Searching for the Cure

I’ve been looking for a cure for awhile now. It’s been years since it all began, and my fever for the pickled, the potted, the canned – the cured – has not abated. I’ve made pickles, jams, dried fruit and vegetables and lately my first foray into pork, with bacon. I own Charcuterie and it’s been a great book. It’s a virtual compendium of meat preservation. I felt all set with Charcuterie.

Forgetting that I have a cookbook addiction, I popped into Borders the other day – just to browse, naturally – and discovered yet another fabulous book devoted to the preserved meats – Cured: Salted, Spiced, Dried, Smoked, Potted, Pickled, Raw: Timeless Techniques for Enhancing Meat, Fish, Fruit & Vegetables. It’s a hell of a title, but I couldn’t resist. I opened it and fell in love. Not only does it have thorough recipes with bulleted sidebars and great photos plus tidbits about the historical, cultural and artistic relevance of the techniques it discusses, it also has recipes for dishes that utilize the preserved food. You can make salt cod and corned beef and then actually know what to do with it.

With my recent foray into bacon inconclusive, I’m ready for round two. As I suspected, Morse Market does sell whole pork bellies. They have them fresh on Fridays only when they receive their delivery from the processing plant, but frozen the rest of the week. Since I was unaware of the Friday fresh situation, I ended up with a frozen one, which is fine since what is frozen can always be defrosted. They did not have any that were cut to exactly five pounds, but I was able to get one that weighed in at just under four. I think this should be sufficient for my purposes.

Now the major question on the table is whether to try Polcyn’s and Ruhlman’s recipe again, or to try the one in Cured. I’m going to need to read over both of them again and compare. They seem to be quite similar, so perhaps it won’t matter which book I end up going with. And either way, I’ll likely end up doing a week-long dry rub to brine cure in the fridge. Oh, decisions, decisions.

* * * * * * * * * *

Alright, after perusing both recipes I’m going to do the bacon from Charcuterie again. The bacon in Cured needs to be salted for a week, hung for two to three weeks and can then be used that way or cold smoked. Since I don’t currently have a set up for hanging meat (although I’ve been reading about them on eGullet and want to devise a critter-proof case to put on the back deck this winter) or cold smoking, the Cured version will have to wait.

I’m going to punch up the black pepper flavor quite a lot and use a couple of tablespoons rather than a couple of grinds like a did last time. I was thinking I would need to go out and buy a large plastic tub for it though – none of my glass bowls or platters are the right size to cure four pounds of bacon, and you can’t use metal because it’s reactive. Then I thought I could use gallon sized Ziploc bags, but it might be a bit of a tight fit. At the market though I discovered the perfect temporary solution – Reynolds turkey roasting bags. They’re big enough and sturdy enough for the job, and a two pack cost me only $1.80. One of these days I will invest in a couple of food-grade five gallon buckets with lids though.

And I’ve got to consider the smoking set up. A four pound pork belly is just too large for my wonderful Cameron stove top smoker. I’m thinking I’ll use the mini outdoor grill (the Weber is too big) with a foil packet of apple chips in the bottom. I’m thinking the sensible thing to do is build an indirect fire to one side of the kettle and put the bacon on the cool side – certainly not the same thing as cold smoking, but I don’t want to actually grill the bacon either. I’ve got pork belly defrosting – hopefully its thaws enough this weekend to get the rub on it and get it into the fridge to cure for a week. Then next weekend, into the smoker it goes! I wonder if doing an apple cider glaze on it while it smokes would be cheating… well, stay tuned! And in the meantime, I will be able to make up some things from Cured – I’m hoping to get some red cabbage at the farmer’s market so I can make a simple pickled cabbage, and some fruit to preserve in alcohol – Cured ­has instructions for peaches in brandy and cherries in vodka. There were a few late-season peaches at the market last week; if I’m lucky I can still get a quart this time.