If you live in London like I do you need to find stuff to do so you don't go absolutely insane on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Sure, there's actual stuff to do like cleaning and tidying up and recycling and that bit of DIY you know you should be able to do but fuck it, someone else can deal with that.
I'm thinking something cool and rewarding, something you can rub your friends faces in and be all snobby about. I reckon making your own food ticks all the boxes. I'm already the one cooking at home (by choice and necessity since my wife, God bless her, can't boil water. But her talents lie elsewhere...), so it was a small step into meddling with actually making my own bits and pieces.
A couple of birthdays ago I was given this wonderful book called FOOD DIY by Tim Hayward which teaches you in VERY simple instructions how to do a lot of really amazing stuff you wouldn't otherwise have thought possible.
As Bacon seems to have a very special place in my heart (and a lot of you folks' out there) I thought I'd share my latest batch with you. The pictures, that is. If you want the actual bacon go make your own. It's reasonably simple and you don't need all the gear I have like a vac packing machine. I mean, I've got one because I'm better than you but don't let that hinder your attempt. Seriously though, they're cheapish and you get a lot of use off them in other food-related projects. Here's a good example of a cheap and cheerful one.
So, to it.
Go see a good butcher and buy some pork belly. Tell them it's for home curing, if they say 'Wot?' you're probably better off going to another butcher. If you're not so fussed then try to get something like this:
This piece came in at about 800g, which is about right. And because my vac pack machine works with A4 sized pouches I went ahead and cut the meat into 2 chunks of equal size.
I tried to keep it into 2 nice square-ish pieces, with straight edges on both sides. That will help you later when you're slicing it into rashers.
Next thing you do is get your curing mix going. Tim suggests 500g of salt, 300g of sugar and 2.5g of prague powder #2 per 1kg of meat. Now, prague powder is a mix of salt and sodium nitrite which you buy ready packed pretty easily online - here, for instance. Sodium nitrite can be toxic in the wrong quantities, so be sure to weigh it accurately and carefully. Also, the 2.5g per 1kg seems to be a general rule but you should always check the manufacturer's recommendation and go with that if different.
I then add whatever flavourings tickle my fancy. You don't need that obviously, but I love experimenting so this time I've added chilli flakes to the mix. I try to keep to one strong spice per batch, I found that with this sort of thing if you mix 2 or more strong flavours they tend to mask instead of complement each other.
I then divided the mix into 2 (one for each piece of meat) and proceeded to rub it into the meat. Don't be shy, give it a good rub otherwise those flavours won't come through.
Next, I vac packed the meat with the rest of its half of the cure mix.
And here we are, ready to spend a week in the fridge.
For the second piece, I went a bit cheeky and before rubbing in the mix I gave it a good squeeze of this amazing natural honey I picked up in South Carolina last Christmas.
From there, the process was exactly the same. Rub, pack with the rest of the mix, label, fridge.
I normally place the bags in a tray and keep them in the fridge for a week, turning them over once a day. The salt mixture will drain the moisture off the meat so there'll be quite a bit of liquid forming inside the bags over the course of the curing process. This is absolutely normal. In fact, it's essential - that's what the curing does, it takes the moisture off the meat in order to preserve it. Moisture is water, water is the breeding ground for bacteria. Another reason to drink less water and more beer, by the way.
After a week, you take the meat out and give it a good rinse and pat it dry. It will look like this:
You'll need a nice sharp knife with some weight to it to slice this baby into rashers. Sadly I haven't found a meat slicer that would fit both my counter and my budget. Yet.
And voila! Sliced, labeled, packed and ready to go. I haven't tried this batch yet, but I can tell you my first attempts where a bit too salty but I guess you'll have to try a few times and adjust to personal taste.
If you love bacon enough to make your own, you may also be tempted to get one of our Pigtagram shirts - £20, free delivery in the UK.