Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dark Days Week 11- Makin' Bacon!

I'm still having trouble getting my Dark Days meals posted - I'm making them and even manage to photograph them for the most part but some how writing about them seems to fall by the wayside. Since the challenge is mostly about focusing on eating local I'm content to know that I'm succeeding on that front and if I do get a chance to write about it so much the better!

Living in the city it isn't always possible to be hands on with the way my food is produced. Growing vegetables and picking fruit to preserve at home is fairly easy but I'm never going to be able to raise pigs,goats or cows and thanks to narrow minded city officials, even chickens aren't going to be a possibility in Toronto any time soon. Not having a car limits how far I can travel to purchase locally produced food as well so buying directly from a farm is not an option. Farmers markets are fairly prolific here but they tend to be pricey and trying to both eat local and shop frugally can be challenging! Buying local food is always on my agenda but making my own is even better - the trick is figuring out whether or not it's cost effective.

Last week I made cheese at home using raw milk. I made two small feta cheese rounds and about 1 cup of ricotta from 2 litres of milk- not a bad return but certainly not cheap! It is possible to make cheese from store bought pasteurized milk (at a substantially lower cost) but is that any better than buying manufactured cheese? Is it worth $30 (in milk costs based on the quantities in my recipe book) to make a batch of mozzarella? I guess it will depend on how much cheese it actually makes and whether we would eat that amount of cheese before it spoilt(I suspect yes!).

This week I stumbled across some inexpensive fresh pork belly, already cut in small chunks. I have been thinking of attempting to cure bacon at home and this seemed like a good opportunity to test it out on a small quantity. After thumbing through recipes and speaking with a friend who makes bacon frequently I decided on a cure recipe to use.

Using equal parts kosher salt and brown sugar as a base, I added some maple syrup, spices and a tiny bit of chipotle for some smokey flavour. I rubbed the mixture over all the pieces until they were well coated, then sealed them in a plastic bag and left it in the fridge to marinate for 2 days.

Having the meat already cut in small chunks meant there was more readily available surface area, so I didn't want to leave it for the full 5 days as suggested in the recipes I read and have it end up too salty. After 2 days the bag was full of liquid and the meat had taken on a much denser texture. I discarded the liquid, placed all the pieces on plate and placed it back in the fridge exposed to air for an additional two days. The resulting pieces are still soft but darker in colour and of a much chewier texture. Slicing them into traditional bacon strips is tricky but worked best when I left the rind on and removed it later.

Because I didn't use any sodium nitrite (pink salt) the colour fades when it cooks and my bacon doesn't much resemble store bought but it still has a lovely salty pork taste that goes well with eggs! I'm sure it would be even better smoked but that's something that will have to wait til we build a proper smoker.

So instead of being behind, I'm going to post ahead of the Challenge for once. My Dark Days Breakfast Edition features local free range eggs, home made bacon, home made baked beans (not mine but I am ever so grateful to my friend who made these with local dried navy beans, salt pork, maple syrup and bourbon among other things) and I panfried a few of last summer's cherry tomatoes from the freezer.

And now I know how easy it is to make bacon at home, I'll be sourcing some ethically raised pork belly to do a larger batch!

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