Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! You know that commercial where the dog is going crazy for some artificial bacon strips? Well, I found myself saying those three words with the same level of excitement recently. Last weekend I planned to do two things. Make something with the Maple Bourbon Bacon that I had cured the week before as a part of the #Charcutepalooza crew (it’s a Twitter thing!) and watch some of the 3 day seminar that Penny de los Santos was doing online (and for my purposes, what I will now officially call #PennyPalooza).
The bacon was so simple (as was the corned beef I did recently) that I’m now considering moving further than I ever imagined into doing more and more Charcuterie. Our Bible is the book of the same name by Michael Ruhlman and while I am not participating in the contest challenge…I’m OK with that. I have the advantage of seeing what others have done which lets me both pick and choose favorites and get some great inspiration. This month I am excited that Cathy Wheelbarrow (the dame of meat herself!) showed us how we can make sausage using a food processor. Doggone it…I can do that!
Back to the bacon. Curing bacon is beyond simple. The most difficult part of the entire process is finding sources for the main ingredients. Most grocery stores simply do not carry pork belly and though I’ve heard that Walmart might occasionally have the pink salt required for curing; that was not the case at the one closest to me. I eventually found pink curing salt at a local Savory Spice Shop where it is available online.
I also had to do some work to find pork belly. I finally located some in Loveland, CO and was ‘this’ close to making that hour drive when I thought to call one last place and I’m so glad I did. I discovered that Tony’s Market in Denver typically has a good supply of frozen pork belly on hand and it was perfect. Somewhat fortuitously I recently spent a morning in the local Korean market with my friend Karen from Eat Drink Washup and discovered that they have pork belly too so now that my supply line is set I will never have an excuse for not having some of this bacon on hand!
Why maple? Well, a couple of months ago a wonderful friend I’ve met on Twitter, Paula (@vanillabeanbake) asked if I would like some Canadian Maple Syrup. Um…YEAH! I admit; I’ve been hoarding it and wanted to use it for something really special…and this was it. After combining the Kosher salt, pink salt and brown sugar and making sure the entire belly was covered, I put the meat into a large Ziploc bag then added the syrup and made sure it was distributed. Easy enough right?
Why Bourbon? I say why not Bourbon?!! (Although that part comes in the cooking phase).
The hard part is waiting a week; turning it each day to make sure that the brine covers all of the meat. You smoke it or bake it at a low heat for a couple of hours and after that it’s ready for real cooking. I think I’ll be buying an electric knife knowing I’ll be doing this again to make slicing it thin easier…I found my bread slicing knife did the best job this go around.
So…maybe you’re wondering how #PennyPalooza comes into play with this finished dish. I had registered weeks ago to see Penny de los Santos online conference produced by Creative Live. Penny is a renown magazine photographer and Senior Contributing Photographer at Saveur Magazine so be able to see her in action was exciting and a great learning experience. I did spend $99 to have a copy of the event to peruse when I had time as I knew I wasn’t going to be able to devote 3 entire days to the presentation.
While my plan on Saturday was to make a bacon-centric dish, I had not decided exactly what it would be. I had thought about quiche which I love but wasn’t totally enthused since I really wanted something that would visually highlight this amazing bacon.
And what should #PennyPalooza decide to photograph shortly after I cooked those bacon slices? Grits and bacon with a fried egg on top. It seemed prophetic since I had just found Bob’s Red Mill Organic Corn Grits at Sunflower Market (and I could not forget the recipe for grits I had seen at MerryGourmet.com which inspired mine), I love fried eggs and well, as we know…I had the bacon. Even as #PennyPalooza searched for the perfect dish to use…I already knew what I wanted mine to be in so it was ON!
I started cooking while #PennyPalooza showed us how she got her shot. Should I share how she almost killed me? Because I’m an idiot? Penny was running up and down on a ladder to get an overhead picture and everyone on Twitter was joking about needing a ladder. I have a ladder. I have three ladders actually! But the leg I broke last year is still not quite strong enough for me to stand on it by itself so I decided to be wise and safe and just start with the little step stool. Just one step and then a platform at the top. You know how sometimes you’re in a situation when a wave of fear courses through your body. I do. I heard Penny urging us to push through our fears and for me that was pretty literal! So this was it and all things considered, I’m OK with it. If I had a chance to do it again…the only thing I wish I had done was break the yolk but remember; I’m on a ladder with one leg and a wave of fear. This was good enough and I’m still alive!
To say this was satisfying is the epitome of understatement. Home cured Maple Bourbon Bacon with some Parmesan corn grits and one perfect fried egg? Who needs the Rapture anyhow?
- 2 ounces/50 grams kosher salt (about ¼ cup)
- 1 tsp/12 grams pink curing salt
- ¼ cup/50 grams maple sugar or packed dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup/60 milliliters maple syrup
- 1 - 5 lb/2.5 kilogram pork belly
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup half and half
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 cup yellow stone ground grits, rinsed
- 1 Tbsp butter
- ½ cup White Cheddar or Parmesan
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Combine the salt, pink salt and sugar in a bowl and mix well.
- Rub this mixture over the entire surface of the belly. Place skin side down into a 2 gallon Ziploc bag. (The salt will make the pork release water creating a brine).
- Pour in the maple syrup and make sure it's distributed on all sides of the belly.
- Refrigerate, turning the belly and redistributing the cure every day for 7 days until the meat is firm to the touch.
- Remove the belly from the cure, rinse thoroughly and pat dry. Place it on a rack set over paper towels in the fridge and allow to dry, uncovered for 12-24 hours.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place rack in a roasting pan. Put the belly on the rack and pour bourbon into the pan. Cook the pork belly to an internal temperature of 150 degrees F/65 degrees C; about 3 hours; replacing bourbon as necessary as it evaporates. Let cool slightly when it's cool enough to touch, cut off any skin; leaving as much fat as possible (the piece I bought already had the skin cut off).
- Allow to cool, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.
- Combine water, milk and half and half and bring just to a boil in a heavy saucepan.
- Sprinkle grits into liquid and whisk til combined. Add salt and whisk in.
- Cook on medium low heat, stirring constantly 2-3 minutes.
- Simmer, stirring often until all liquid has been absorbed and they are the desired thickness; 20-30 minutes (don't overcook!)
- Once ready, add cheese and season to taste with additional pepper
- Spoon grits into individual serving dishes.
- Place a fried egg and two slices of bacon on top of the grits.
- Sprinkle with some additional Parmesan cheese
So, I put it in a 200 degree oven on a rack sitting on a cookie sheet. I poured some bourbon onto the cookie sheet and replenished it as it evaporated; three times altogether. I missed some of the smoke flavor but it picked up the bourbon from that process.
If you have a smoker, try the bourbon soaked chips and if you do let me know how that works out, OK?