Monday, February 14, 2011

Charcutepalooza: Makin' Bacon

In an alternate universe there is a better me. I exercise every day, I have hair people envy, I keep bees, diligently tend a thriving garden, make my own soap and pluck fresh warm eggs from the heirloom chickens running around my backyard—all while working on the cure for breast cancer. (In yet another alternate universe lives a fantastically naughty me, who smuggles diamonds, lives a life of international intrigue and dances with pirates, but that is another story.)

When I read about Charcutepalooza, Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy’s challenge to support their proclaimed Year of Meat, I saw it as a chance to tango with the better me. Each month they will set forth a charcuterie making challenge. January was duck prosciutto. (Participants are allowed to complete this challenge at any point during the year, given the sneak-up-on-you nature of January.) February is bacon!

A few blocks from my house, huge hogs hang on meat hooks, swaying in the open air, visible from the street. I know this sight isn’t for everyone, but for me it is a beautiful thing. The Boivar Carnicería has been open since 1970 and serves the Santa Tere neighborhood—an old working class area of Guadalajara, lined with low colonial homes, filled with multigenerational families. They receive and butcher 20-30 pigs a day. At 3 pm, they close and go home for a large family meal and a well deserved siesta.

None of the butchers batted an eye when I asked for a slab of pork belly from which to make bacon. I guess I was sort of expecting awe and admiration for taking on such a cool meat-a-licious task, but the butchers were helpful and duly unimpressed. And now I understand why, making bacon is very simple. It is nothing like raising bees or curing breast cancer, it is much more like a week at the spa: a salt exfoliation, followed by a soak in the sea, a rinse and a steam.

Making Bacon
Adapted from the required reading and textbook of Charcutapalooza: Charcuterie by, Michael Ruhlman.

Salt Exfoliation- Mix 60 gr. of kosher salt, 2 teaspoons of curing salt, 30 gr of brown sugar, ¼ cup fresh chopped rosemary, 1/4 cup crushed black peppercorn and 4 crushed bay leaves. Channel your inner masochist and rub your 3-5 pounds of pork belly like a Turkish bath masseuse trying to remove all of your skin. Leave an even coat of salt on all sides.

The Soak- Place the belly in a zip-lock bag or in a non-reactive container just large enough to hold it. It will release a lot of liquid as it cures. Allow it to linger in the saline bath for seven days, gently turning it over every other day, while whispering sweet nothings.

Rinse and Steam- After seven days, it should feel hard to the touch, if not, allow the magical powers of salty bath to do its work for another day or two. Then, rinse in fresh water and put in the oven at 200F for two hours and roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 150F. And, Bravo! Your pork belly has been cured. It is now bacon!
To celebrate our bacon, we made a Mexican version of the BLT: roasted tomatillos, zesty watercress, avocado, thick cut house-made bacon and chipotle aioli spread on a roll. As an afterthought we added a fried egg with an oozy yolk. Immediately after consumption of this near perfect sandwich (and an unnecessary side-of-bacon), I had to lie down on the couch, nursing an upset stomach while running through the all-too-familiar lecture on over-indulgence and self-control. A better me indeed.