Easy Recipes to Blow Your Mind, #1: Omija Bacon

A post in response to the request of a friend.

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.  

3 thoughts on “Easy Recipes to Blow Your Mind, #1: Omija Bacon

  1. Thank you so much for this recipe. I’ll have to get the omija berries first, and probably the curing salt, but other than that, it sounds great. Will be sure to let you know how the results go, once I have finished results.

    By the way, if you want doenjang or misutgaru or gochugaru for dalk-dori-tang, just let me know. I could ship it there, customs restrictions allowing.

  2. Oh, and I think I’ve found a pretty good recipe for the dalk-dori-tang that may serve as a good jumping-off point.

    Another question about the bacon: have you tried it in any dishes as a ingredient, rather than just grilled on its own? I’m curious as to how the omija flavor might work with other dishes, especially as it’s a flavor not really found in most of the recipes that involve bacon.

    1. Anne,

      No worries on the recipe. Omija berries should be hitting markets and dept. store basements soonish, I guess? You don’t necessarily need the curing salt for this, though it is nice to have. If you find a lead on the stuff in Seoul, let me know, as I’ll probably pick some up next visit, so I can start curing meats down here.

      I never got to use the omija bacon in anything, because I only ever made a test batch. Basically, I had maybe 10 or 20 grams of frozen berries needing using, and had to slice off maybe 200-300 grams of pork belly to make the the main bacon I was curing fit into the container. I figured, why waste good pork belly, so I rolled it in cure, added the omija berries, and bagged it. (And eventually found myself kicking my own backside hard for not having made the main slab into omija bacon!) I can’t wait till I get another chance! In any case, I don’t know if the flavor contibution of the omija would be enough to stand up to anything too imposing. I imagine it would make a pretty astounding addition to stuff where the pork/meat flavor shone through, though: as, say, a replacement for guanciale in bucatini all’amatriciana, maybe, or even just in a BLT. It’s the not-so-subtle transformation of the pork flavor that I’d be wanting to highlight if I used it in something.

      While I appreciate the offer of shipping Korean foodstuffs (thank you!), would you believe, they have doenjang and gochujang and ssamjang at the local foreigner mart, along with whatever is the main Korean brand of sesame oil (Ottugi, I think… and it is different enough from the local stuff to warrant that, too) and even, I think they had, Shin Ramyeon. If we want anything more esoteric, we can go to the Lotte Mart in the part of town full of Koreans, or to the little Korean foods shop downtown! There area TON of Koreans in Saigon, as I’m sure is apparent. So much so that we actually had to tell the realtor we’re dealing with that no, we prefer not to live in Sky Garden Apartments, as there are “too many” Koreans. (Some Koreans here have blogged that it can be onerous having to greet all your neighbors every time you go outside for a walk.)

      I’d love to see the dalk-dori-tang recipe at some point! Probably won’t attempt it for a few weeks yet: Mrs. Jiwaku and I are thinking of getting a pressure cooker and a slow cooker for the place we’re moving to, the former being more versatile than a rice cooker (and the local brands seemingly being terrible) and the latter having become indispensable to my cooking. Both are useful for making the kind of killer chicken broth I see as absolutely necessary to dalk-dori-tang.

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