Category Archives: Bacon

Dry-curing bacon for seasoning meat

As I mentioned in the Basics: Greens post ages ago, another food item I’ve missed being readily able to buy is dry-cured seasoning meat with the kind of cure I want. (Not usually so crazy about fatback.) You can find lots of bacon and other cured pork products here, both British and imported, but the cure is still just not quite what I’m looking for. (Still, better availability than in most of the US, with pretty good dry-cured bacon and pancetta in most supermarkets.) And a chunk of cured meat is better to throw in to season vegetables than bacon that’s been sliced thin for frying, to my taste.

Old Waynesboro brand side meat, from MillRiverStore.com. I think I’ve actually bought some of that North Carolina brand before. I also didn’t know you could buy boiled peanuts in a can, before looking at that site, but they’re not really a thing back home anyway because peanuts don’t like the mountain climate. Now I’m oddly intrigued.

At any rate, I had never tried curing meat at all before I got cravings for the “right” kind of seasoning meat. 🙂 This was a much less intimidating project than the hams I used to watch my grandfather cure sometimes, with trying to find a balance between not getting it oversalted so that you get crystals in the meat, and making sure you use enough that it doesn’t go bad next to the bone. It’s also less tricky than bacon you’re intending to slice up and fry without soaking, so I have been erring on the side of making it salty and dry.

Before going into my procedure, here is some general information on dry-curing:

A good British step-by-step on dry-curing bacon. Also, the page I linked to earlier on dry-curing hams from Virginia Cooperative Extension, which goes into safety rather a lot.

As they also mention in both, you don’t absolutely need to use nitrates, though they don’t actually seem to be that bad for you after all. Another good one: Home Cured Bacon Without Nitrates. The first batch I made, I didn’t use any, and the flavor was good even if the brownish-greyish color was more than a little offputting. 😉 It did go rancid more quickly without the added nitrate, though the possibility of botulism is no doubt lower if you let it dry longer than is usually a good idea for straight eating bacon. (One of the reasons I’ve been doing that, besides its hopefully keeping longer in general with the lower moisture content.)

One I’ve been meaning to try, tasty as the commercial stuff is: Lap yuk 臘肉 – Chinese dried bacon, which also usually gets used to flavor vegetable dishes and the like. They also have interesting posts on making some other Chinese cured meats there.

Also, for safety, while I’m thinking about it: you might want to use the ready-mixed curing salt intended for bacon. I already have pharmaceutical-grade potassium nitrate (saltpeter) on hand for aquarium plant fertilizing purposes, and feel OK using that–and guesstimating proportions to use by volume, erring on the low side. If you’re concerned about getting it wrong, it’s probably best to use the curing salt. Like with the brine pickles, the chances of making yourself sick are probably very, very low, but I still don’t want to encourage anybody to risk it!

On with the show, such as it is! I’d been meaning to make another batch for a while now, and couldn’t resist picking up a pack of thick-sliced pork belly that I spotted yesterday. Usually, I’d want to use a bigger chunk of meat, but this worked out just fine before. (Inspired to try it by the Chinese bacon approach!)

This was reduced, but it was still very fresh. The store-cut meat from our local Sainsbury’s tends to be good quality, in general.

I still had a little curing mix left from the last attempt, which didn’t turn out so well since even a British summer is not the best weather if you don’t want it going rancid on you while it’s drying. 😐

Please ignore the cluttered wreck which is my counter right now. I decided to pass on the red pepper pesto for this. 😉

But, to that, I added:

  • 100mL/about 0.5 c. sea salt ground up some in a mortar and pestle, for extra flavor. If you’re using regular table salt, it will pack down more and take a little less.
  • 1.5 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon very dark brown sugar (the balance here is totally to taste)
  • about 1/8 teaspoon potassium nitrate
  • A teaspoon fresh, coarsely ground black pepper (it may take more later)

All mixed up and ready to go, in an airtight storage container.

This 2L container takes up a lot of space in our smallish fridge, but you want one that’s big enough to lay the meat flat in a single layer.

Now, just sprinkle some of the cure on with a spoon (you don’t want to keep putting meaty hands back into the container!), and rub it in well. You’ll want to use plenty of it to draw the moisture out. Make sure to get all the crevices, especially if the meat you bought was already slashed on the top fat for crispiness in cooking, like all the pork belly I’ve seen here.

Now, without my hand blocking most of the view.

Just a few minutes later, you can see how much moisture it’s already started to draw out of the meat.

Yep, that’s some very brown sugar.

Now it needs to go in the coldest part of your fridge, usually the bottom.

You’ll want to pull it out once a day for several days, to drain off the brine and salt it again with the curing mix. When it stops leaching out a bunch of moisture, it will be ready to wrap in cloth and hang to dry. No more batches than I’ve made so far, that time will vary quite a bit depending on the moisture in your meat starting out. As much lean as this particular pork belly has, it may take a week of daily draining and salting.

I did consider waiting until it was done and doing a post then, but the last time I tried that it just never got written up. 😉 I will try to do some followups as it progresses.

And once that’s done clunking up the fridge, I may try some corned beef or pork again.

Hillbilly Cassoulet

A bowl of bean stew

The fuzziness is from steam

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference store brand does have a couple of kinds of gluten-free sausages (Sicilian and Toulouse), so I picked some up again on a twofer deal. I didn’t feel like just frying them up to have with some potatoes or something, so decided to make a variation on cassoulet with the Toulouse sausages in the slow cooker.

With the British winter weather setting in, I was also craving a big pot of pinto beans. I can’t help it, though Mr. Sweden probably wishes I could. 🙂 So, I decided to combine the two. It worked better than I expected.

The Beans

  • 2/3 of a pound (500g) bag of pinto beans — you can use more or less
  • Water to cover the beans — filtered, in this case, since we have liquid chalk coming out of the faucet
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda, if your water is hard — too much will make them taste soapy

Sort and soak the beans overnight, in plenty of water. Unless the weather’s really hot, they’re usually OK to soak for anywhere between 8 and 16 hours. You can also quick-soak them by bringing them to a boil, then covering them and letting them sit for about an hour in the hot water. Long soaking to start the sprouting process (preferably invisibly) makes them a lot easier to digest, though–a good thing with the musical fruit! An excellent article I ran across: Reducing Phytic Acid in Grains and Legumes.

Drain and rinse the beans. Cover them with fresh water, and bring to a rolling boil. You can continue to cook them on the stove, or move them into a slow cooker.

The Slow Cooker

My slow cooker

With its baleful glowing eye... And, erm, toothpick for a steam vent to make it stop spitting all over the place.


Technically, you could start the beans off on high, straight in the crock, but it will take forever to get up to a boil. (If you’re wanting to cook them on low, definitely boil them for ten minutes in a pot first, to break down the phytohemaglutinin.) If you aren’t going to be leaving it alone to cook all day, you’ll probably want to preheat it before the beans go in. I turned the heating sleeve on high, and let it sit while I was making my coffee today. The crock sat full of hot tap water, a couple of changes, until it was well-heated and unlikely to crack when I set it down in a hot liner! The crock will take ages to heat up on its own, and I was impatient.

Put the beans in the crock. Add more water, if necessary, to make sure they’re well covered. Add the salt and baking soda, if you need it. (Yeah, it will reduce levels of some vitamins, but I figure it’s more important to get the beans cooked properly!) The beans will probably be done in a couple of hours on high, if things were preheated; put on low in the morning, they’ll be ready when you get home at the end of the day. If you’re going to add other stuff, like for this recipe, you don’t want to let them cook to the point that they start falling apart.

Plain cooked pinto beans in the slow cooker

Looking good, if plain!

The additions

Ingredients to put in the beans: sausages, bacon, onion, celery, carrot, garlic

  • 1 lb. (400-500g) sausages — Toulouse, in this case
  • Some bacon (I used the second half of a 200g pack of already-chopped dry cured)
  • A chopped onion
  • Two chopped stalks of celery
  • A couple of chopped carrots — we had leftover cooked ones, so I cut those up and added them later
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced

Brown the sausages in a pan. You don’t have to make sure they’re cooked through (good thing, since those were half-frozen still), just browned on all sides. Let them sit and cool while you fry the bacon in the same pan–with the fairly chunkily chopped onion, celery, and carrot, until the non-carrot veggies are translucent. I also used a little olive oil, since that bacon didn’t have enough fat. Add the sliced garlic, and cook a few more minutes, until it’s also starting to go translucent.

A cast-iron skillet with the bacon and vegetables cooking

Mmm, browning.

Once the sausages are cool enough to touch, cut them into bite-sized pieces. These, I quartered.

Stir the bacon and veggie mixture and seasonings into the simmering beans.

Seasonings:

  • Bay leaf
  • Coarsely ground pepper
  • A little crushed red pepper
  • Sprig of fresh rosemary, or some dried
  • Dried thyme and rosemary (add later)
  • A splash of red wine (add later)
  • Salt, to taste, if needed
Added bacon and vegetables, the celery leaves chopped up, and a sprig of fresh rosemary

With the bacon and veggies, chopped leaves from the celery, a bay leaf, and a sprig of rosemary

Add the sausage pieces.

Added the sausage

Let it simmer for about an hour after adding these. About 20 minutes before it’s done, add the dried herbs (thyme, marjoram, rosemary if you’re using dried), and the wine. I also threw in the cooked carrots at this point.

The finished stew, in the slow cooker

Not very photogenic, brownish stews...

Serve with bread, and enjoy! With this, we had the corny gluten-free angel bread.