Love bacon? Then make your own, says Devon chef Tim Maddams
- Credit: Archant
It’s time for the county to reclaim the brilliance of bacon by making its own, says chef Tim Maddams
Who doesn’t like a bacon sandwich? Well, except for those who choose not to eat meat and those restricted by religious dogma, not many. According to the lovepork.co.uk website: “Bacon is a £1.3billion industry, with consumers currently purchasing 221.6k tonnes per year.”
Blimey, that’s a fair few rashers isn’t it? Sadly most of our bacon is imported and of that which isn’t, most of it is of a very poor quality. Is this really where we want to be with the nation’s favourite snack food? Limp, lean and watery apology for rashers encased in some blister pack of doom? Our home-reared pork industry struggling on the brink of collapse? But of all the reasons to think about the way we consume bacon, the most powerful one is the taste.
For the last two years I have been including a little chat about bacon in most of my cooking lessons and upon tasting the homemade alternative to the common or garden slivers of demoralising pink shame the large majority of people are astounded at the difference. It’s not pink, it changes colour like pork when you cook it. It’s not watery, because no water is added to it. It has more fat, because that’s the whole point of bacon. It tastes…well, authentic and amazing. Oh, and it’s cheaper, and it will make people love you.
Let’s not make this too complicated, yes there are some very good butchers out there making great dry cured bacon. Although sadly most of it is not from free range animals and yes there is a world of difference between supermarket and butcher’s bacon and I implore you to support your local butcher and indirectly your local farms. But, let’s face it, even the butcher’s bacon is not quite what I am talking about except a few excellent exceptions like the Rusty Pig in Ottery St Mary or Pipers Farm butchers in Exeter.
Proper bacon is dry cured, fatty pork that has had a chance to dry a little in the fridge. And, be warned, it will also ruin your taste for ‘the other stuff’, but hey, that’s a good thing right? So, this month I am suggesting a countywide experiment. I want you all to make your own bacon and it won’t take you a whole afternoon of valuable free time and it won’t kill you all slowly by various poisonous means, but it will make the world a tiny bit of a better place.
This is all you will need: 100g table salt, 100g golden caster sugar, 20 peppercorns, 10 fresh bay leaves, 1kg pork belly on the bone, a large plastic tub, a bamboo mat and a little patience.
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Go and see your butcher, go on. Now, explain that you are going to try making your own bacon and you would like a nice, 1kg size piece of thick end of belly pork, with the bone and skin still on…and, no thanks, don’t score the skin. Why not take the opportunity to buy a few rashers of theirs to tide you over until your own bacon is ready in a week or two?
Now, that’s cost you let’s say a maximum of £10. The same as the equivalent weight of supermarket “finest” or “superior” streaky. But don’t worry, it’s going to pay you back.
Wash and thoroughly dry your plastic tub, you can use a chine dish if you prefer, or glass but don’t use metal as it may taint the meat. Bash the peppercorns until broken up well and then finely chop the fresh bay. Mix these with the sugar and salt and pop them all into a bowl or jar. Apply half a handful of the cure mix to the bottom of the pork belly and then pop it in the tub, flip it over and apply another half a handful to the top. Put the lid on the tub and place it in the fridge. The next day, drain off any liquid and repeat the curing process. Do the same on the third day. Don’t worry if you still have cure left over. That’s fine.
On day four wash the pork off and place it on a plate lined with a sushi rolling mat or criss cross a few wooden skewers on the plate and place your newly cured bacon on top of that. Place it back in the fridge. The idea is that air can circulate around the whole piece of bacon. You want it to dry a little. You can hang it up in the fridge if you prefer.
After three more days, if you are of the impatient type you can skin and bone the belly out – quite easy really, but you will need a sharp knife. Slice a few thin rashers off the bacon piece and cook them in a frying pan, on a moderate heat and enjoy. You will find it’s a bit salty and fatty compared to what you are used to. You will also, I hope, find it to be utterly delicious.