Tag Archives: pork

Makin’ Better Bacon

As the proud owner of a Weber Smokey Mountain smoker, I have been searching for more “projects” to tackle since one can only eat so much BBQ Spare ribs, Pastrami, Smoked Meat Loaf, Beef Brisket and pulled pork. With the popularity of bacon rising to near cult like status, it struck me as natural to try to improve upon the substandard product proffered by todays producers.

Weber Smoky Mountain smoker
The Smoker assembled

Most commercial bacon is made using the pickling method which involves injecting the pork belly with a mixture salt, water and sugar and other curing and flavoring agents. One of these flavoring agents is the “smoke” as many commercial products never see the inside of a smoker. Traditional bacon is made using a dry cure mixture of curing ingredients rubbed on all surfaces of the “green” pork belly. The primary advantage of dry cured bacon is since no added water is injected during the curing process, the amount of shrinkage experienced when cooking the bacon is greatly reduced. The water cooking off is actually boiling your bacon and toughening it and remember, you paid for that weight cooking off. When you cure and smoke your own bacon you also have the advantage of personalizing your cure to obtain your desired flavor profile. The bacon will also absorb less salt during the curing process than that commonly found in commercial bacon.

Cured bacon at the start of smoking
Cured bacon at the start of smoking

Bacon can be made from any cut of pork but the most common is belly. Uncured pork belly is popular in many cultures but in America nearly all of it is made into bacon. As a result, belly can be hard to find. If you can’t find belly, use boneless pork butt to make backboard bacon. As a native of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, I enjoy my bacon cured with maple sugar, but feel free to substitute brown sugar if necessary.

MAPLE CURED BACON

Cure: (Amount given is based on a 5Lb Pork Belly. Ratio appropriately for larger and smaller amounts of belly)

1/4 Cup of Maple Sugar

1/4 Cup of Kosher Salt

1/4 Cup of Good quality Maple Syrup

2 Tsp of Insta Cure #1, Prague Powder (Insta Cure #1 can be order online from http://www.sausagemaker.com/ Required if you will smoke your pork belly to prevent botulism.)

If you can’t find Insta Cure, here is an alternate recipe:

Alternate Cure

1 Tbs of Morton’s Quick Cure per lb. of Belly

1 Tsp of Maple Sugar per Lb. of Belly

1 Tsp of Maple Syrup per Lb. Of Belly

Curing Process

Mix cure ingredients well and spread over all surfaces of the Pork Belly. Place into a Zip Lock Bag or Foodsaver Bag and remove as much air as possible and seal. Place in a refrigerator for 7 days. If using a Zip Lock Bag place it into a container to hold any leakage. Every day turn the package over (called overhauling). After a full 7 day cure check the belly. It should feel firm. You should also observe fluid drawn from the belly from the curing process. If the belly is not firm over the entire surface place it back in the refrigerator for an another day and recheck.

When the curing process is complete, remove the belly from the bag and rinse well. Then soak in cold water for 30 minutes. Change the water and soak for another 30 minutes. The belly is now cured. You can slice off a small piece and fry to check the saltiness. If too salty soak for another 30 minutes in fresh water. Continue this process until satisfied. Place the belly on a wire rack over a pan and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours uncovered to allow a pellicule (sticky coating) to form. This enhances the smoking process by allowing more smoke flavor to adhere to the Belly. You now have fresh Bacon.

Smoking Process

You can use a variety of methods to smoke the Bacon. In all cases you want to use indirect heat, maintain temperatures below 200 degrees F to reduce the amount of fat that renders from the bacon. You may use the smoke wood of your choice. I prefer apple wood. For a “stronger” smoke I suggest hickory. Smoke the bacon until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees F. On my smoker this takes about 3 hours. Some sources recommend placing the bacon into the smoker at a reduced temperature without smoke for 45 minutes to 1 hour then add your smoke wood and raise the temperature to less than the 200F degrees. This reportedly further aids the smoke to adhere to the bacon.

Bacon after smoking
Bacon after smoking

After the bacon has reached the finish temperature of 150F degrees, remove it from the smoker and allow to cool. Place into the refrigerator for 24 hours to allow the bacon to set. Slice and fry to your heart’s content and enjoy the best bacon you may have ever had. Use a low temperature to fry this style of bacon remembering that you have none of the excess water in the product that commercial bacon has.

If your pork belly comes with the skin attached you have a choice. You can skin it before the cure or after smoking it or you can leave it alone and enjoy bacon with rind. If you choose to skin it after smoking make sure you do it when the bacon is still warm. Reserve the smoked skin as flavorings for soups and such.

If you are hand slicing your bacon you will find it difficult to evenly slice the last ½” or so. You can chunk this potion using it as a seasoning for green beans, other vegetables or for soups. You can also fry the chunks and make cracklins. If you are unable to source pork belly you are not out of luck. You can follow the same process using boneless Boston Butt extending the cure stage to 10 days. Trim the excess fat from the Boston Butt and butterfly or section the meat so no part of it is thicker than 3.5″ . Frying this style of bacon takes about one half the time of regular bacon.

Slow Cooker Scrapple

Regular readers may have noticed I have a bit of an obsession with scrapple, but up till now I’ve only written about the scrapple served in restaurants. That changes today with the formalization of my method for preparing my favorite breakfast food in a Crock-Pot®.

Why use a slow cooker? For one, it is not necessary to watch the pot during the initial stock making phase. I can start the process before I go to work in the morning or before bed at night and have the stock ready when I’m prepared to proceed. The stock can also be held on the WARM tempertaure setting waiting for use. But the most important reason is the ease of cooking and cleanup after the cornmeal is added. Anyone who has ever made scrapple, polenta, mush or anything else with cornmeal knows what a pain it is to constantly stir it to avoid scorching and that even the most minor sticking is difficult to clean up. The even heat of the ceramic cooking vessel makes this concern a thing of the past.

Scrapple fanatics can skip this next paragraph, but a few words are necessary for the neophyte scrapple heads.

Scrapple in America originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch or German) residing in the farm country near Philadelphia. In the late fall or early winter the hogs were butchered and processed into hams, sausage and other products. Wasting nothing, the farmers took everything that was left over from the butchering (heads, feet, organs, etc.) and cooked them all together, removed the inedible parts and thickened the mixture with cormeal and flour. The mixture was then poured into molds and when cooled and set was sliced, fried and served primarily as a breakfast meat.

Scrapple making was a lot of work and my goal with this recipe was to create a process to cut down on the labor but still create an authentic product. The key to this authenticity is the quality of the stock, and  unless you have a commercial kitchen or a huge outdoor kettle that can accommodate a pig’s head, your only option is pig trotters (or feet). One possible exception are fresh hocks, but these are rarely found as they are reserved for smoking. DO NOT use smoked hocks. Recipes on the net that call for chicken stock and ground pork will NOT create a quality product. What the trotters provide is gelatin. The gelatin creates a rich stock that sets up firm when cold. This allows the use of less cornmeal and thereby a moister product with a creamy interior when cooked. In the spirit of frugality, I do not purchase meat speciffically for scrapple. My method is to buy a bone-in pork butt and break it down for another dish (today Segedínský Guláš ) and then use the scraps and bone in the stock. Any cheap cut of pork will suffice though if you choose not to buy a whole butt. When it comes to liver, the historical choice is pork, but I have made scrapple with beef, veal and even chicken in a pinch with good results. Naturally beef gives a stronger offal flavor. One final ingredient that is significant is the buckwheat flour. The brand of scrapple I grew up with was made with buckwheat so I prefer it but you could easily substitute all purpose flour. It should be noted buckwheat flour is gluten free so keep that in mind if gluten is an issue for you.

SLOW COOKER SCRAPPLE

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 pig trotters(feet), cleaned and split
  • 1 lb pork meat and scraps (add bones if you have them)
  • 1 lb liver , cubed
  • 1 onion, medium size cut in half
  • 2 sprigs fresh sage (substitute 1 Tbs dry if not available)
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 Tbs whole dry)
  • 2 celery tops
  • 1 Tbs black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbs whole allspice
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 ½ Tbs Sea salt
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 C yellow cornmeal
  • 1 C buckwheat flour

 

PROCEDURE:

Make a bouquet garni of the sage, bay leaves, thyme, celery, allspice, peppercorns, allspice and cloves tied in cheesecloth.

Place all ingredients in a large (minimum 6 Qt. ) slow cooker and cover with water.

Cook until pigs feet or falling apart (6 to 7 hours on high or 10 to 12 hours on low)

Strain through a fine sieve.

Skim fat (reserve if desired)

Measure 3 Qt of the remaining stock (add water if necessary) and return to the slow cooker. Turn heat to high.

While the stock is coming to a boil, pick through the scraps reserving the edible portions and discarding the rest. Chop finely by hand or food processor.

Return reserved meat and liver to the slow cooker and bring to a boil.

When boiling, SLOWLY add the cornmeal and buckwheat flour stirring constantly. (You’ll note in the photo that I slipped a bit adding the cornmeal which resulted in a few yellow patches in the finished product)

Cook the mixture for at least 1 hour (after returning to a boil) stirring occasionally. The scrapple will begin to pull away from the sides of the crock when properly cooked.

At this point you may optionally add additional fat in small quantities and stirring until well dispersed. This is the old time way of using the reserved fat which I dispense with for health reasons. If you choose to add it, stop when you see fat collecting on the surface.

Taste and correct for seasoning. You may need more salt as the cornmeal absorbs a lot. I try to watch my salt intake so you may find the recipe a bit light on it. I always add some fresh ground pepper and a bit more cayenne, but season to your taste.Scrapple in freezer containers

Pour into greased molds of your choosing. Most people use loaf pans. I use pint freezer containers as they are a more convenient size for a single guy and I can pop them right into the freezer when cool.

Scrapple and eggs
Scrapple ‘n eggs

One final note on cooking scrapple. The goal is to get a crispy crust with a creamy moist interior. By far the best utensil to achieve this is a cast iron skillet. Nothing conducts as well for browning and the cooking surface is always dead flat. If you don’t have cast make sure the skillet is heavy and very flat. The preferred grease is lard or bacon fat. Butter works too but do not cook scrapple in oil. In addition, I always flour my scrapple slices to help with creating a nice crust. You’ll find may ways to serve scrapple on the net. As a kid I always ate mine with REAL local maple syrup but now prefer it with eggs. If you plan on doing something with this scrapple other than slicing it, I would add a bit more corn meal or cook it longer to tighten it up a bit.