Making bacon is one of the easiest, most rewarding things you can do in your kitchen. I adapted a recipe from Saveur magazine. All it takes is your fridge, oven, lots of salt, a little sugar and GOOD pork belly (this is no time for skimping--many toxins are stored in fat cells, so don't use a belly from crap pork). In a week you will have absolutely delicious nitrate/nitrite-free, all-natural, home-cured bacon.
The last step in curing bacon involves either roasting or smoking. I have been curing my own Berkshire bacon by roasting for a few months now. I use it to barter for everything from massages to fresh baked bread. Smoked bacon is what you commonly find now, but roasting bacon results in a more meaty, flavorful bacon. This is because the smoke imparts so much flavor that it becomes the defining characteristic. When roasted, bacon has a taste that is both stronger and more delicate than when smoked. Roasted bacon tastes like pork, not smoke, and lends itself to experimentation quite well. Although a smoked bacon is wonderful, it is important to keep in mind that we can be exposed to the carcinogens in smoke when we eat smoked foods.
I have used different herbs and spices to come up with sweet, savory and spicy slabs of bacon. My mainstay is the Peppercorn bacon. It is cured with coriander, cumin, caraway, anise and rubbed with lots of cracked black pepper before roasting. Around the holidays, my Winter Spice bacon was very popular. In this one, I switched the sugar for molasses and used cinnamon, cloves, mace, allspice and orange zest. This turned out to be the best morning bacon, sweet and light--what you want with pancakes and waffles.
A few weeks ago, my coworker Daniel offered to take one of my slabs to a smoker he has upstate. I was curious, so I sent him off with a slab of Honey Fennel, made with raw Washington state buckwheat honey instead of sugar, fennel and anise seeds and white pepper.
He returned with my Hickory Honey Fennel bacon, part of which I traded for some of his nice Hickory Cocoa Chili bacon. This was a dark and smoky addition to my coffee and toast with jam this morning. The cocoa and coffee paired well.
I was quite pleased with my own first smoked slab of bacon, and was delighted by the way the smoking had effectively roasted the fennel seeds, releasing crazy aromas. I shared some of this with friends the other night. My girlfriend, writer/photographer Ally Picard and Helen Harris of OMG Michelle among them. I cut the bacon into lardons and cooked it up with seared Brussels sprouts, caramelized fennel, cipollini onions and spring garlic and put it over linguine with fennel/black pepper/red chili flake-crusted Berkshire pork scallopini on the side. It was a big hit.
I also did a slab for roasting as I usually do--this time a Chinese 5-spice. Much like the Winter Spice, this one was is a delicious breakfast bacon, and it has a little more kick from the Sichuan peppers. I am going to use the rest of both slabs in an old school baked mac n cheese with bacon.
MMMMMmmm...don't worry, I'll eat a big salad with it.
On to the Bourbon...and more about bacon.
Char No.4 196 Smith St.
Last week Ally and I went down to Smith Street to check out Char No.4. No only does the menu feature all house-cured and smoked meats, but the bar has 300 types of whiskey to choose from. I was a very, very, happy man.
We started out with a clam chowder with bacon and an apple-fennel-blue cheese salad. We were both thankful that the clam chowder was light and the potatoes were not heavy or mushy. Given the gluttony that lay ahead, this was a thoughtful touch by the chef. Ally had a perfectly grilled hanger steak paired with garlic potatoes and homemade BBQ sauce, and on the side kale, cooked in apples and bacon. I went with the beef hot link over mustard potato salad, crispy shallots and lovely, sweet baked beans. The link was almost as big as the plate, which makes this German boy feel good about the world. The whiskey list is enticing, as are the whiskey cocktails. The Horse Drawn Carriage was just my speed that night. With 300 selections ranging from $3-$100 an ounce, there are many choices for every budget. I have been raving about Char No.4 since that night and can't wait to go back! If you are in Carroll Gardens, do yourself a favor and get one of the nice tables out back, a nice bourbon and dig into some serious carnivorous action.