I feel, unfortunately, that bacon has sort of jumped the shark as of late. Bacon ice-cream, bacon vodka, and the accompanying bacontini. I’m not saying any of these things are bad. On the contrary, there is a certain appeal to the idea of a salty/meaty vodka concoction. This doesn’t change the fact that while a lot of people are talking about a lot of bacon, very few people are talking about the quality of the bacon that they eat.
I’ll go out on a limb and guess that you’ve never eaten good bacon. Ask yourself this question; “Did I buy the bacon in a supermarket?” If you answered yes, then the bacon was almost definitely bad. OK, let’s be honest, even bad bacon is still pretty tasty. However, good bacon is one of the greatest things you will ever eat and it is astonishingly easy to make, and I promise that you’ll have problems going back to the watery strips that people try to tell you is bacon.
Michael Ruhlman, a native of my own hometown, wrote an excellent book on charcuterie (called, appropriately, Charcuterie), which I highly recommend you purchase. At the most basic level, bacon requires two things: pork belly and salt. Pork belly can be purchased at a good butcher near you, or can be ordered online if you lack a butcher. At a butcher, pork belly should run you around 2.50$ to 3.50$ a pound. Ordering online will probably cost you a bit more, so make the effort to find a local butcher.
The other element is a basic dry-cure, which can be made in bulk and saved for multiple bacony applications in the future. The ingredients are as follows:
1 pound kosher salt
8 ounces sugar
2 ounces pink salt (pink salt is regular salt that has been mixed with sodium nitrate to prevent botulism and can be obtained here).
Sealed and refrigerated, the dry cure will last forever. Having made your dry-cure and obtained your pork belly, bacon is a scant week away. These are the directions for preparation:
Step 1: Dredge pork belly in dry cure until thoroughly and evenly coated.
Step 2: Refrigerate for 7-9 days in a non-reactive, sealed container (Pyrex or a Zip-loc bag will work just fine. Bacon should be rather firm (think medium well steak).
Step 3: Rinse clean, pat dry.
That’s it. If you order everything tonight, you are less than two weeks away from the best bacon you’ve ever eaten. Here’s the glorious thing though: that’s just the start. The dry cure is so simple and pork is so magical that you could throw in all sorts of flavors! Garlic and black pepper, orange zest, cumin and cayenne, maple syrup and brown sugar, ad infinitum!
You, my friends, can help rescue bacon from its supermarket purgatory.