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Bacon #4

When I am insanely busy — and these days, with me at the office until midnight getting various things done, I am — one thing I can do that takes very little time or attention, but which still results in Neat Stuff in the end, is curing meat.

I’m now on my 4th pork belly as far as my bacon-making adventures are concerned, and about to make a departure. To recap the last three bacons:

  1. Oversalted savory bacon. This was not usable for much besides throwing in a piece or two into a soup, for seasoning and meat flavor (in that order).
  2. Plain bacon: this was where I made a decent bacon that wasn’t a salt bomb. It was pretty much a straight dry cure and pork deal, though, not too unusual, but it did get gloriously smoky.
  3. Maple bacon: this was a bacon cured with a mix of maple syrup and dry cure, plus a ton of cracked black peppercorns. It was supposed to mix the best aspects of savory and sweet bacons, and (perhaps luckily) I hadn’t quite figured out the mechanics of smoking my my set yet, so the smoke is more of a mild aftertaste that seems to ebb out of the maple flavor. Nice.

Okay, but now, with my fourth pork belly, I’m ready to go on to something else, and so I’m casting about for ideas. I’m particularly thinking of using specifically Korean ingredients, such as the omija berry — a berry that supposedly has “five flavors” (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy); I have some berries frozen that I planned on dumping into a beer at some point, but omija bacon is such an enthralling concept to me that I may just have to try it.

Another possibility is to try a spicy bacon, like, literally using Italian peperoncino, perhaps with some chopped-up lemongrass stalks kaffir lime leaf. I think the spiciness, the citrus, and the smoke would go well together. (Or I could air-dry it for a while and go without smoke, to let the flavors shine a little more… though I like my bacon smoky.)

The last option I’m considering is to play with smoke itself — to do a very long, slow, and heavy smoking session (with a nice blend of smoking woods, primarily hickory but also some mesquite and some walnut) on a relatively simple savory bacon — something cured with the basic dry cure, peppercorns, garlic, bay leaves, and a few other simple aromatics. That could also result in something very nice.

Anyway, I need to make up my mind soon: we bought the pork belly on Monday night, and I need to get the cure started ASAP.

But in other exciting news, the butcher said it’s no problem to order pig cheeks for us: a pig head is 12,000 won (12 bucks) and they are happy to cut the jowls off for us and dispose of the remainder. So it looks like I’ll be making a couple of kilograms of guanciale next week… and then, after it has cured for a month or three? Amazing, gorgeous pasta dishes.

(At that price, by the way, I am tempted to get a second pig’s head to barbecue up more jowls and make tacos with them. I’ve heard jowl taco is insanely good — which makes sense, the muscles there are among the most heavily used on a pig, so they taste extremely porky… even more so when they’re cured and the flavors are concentrated.)

Good times!

I’ll try document the bacon- and guanciale-making with some photos, for those at home to play along if they are so inclined.

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