This was truly down to the wire! Dana and I decided to join the year-long Charcuterie jam (aptly named Charcutepalooza) with less than 3 hours remaining in the registration process. Shortly thereafter I was on a plane to San Diego and there was little time in the month. I knew the first month was going to be a crash landing and confirmed that we’d be ok with posting on our bacon, even if it wasn’t finished curing. Thankfully this process will get easier in future months as we’ll have more lead time – and all the ingredients in advance.
There is no question that finding the ingredients is the toughest thing for us Canadians. I’ve owned Charecuterie (the ‘bib
I had heard they were more readily available in the US and, despite being there for 8 days, didn’t connect that the easiest solution was in front of my eyes. I came back without them.
Next up was searching Google. It took two days of searching for sodium nitrAte before realizing I was actually looking for sodium nitrIte. In actuality it wasn’t that much of a hassle – I had lots of options to mail order or buy online but I wanted something immediate.
I also found lots of people looking to buy them in Toronto but very few with success. I began wondering if I was going to be able to succeed at month one. Charecutepalooza could be over before it began.
The next logical step was Twitter. I was thrilled to find about 15 recommendations on where I could acquire Pink Salts. My heart raised and things were looking up. I knew I would be ok – until I realized that most of these sources were actually for Himalayan Pink Salt which is essentially very nice table salt.
There were two things that made finding it difficult:
- Sodium Nitrite is lethal in the wrong doses – measuring is critical. Purchasing in Canada can be difficult over-the-counter.
- ‘Pink Salt’ is the US term that describes a combination of 6.25% Sodium Nitrite and 93.75% ‘filler’ salt. It is dyed pink in order to ensure people don’t confuse it with other salt. Canada does not share the same requirement – our ‘pink salt’ is generally white.
We found other products that were close or required calculations to ensure the right distribution of nitirite and leads to possible places and areas of the city that might have it. I even found a product in Chinatown that was translated as “Sodium Nitriae” but I wasn’t comfortable leaving my life in the hands of a translation error.
Twitter provided the solution. Kyle sent us a message that Bass Pro Sports had “LEM Cure” which was pink salt by any other name. L.E.M. is the name of one of the biggest manufacturers of smokers so this only made sense.
It did take 2 trips to find my cure (a kind agent apologized that someone had placed the wrong package in front of the cure on Friday and I had missed it when looking then). I found my pink salt on Valentine’s – the last possible day to do what I needed to in order to get this post up today.
ng package in front of the cure on Friday and I had missed it when looking then). I found my pink salt on Valentine’s – the last possible day to do what I needed to in order to get this post up today.
All this searching for Pink Salt and reading about the cautions really started to get me nervous. We’ve canned 1,000s of jars of food in the last 3 years (and more before) yet the intimidation of making bacon just seemed so scary. This trepidation increased as the difficulty of finding Nitrite increased. Surely something this hard to find must be near-explosive. The feeling of concern was remarkably parallel to the first time I sealed my own jars, tried pressure can preserving, dehydrated and more. The fear of the unknown vs the false comfort of the mass produced food system.
It’s so much easier to trust an anonymous stranger with my food than myself.
As my angst increased, so did my search. I stumbled on a posting by the ‘King” of Charcuterie, Michael Ruhlman. I stumbled into his post on the ease of home-cured bacon and his logical argument that we should not be scared of trying it. It was the right medicine at the right time and I plowed forward with enthusiasm. His article also contains his recipe (as does his book):
Part of the posting is not to trade the exact recipe that is published in the book (it wouldn’t be entirely fair to the author) so we’ll share some of the highlights of our own experience. For the curious people, check out his website – for those committed, buy this awesome book.
Measuring is a key. Our digital scale was affordable and a great help with this task.
The pink salt stands out from the sugar and the salt before both are combined.
I mixed a larger batch of the simple cure than needed – this will help with the rest of the challenge and future bacon-speriments:
Pork belly (uncured) can be a bit difficult to find. I was fortunate to find some local-sourced belly by being very early to the Saturday market and asking a butcher who has also become a friend. He walked into his fridge and pulled out an entire belly – I took almost 6 pounds of it which made 3 fairly large ‘bricks’ of soon-to-be-bacon.
Something I adore about preserving is making simple variations at the last-minute. Each of my 3 bellies were coated in cure before being placed into separate bags. I left one plain, added maple syrup to another and garlic, juniper berries and peppercorns to the third:
Each of the 3 pieces were vacuum-sealed. This will keep the cure and liquid in contact with the belly at all times and can speed the curing process up:
The package above shows the more savoury application of our bacon ingredients. The three below are our final product which will live in our fridge until cured for about 7 days. I am still calculating plans to smoke, hang or store as-is. There are many options (and decisions) left to be made – and that’s the fun part!
Had I known that I could have walked in (or pre-ordered) LEM cure from the start, the entire process would have been done in a matter of hours. Now that I have cure made and stowed away, the process of curing bacon will take about 5 minutes of active prep time (start to finish) in the future. There are some very exciting possibilities at hand – and a delicious future in the fridge!
For more info on Charcutepalozza, check out the home site at Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen here or the co-host, YummyMummy. You can also follow the #charcutepalooza hashtag on Twitter (you can see the convo without a free membership). There are over 300 bloggers involved in this 12-month meat-stravaganza and you can find a full list of them here (each of us will post on the 15th of each month about our adventure).