Bringing Home the Bacon
The chef at the popular New York restaurant the Egg Shop shares some tips and tricks from his recent book.
In our world there are three kinds of bacon: smoky, sweet, and funky.
There can be crossovers, of course. Funky bacon, which is funky because it isn’t necessarily made of pork, or it’s cured or seasoned in a prominent way, can also be sweet or intensely smoky.
Smoky and sweet bacons are more straightforward. A smoky bacon can be sweet, but a sweet bacon is qualified both by its sweetness and a lack of overall smokiness.
Should be salty, without allowing the salt to overpower.
Should be cut in a way that’s appropriate to its use and the bacon’s own fat-to-meat ratio.
FAT-TO- MEAT RATIO
Great bacon starts with great pork. Yet, discussing heritage breeds has been done. Lauding the multisensory experience that is enjoying these breeds’ distinct and varied creamy bits has become as annoying as hearing someone overpronounce the word “Mangalitsa.” (It makes me want to Mangal-eat-some anxiety medication.)
When it comes to bacon, it’s not about the breed. It’s all about the fat-to-meat ratio. You are looking for just over the perfect 1:1 balance of fat to meat, one that errs on the fatty side. A 60 percent fat to 40 percent meat ratio is the limit of acceptability for a standard bacon slice (cut from 1∕16 to 1∕8 inch thick). If you’re looking at a slab of quality bacon with a higher fat content, it’s best to hand-cut a thick slice, up to a quarter or a half inch thick, to allow time to cook the bacon to the point of crisp on the outside while allowing the interior fat to soften and end up with a texture reminiscent of braised pork belly.
We got serious about bacon while planning the menu at Egg Shop and found that all bacon was not created equal when it came to achieving our desired result: supreme crispiness. We obsessed about why certain cuts crisped perfectly so you could apply our insights, from source to sizzle.
It was this over-the-top attention to detail that helped us find the perfect bacon for our Egg Shop B.E.C. If you are microfocused on the quality of an ingredient, you must be microfocused on how you prepare it! When performing bacon-specific experiments, it’s as simple as doing the math. To determine the fat-to-meat ratio, you dissect your ideal strip, separating fat from meat, and then weigh each. This is your starting ratio. Measuring surface area and volume can also factor in when it comes to achieving proportional bacon coverage on a sandwich or other dish, but those measurements are overly complicated and time consuming.
To run your experiments, you’ll need to control the cooking time, temperature, and equipment (e.g., if you’re comparing three types of bacon, you need to cook them exactly the same way). Everyone prefers their bacon cooked to a slightly different definition of crispiness, so let your own standard tell you when the bacon is ready. At Egg Shop we cook 1∕16-inch-thick bacon in a 350°F convection oven for exactly 19 minutes, then drain and cool. To serve, it’s later grilled at a high temperature for 30 seconds to finish crisping to our standard. We found that our favorite bacon maintained a very similar fat-to-meat ratio from start to crisp. Measure twice, cook once!
It’s more than a euphemism—it’s an impressive skill! The experience of making your own bacon is a great introductory lesson to curing meats of all kinds. The method here will yield naturally cured bacon that might prevent you from buying bacon ever again. And you’ll be hard-pressed to believe how easy it is!
Home Sweet Homemade Bacon
This recipe produces fully cooked bacon. The curing salts aren’t mandatory, but they do help keep possibly harmful bacteria from forming, and they preserve the pink/red color of the pork all the way through the cooking process. If you leave it out, the bacon will still taste great, but it will look more like cooked pork belly than bacon.
3 tbs Juniper berries2 tbs Coriander seeds1 tbs Black peppercorns1 tbs Dried marjoram1.5 tsp Curing salt.25 cup kosher salt5 pounds pork belly, preferably local.25 cup molasses (or dark brown sugar)
This is a waiting game. First, crack the juniper berries, coriander seeds and peppercorns slightly with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder. Then combine the spice mixture, marjoram and salts and rub this cure into the pork belly, covering all sides. Drizzle the pork belly evenly with molasses (or sprinkle it with the brown sugar) and pack it in an airtight container or a plastic brining bag. Cure the pork belly for seven days in the fridge, taking care to give it a flip every day to disperse the cure and any resulting liquid evenly.
After seven days, rinse the bacon to remove any excess cure. At this point, either slow-smoke the pork belly over hardwood (such as applewood) coals at 200° to 250°F for 3 hours or, if you don’t have access to a smoker, lay the pork belly on a rack set into a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 300°F for 2 hours.
This recipe makes about 5 pounds.
Excerpted from Egg Shop by Nick Korbee, published by William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers © 2017.