Monday, February 14th, 2011

Home Cured Bacon: Sous Vide or not Sous Vide?

When I found out that this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was “the salt cure” i.e. bacon or pancetta making I was excited. Artisan bacon is a touch of heaven and I was ready to learn how to bring it into my life on a regular basis. Of course, then I realized I would need two things, pink salt and pork belly.

I turned to Twitter, asking those who follow me if there were any local sources for pink salt. Larry (@djpegleg on Twitter) replied that if I came by their house he would give me some. So, first item acquired.

The second item was even easier. On my way home from Larry’s I stopped by Rainshadow meats and picked up this gorgeousness.

The bellies, from Tails and Trotters (where they finish the pigs with hazelnuts) were small, just over a pound each, but I thought they would be perfect for my sous vide tests.

xxx

The cure itself is easy enough to make. It is just a combination of kosher salt, pink salt and sugar or dextrose (I used sugar). The amounts of each, however, need to be measured carefully. Luckily my husband has this awesome scale left from his days when his photography was actually done in a darkroom.

I dredged each belly through the mixture and deposited each belly it it’s own Food Saver bag. It was time to consider seasonings, decide whether I wanted sweet or savory bacon. In the end I decided to go sweet (since I would also be making a savory pancetta) so I added some light brown sugar and a touch of molasses to each bag and then sealed them up.

I actually took a little more air out of them then I should have. It was a little hard to distribute the brown sugar, but after a couple of days, there was enough juice in the bag to move the sugar around as I gave my bellies their daily massage.

After a week the bellies had exuded quite a bit of liquid and felt firm to the touch.

I took the bellies out, rinsed all of the salt off of them and then dried them off.

OOoooh, even more gorgeous then when they started.

I prepared one to go in the oven and one to go in the sous vide.

The belly on the left went into a 200 degree oven for about 2 hours. I used a thermometer so that I would know precisely when the belly had reached 150 degrees.

The belly on the right, went into a 150 degree water bath for 6 hours. Following instructions that I have used for cooking pork belly in the past, while the belly was still warm I put a baking sheet topped with a weight on the belly and stashed it in the fridge overnight.

Here they are side by side (after a night in the fridge).

The one in the back is the oven-finished version (I may have tested a few slices of it for breakfast, you know, for quality control).

I tested the finished bacon two ways. For the first, I cut a slice off of each and cooked them in a saute pan. The sous vide finished bacon was much easier to slice evenly.

As it fried, the sous vide finished version (on the right) stayed straight as it cooked and didn’t curl in the pan. This made for slightly easier and more even cooking.

While I liked the easier slicing and cooking of the sous vide bacon, once it was done, it was kind of disturbing that it was so even (it lacked character if that makes sense). Of course the real test has to be taste. The winner of my side by side comparison was … the oven finished bacon. The two tasted virtually identical (which I expected) but the texture of the oven finished bacon was better. It had a firmer bite and a better chew (I know better chew is a weird description but that is the only way I can describe it).

For the second test, I cut the bacon into lardons, about 1-inch square and sauteed them on all sides. Here, the clear winner was the sous vide bacon. the softness of the bite (the thing I didn’t like in the sliced bacon) was wonderful in this application. Plus the fact that the belly had been flattened after I cooked it made it very easy to make nice even pieces.

Here they are frying up for my dinner party a couple of weeks ago.

So, in the end, after my two (very tasty) tests, if I knew I was going to be making lardons I would finish my bacon sous vide. Otherwise, I think I will be finishing my bacon in the oven. It takes much less time and gives a tastier and more versatile product.

xxx

In my opinion there is no better way to eat bacon then in a B.L.T. However, if you have kick-ass bacon, you need to take the rest of the ingredients up a notch. Mache lettuce, oven-dried tomatoes, a couple of slices of awesome bread (just slightly toasted) and home-made mayonnaise.

Oven-dried tomatoes are so simple to make and it’s a great way to take really average winter tomatoes and turn them into something extraordinary.

Just slice some roma tomatoes into 1/4 inch thick slices and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Sprinkle them with fresh gound black pepper and salt. I especially like this course smoked salt from Salish.

The large salt crystals melt just a little bit so they still have a little crunch in the finished product. Plus it imparts a nice smokiness to the tomatoes.

Put the pan in a 200-degree oven for 3–4 hours (hey, that’s the same temp as the bacon, you could cook them at the same time) until they are shriveled and dry. The longer you cook them the drier they get, but I like to pull them out when they still have a little moisture left in them.

Once dried, the tomatoes can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks. They make a great addition to pasta dishes and are yummy with cheese.

Until just a few years ago, I would have eaten my B.L.T. with yellow mustard, no mayonnaise. Then I discovered the pleasures of home-made mayo. With an immersion blender it takes about 4 minutes to make. I used Alton Brown’s recipe for mayonnaise (substituting bottled lemon for fresh because that is all I had in the house).

This video shows the process very well, but the steps are pretty easy. Just combine all of the ingredients in a tall glass (letting it set for a few seconds so that the oil comes to the top.

Then, with the immersion blender flat against the bottom of the glass, pulse for a few seconds to get the emulsion started.

Then start moving the blender up and down, until all the ingredients are uniformily incorporated.

To finish the sandwich, chop a few of the oven-dried tomatoes and combine them with a bit of the mayo.

Stir this together then spread on both sides of the slightly toasted bread (I don’t like to toast it too much since the crusts can become hard to eat when too toasty).

Then pile on the mache and the cooked bacon.

And voila. Sandwich.

Sweet, crispy bacon, nutty mache, smoky, tangy tomatoes, all combined for lunchtime nirvana. Fantastic.

xxx

2 Responses

  1. Lynn says:

    That sandwich has me drooling. I’m planning to try out sous vide one day soon. But maybe not with bacon.
    Thanks!

  2. serge says:

    Thanks for the well-documented test. Don’t think you are laboring in obscurity, this was very helpful and I’m sure google has brought more than a few curious home chefs here.

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About Me

I'm a personal chef living happily with her picky-eater (but willing to try anything) husband, neurotic black lab and a red heeler puppy.

I watch way too much TV and enjoy hip-hop more than any reasonable grown-up should.

I'm an avid swimmer and sometime triathlete (whenever I'm not nursing an injury).

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I'm cooking my way through the oldest cookbook in my collection, Betty Crocker's Hostess Cookbook, published in 1967. The book was a gift from my grandmother, but belonged to my great grandma Etta.

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