Last Christmas, my brother-in-law gave me the book, Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. This book teaches how to prepare all manner of cured meats. I have made duck breast prosciutto and beef bresaola so far. Now, I am foraying into luscious pork belly with bacon and pancetta.
I started out with a 7.5 pound lovely skin-on pork belly from Savannah River Farms, in Sylvania, Georgia. The pigs are a cross of Duroc, Hampshire, Berkshire, and Landrace breeds. Many consider the Berkshire to be the holy grail of hogs. The animals are pasture raised and humanely treated and slaughtered. Their prices are very reasonable.
7.5 pounds is a good sized pork belly. I decided to try both bacon and pancetta, using half the belly for each. Bacon is cured with skin on and pancetta with skin off, so I cut the belly in half and skinned the piece I was going to use for the pancetta. Skinning was not easy and I am sure I did not do the best possible job, wasting too much fat, probably.
First up, the maple cured smoked bacon. Please see the book mentioned above for specific amounts of ingredients, the measurements can be critical, especially for the pink curing salt. The first step is curing the belly slab for seven days. For this bacon, the cure is kosher salt, pink curing salt (not to be confused with Himalayan pink salt), dark brown sugar, and maple syrup (real maple syrup). Dry ingredients are mixed thoroughly to ensure the pink salt is well distributed. Then the maple syrup is added and mixed in to make a damp rub. Apply this rub all over all sides of the belly. Place the belly in a 2-gallon freezer bag, skin side down, and put in the refrigerator. Every other day, rerub the belly without opening the bag. After seven days, it will be ready for smoking and I will cover that later.
For the pancetta, the cure has different ingredients and the skin must be removed. Skinning the piece for the pancetta was the hardest thing to do, that skin is attached, even with a good, sharp knife. I didn’t do the best job of it, but it will do. The cure for the pancetta has minced garlic, pink curing salt, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, coarsely ground black pepper, crushed juniper berries, bay leaves, nutmeg, and fresh thyme. This is a dryer rub than for the bacon. Completely cover the belly with the rub and place in a 2-gallon freezer bag and place in the fridge. Every other day, rerub the belly without opening the bag. After seven days, it will be ready for rolling and hanging and I will cover that later.
In a week, we can move on to the finishing touches. My mouth is watering already.