The background, science and health of bacon were discussed in an earlier post (from 2015). But that post did not include the method for curing bacon at home.
Some reasons for home-curing are: 1) ketogenic dieters may eat a lot of bacon, and so industrial-processed store-bought bacon should come under scrutiny; 2) store-bought bacon contains sugar; 3) home-cured bacon is made in one piece, and so can be cut for different purposes (e.g. cubed in a casserole); 4) home-cured bacon is not watery like store-bought (it will be dry-cured) and; 5) the whole process is under the user’s control.
The method I am about to describe creates a bacon that tastes a little saltier than store-bought because I leave the sugar out of the cure (it’s the keto-version). It is not possible to compensate for this by lowering the salt level because the meat will not develop a proper bacon texture. With store-bought bacon, sugar has the effect of masking the saltiness. So, store-bought might be just as salty, but not taste as salty. The sugar also helps with browning when frying (the maillard reaction between simple sugars and meat proteins). But I think it’s fine without, and taste adapts.
For the curing salt, I use Prague Powder #1 (interchangeable with Insta Cure #1), both of which contain sodium nitrite (emphasising the second ‘i’) as the active ingredient (they can be sourced online, e.g. here or here if in Australia). Note – don’t use salts labelled #2, they contain sodium nitrate (‘a’) which is not suited to this application. Sodium nitrite should make up 6.25% (by weight) of the curing salt (check the label). If not, it will be necessary to adjust the quantity used in the following method. Often, these curing salts are tinted pink to avoid confusion with table salt itself.
The following ‘recipe’ is for 1kg of pork belly (for simplicity). Scale (according to the given percentages) as needed.
Pork belly: Look for a piece that is nicely streaky and thick (best to source from a butcher). If it has bones, score along each bone (on the bone) with a sharp knife. After the cooking step, the bones will cleanly lift out (or ask the butcher to debone). I leave the skin on (it becomes soft and gelatinous during the sous vide stage).
Table salt: 25 g (i.e. 2.5% of weight of pork belly). Often a granular salt like kosher salt is recommended, rather than fine/flakey table/sea salt. I don’t find this matters, so long as you add the salt by weight and not by volume.
Curing salt: 6 g (i.e 0.6% by weight of pork). Be as exact as possible with this weight. Be careful not to get this on your skin or ingest it. Clean up the work area immediately. Put the curing salt away before proceeding.
Flavouring spices: As desired (e.g. from among: coarsely-ground pepper, coriander seeds, chilli flakes, star anise…). Or, none.
Sugar: If you prefer to use sugar, add ~20g or a bit less (~2%). This could be a pedantic omission, 2% by weight is not that much. It depends on your goals.
Method: Mix the ingredients and rub all over the pork (use kitchen gloves), vacuum-pack and refrigerate for 5 days, turning over each day if necessary. If a vacuum machine (such as a food saver) is not available, place in a covered container in the fridge (it will be more important to turn over daily in this case).
If spices etc were added to the cure, take the pork out of the bag/container after 5 days and wash off the cure. Repack in a bag for cooking sous vide.
Cook souse vide at 60C for 2 days. Cool on the benchtop for an hour or so, still in the bag (allowing the belly to re-absorb some of the juices – I’m not sure if this actually happens but I do it anyway). Lift out the bones (if necessary) while the belly is still warm.
If you want a smoky flavour (and have a smoker) the cooked and cooled belly can be cold-smoked, or the uncooked belly can be hot-smoked (and the sous-vide step skipped). Follow the directions with your smoker. A hot-smoke might be 77C, 60% relative humidity, 7h. Alternatively, repack the belly with some liquid smoke, or add some smoke powder to the cure instead.
I have given sous vide instructions because this is the most controllable method. However, the belly can be cooked any way you like. In the oven, consider variations on this method (e.g. skip the pre-sear, aim for 50C at core).
Once cold, the belly can be sliced as needed, and fried over high heat to crisp.
Mastering the basic method will enable you to try different flavours, textures and uses. However, because I cure bacon quite regularly, I have done the opposite – simplified down to the minimum: 1kg of belly so I don’t need to recalculate percentages; use only the two salts for the cure and nothing else; vacuum pack; refrigerate; wait 5 days; leave in packaging; cook sous vide; leave in packaging; cool/refrigerate. Five days curing, 2 days cooking, 1 week unattended. That’s as simple as it gets.