brine. You want the brine to be well-distributed, so flipping helps.
5. It takes about seven days for the bacon to cure. When it’s done, take it out of the cure, rinse off everything under cold water, and pat it dry.
6. At this point, you can pop it into the oven (on a rack, or a sheet tray) at 94°C for 90 minutes, or until it’s 66°C at its core. When it’s done, slice it as thin as you like, and let it cool and freeze it. (Or you can just freeze it without putting it into the oven, if you like. I did that with my omija bacon and it worked out fine.)
7. Oh, and you can cold-smoke the bacon if you have equipment. Were I to smoke omija bacon, I’d likely go with applewood. But you don’t need it. The omija flavor is strong enough to substitute for smoking, and is delicious on its own.