I’m going to let those words roll around your tongue for a while. Perhaps I’ll type them again.
Beautiful words, yes? Before February’s Charcutepalooza challenge was even announced I had acquired a thick, fatty, gorgeous pork belly from a pasture-raised Berkshire pig. It had been delivered on a Friday morning by Patrick McNiff of Pat’s Pastured farm in Jamestown, Rhode Island and then butchered in front of my camera by Chef Champe Speidel of Persimmon Provisions butcher shop in Barrington, Rhode Island. When the photo session was done (the photos will be in the upcoming spring issue of Edible Rhody) I said, “I’m buying that pork belly.” David, who works at Persimmon Provisions, also said, “I’m buying that pork belly.” Fortunately, there’s two sides to every animal, so we avoided pork belly tension. Have I achieved any kind of record for the number of times one can type “pork belly” in a paragraph?
I put the belly in my refrigerator, planning on spending some time that weekend curing it. I have often made un-smoked slab bacon (essentially slab pancetta) and had come very close to a recipe I liked the last time I had done it, so I had hoped to perfect it with the nine-plus pounds of belly now wrapped in plastic in my refrigerator. Clearly the pork belly has mystical powers because it was revealed on Saturday morning that the February Charcutepalooza challenge was The Salt Cure. How often do you find yourself with a large cut of pork belly and the possibility of winning a prize by curing that pork belly? I know what you’re saying: not often enough.
First thing I did was split the belly into two pieces. The extremely thick end weighed in at about 3 1/2 pounds and that was set aside for bacon. The rest, which was still pretty thick and proved a bit difficult to roll, I cured with the pancetta recipe straight out of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing. I still haven’t completely decided if I’ve perfected my bacon cure yet, but if you like your bacon a little on the spicy/savory side, you can give this a try:
- salt cure (how much and what color I leave to you to decide, my bacon never leaves a refrigerator or oven, so I used a cup of kosher salt)
- 1 Tbs Ecuadorian whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 Tbs whole coriander
- 1/2 Tbs whole cumin
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 Tbs Herbs de Provence
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
Toast and grind the whole spices, crumble the bay leaves and mix it all up in a zip top bag with the pork belly. From there follow the directions in Charcuterie. I use Ecuadorian black peppercorns because they have a bit of heat. I wouldn’t say hot like cayenne, but definitely more heat than you’d get from Tellicherry peppercorns. I get them from The Spice House. If you don’t have them you could use standard peppercorns and a dash or two of ground cayenne or perhaps a few shots of Tabasco.
Before closing, a quick story about my wonderfully faithful and protective black Labrador named Bayou (yes, she was born in Louisiana). I hang most of my charcuterie out in the open in our basement. Each time I hang a piece of meat, Bayou wanders down to the basement and sniffs every square inch of the floor, hunting for something she knows smells delicious, but she can never find it. I’m not sure if I’ll be upset or proud on the day Bayou finally figures out that all she has to do is look up.
One more time: pork belly