With the first round of bacon distributed to all my friends and its comforting companionship now nothing more than a distant memory, the time for a reunion was long overdue.
We thought we’d try something different this time and decided to produce the first Pork Enthusiast Maple Cured Bacon. I’ve tried maple cured bacon many times before, but it has always been commercially produced with, I suspect, something other than 100% pure maple syrup. In this recipe, we use the ‘real deal’ so it’s no surprise that the results were outstanding!
You will need:
Some free-range pork:
We used a whole pork middle, loin and belly from Plantagenet – 6.5kg total
(Ask your butcher about the typical “dressed weight” of the pigs he procures and aim for one over 60kg – on this occasion our pork was ordered from a butcher who only purchases 50kg pigs so the belly section was a touch thin for my liking, but makes up for it in tenderness)
For the cure:
1 1/2 cups curing salt
3/4 cup 100% pure maple syrup
1/2 cup soft dark brown sugar
1 tbsp ground black pepper
2 tsp dry mustard powder
30cm press seal type glad sandwich bags
Clean muslin, 8 pieces about 50x50cm each
What to do:
Excitedly take your slab of pork from its bag and admire it on the chopping board, envisaging exactly how you are going to cut it into portions. We divided the belly from the loin, and then further divided each of those portions into four, ending up with eight pieces in total. Additionally for this batch, we experimented with removing the skin from half the pieces to see if this aided penetration of the cure and ease of use afterwards. Stack them neatly to one side and make the cure.
With your bacon buddy, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and thoroughly mix them into a paste, taking it in turns to have a smell and a taste and generally create an air of bacon anticipation.
In a large non-reactive container, spoon the mixture onto each piece and massage in, one at a time, ensuring each is evenly and thoroughly coated. There is no need to leave a thick layer of the paste on the surface, just a generous coating is enough. Place as many pieces as will comfortably fit into your press seal bags, squeeze all the air out and seal.
Store the curing meat in the refrigerator for a period of about 3 days per 500g (remember, this weight refers to per piece not the total amount you have). Each of our were 500-700g so we left them in for four days. This is longer than with the normal bacon cure as the maple syrup and additional sugar cause the salt to take longer to penetrate. Its a good idea to take each bag out each day, turn the meat and perhaps whisper a few affectionate words while you’re there.
Once the meat is cured, remove it from the fridge and wash each portion under running water. At this point you can either string them up and put them straight in the smoker, or as we did, dry and wrap them in muslin and spread them out in a single layer in the fridge for a couple more until you are ready to smoke.
When the time comes, remove them from the fridge and string them up in preparation for smoking. For our ‘skinless’ experiment, at this time we made a brine mix at a rate of 1/2 cup salt cure to 2litres cold water. The relevant pieces were soaked for a minute in the brine before being removed and black pepper freshly ground over the top and pressed into the exposed fat by hand. Not sure exactly why we did this, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
Finally, into the smoker! For this recipe we used only apple wood chips to ensure maximum sweetness and consistency. The meat was smoked for somewhere between 8-12 hours in the cool night (sometimes its hard to keep a true count on this as it was being done while we were asleep) and then removed in the morning.
These photos were delivered to my phone early on Sunday morning and were the first thing I saw when I woke up (except my beautiful girlfriend of course who I definitely love slightly more than bacon). Arrangements were made immediately and I was out of bed like a shot, heading round to Paul’s house to inspect and collect the bounty.
So.. how does it taste? Amazing! Sweet and salty to start, then the hint of black pepper. Perhaps not the ideal ingredient for something like carbonara, but without a doubt the perfect breakfast accompaniment (mmm.. french toast) and will probably go very well in flavouring other savoury dishes or even in a stew. Try it for yourself!