Home-cured Bacon and a review of Alexian Pate

Home-cured Bacon and a review of Alexian Pate

~ Brined Pork Belly ~

It’s been over a year since I started to post homemade charcuterie on TasteFood. One of my favorite recipes – and easiest – is the home-cured pork belly, aka bacon, which I continue to do on a regular basis. I am here to say, that you – any of you – can do this too, and that once you try it, there will be no going back. Not only are the results positively swoon-worthy, the process is ridiculously simple. You only need to plan ahead.

Home-Cured Pork Belly

Five pounds sounds like a lot of meat, but the bacon is easy to freeze and a welcome gift for your bacon-loving friends. Recipe adapted from Saveur Magazine.

5 pounds pork belly with skin
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, chopped

Rinse the pork and dry. Lay on a large sheet of parchment paper. Combine salt, sugar, peppercorns and bay leaves in a mortar or spice grinder. Coarsely pound or grind. Mix in the garlic. Smear the spices all over the pork. Transfer to a large resealable plastic bag, turning to distribute the spices. Place on a rimmed baking tray and refrigerate for 7 days, flipping the bag every second day.
After 7 days the pork should feel firm to the touch. (If not, refrigerate an additional day and check again). Remove the bacon from the bag and thoroughly rinse under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Heat oven to 200 F. Place bacon in a rectangular baking pan and roast until the meat is brown and an instant read thermometer inserted in the center reads 150 F., about 3 hours.
Transfer the bacon to a cutting board. Slice off the skin with a long, thin knife. Cool to room temperature, then transfer to refrigerator. Cut in portions and wrap in plastic. Bacon will keep in refrigerator for up to 10 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

See? Easy to make. All that you need is time to plan ahead for a week of letting the meat brine in the refrigerator. Admittedly, we don’t always have time for such a project, and when a go-to specialty product comes across my radar for easy use, I am interested. So it felt a bit like Christmas when I recently received a box from Alexian Pate and Specialty Meats filled with an assortment of pates, rillette and terrines.  On the heels of a year of Charcutepalooza posts on TasteFood, it must have been evident that I love charcuterie. When Alexian reached out to me and asked if I would like to try a sample selection of their all-natural delicacies, it was hard for me to resist.

As most of you know, I rarely do product reviews. It’s not so much out of principle, but more that I rarely come across products which genuinely excite me. Call me picky, I prefer my products authentic and my ingredients to be fresh and natural – especially when it comes to meat. So, Alexian caught my attention. Their charcuterie are all-natural, with no chemical preservatives, fillers, additives and colors, and their meats are free of antibiotics and growth stimulants. They are a family run business, and “A Certified Woman Owned Business Enterprise” to boot, with their traditions dating back to Germany’s 17th century. With that resume, I was quite impressed and eager to taste a sampling of their specialties.

When the box arrived, it indeed felt like Christmas.  We have happily indulged in Duck Liver Mousse with Cognac, a rustic and hearty Pheasant Rosemary Pate, unctuous award winning Duck Rillettes, and a silky Truffled Mousse flecked with mushrooms and laced with sherry.

The flavors of the products reflected the company philosophy. They were fresh with a clean taste of meat and no lingering gaminess. The Truffled Mousse was the family favorite, smooth, creamy and delicately perfumed with truffle. Each package came with a shelf life of at least 56 days, enabling us to savor and enjoy each item over several weeks, pulling them out for an easy rustic dinner of cheese and pate or as an appetizer while entertaining. I will continue to make my own charcuterie when I want a project. When I want a go-to specialty meat product I won’t hesitate to buy Alexian.

If you are looking for other charcuterie projects, you might enjoy these recicpes from TasteFood:
Pork Rillettes with Calvados and a Recipe for Apple Prune Chutney
Homemade Bratwurst and a Recipe for Beer Mustard
Homemade Italian Sausage and Broccolini Pasta
Homemade Merguez

Full disclosure: I received the Alexian products free of charge. The opinions I have written are entirely my own.

The Cure and a Recipe for Spinach Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette

The Cure and a Recipe for Spinach Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette

Charucutepalooza #11: The Cure – Air Dried Pork Tenderloin

I knew the mini-bar had a purpose. There is a funky mini-bar downstairs in our home which serves no use except to take up space – that is until now. This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge is curing (which is another way of saying hanging and drying) a whole piece of meat. The trick is to hang the meat in an environment which maintains a steady temperature and humidity level. The professionals might use a curing chamber which will do all of this in a sleek, shiny, high tech manner. For us newbies we must rely on a basement, garage, wine cellar, and lots of faith tempered with caution. Of course, it would be helpful if we actually had a basement or wine cellar, or that the mild California climate would guarantee a steady cool temperature.

Enter the mini-bar fridge, which sits quietly forgotten, occasionally stocked with an overflow of party beverages, but usually empty. After reading a post by Michael Ruhlman, I realized that this appliance associated with my college dorm room could, in fact, house my meat. All I had to do was clean it and turn it to its warmest setting, and suddenly our clunky relic from the previous owner’s jacuzzi parties morphed into a handy dandy meat curing chamber.

Since I had no idea how any of this would turn out, and mindful that I might possibly produce results that could sicken my family, I decided to keep it very simple and cured two pork tenderloins. The process took all of 3 weeks, with no hands on attention except to remember to check it. My husband gamely offered to taste the finished results, and loved them, affirming – once again – that Charcutepalooza is making him one happy meat eating camper.

The meat is delicious to eat as is, but I also love to add dried ham to pizzas, pasta, eggs and salads. It’s salty, chewy texture gives just the right oomph to this winter spinach salad.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette, Toasted Pinenuts and Cured Pork

The warm balsamic dressing will lightly wilt the spinach greens as they are tossed. If you don’t have any air dried pork, oven dried prosciutto is an excellent and easily accessible alternative. Serves 4-6.

3/4 pound baby spinach, washed and dried
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, slightly smashed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cured pork or oven dried prosciutto (see below), broken in pieces
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Place spinach and shallot in a large bowl. Combine garlic, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook until vinegar is reduced by half. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Slowly add oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. Remove and discard garlic clove. Pour half of the warm dressing over the spinach. Toss to combine. Add more dressing to taste. Divide salad among individual plates. Scatter pork and pine nuts over the salad. Serve immediately.

To oven dry prosciutto:
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place 8 slices of prosciutto on a baking tray in one layer. Bake in oven 15 minutes. Turn off oven; do not remove prosciutto. Let it sit in oven 15 more minutes. Remove and break into shards.

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and partnering with Food52 and Punk Domestics. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman’s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie.

Home-Cured Pork Belly and a Recipe for Caramelized Bacon Chips

Home-Cured Pork Belly and a Recipe for Caramelized Bacon Chips

I was tempted to call this post The Girl and the Pig, because, you see, I am hooked on bacon. More specifically, I am hooked on my own home-cured bacon. Prompted by the latest Charcutepalooza challenge, I cured 6 pounds of pork belly with a savory rub of salt, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves and garlic. Sounds like a simple blend, yet when left to marinate and cure over a week, this basic recipe yielded swoon-worthy results.  For my first attempt, I pointedly avoided using lots of sugar or smoking the bacon. I wanted a savory result undistracted by excessive sweetness or the aroma of smoke: I wanted to taste the real deal, and it was worth it.

What to do with 6 pounds of home-cured bacon? (Oh, to be so lucky to have that problem.)  So far, I’ve eaten quite a bit, frozen half and given some away. Normally, I use bacon as an ingredient in salads, stews and pasta dishes, but this bacon is so good, I only want to eat it straight up, fried in a skillet or baked in the oven. So, in the spirit of simplicity, I decided to caramelize bacon chips, roasting them in the oven with spices and the previously forsaken sugar.  Sweet, salty, crispy and spicy – the results were utterly decadent. Now the question begs:  Is this a dessert, snack, condiment or food group? I say all of the above.

Caramelized Bacon Chips

If you can stand it, let the bacon chips thoroughly cool once removed from the oven. They will continue to crispen as they cool.

1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
12 ounces thinly sliced bacon, cut in 2 inch strips

Preheat oven to 350 F. (180 C.)  Pour sugar onto a small plate. Dredge bacon in sugar, making sure that a good amount sticks. Lay bacon in a single layer on a grill pan. Sprinkle with cayenne and cinnamon.  Bake in oven until deep golden brown, without burning, turning once with a spatula, 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer bacon to a plate lined with parchment paper. Cool completely.

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and now partnering with Food52. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman’s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie. 

 

Gravlax and Christmas

Gravlaks

The Danish Christmas season would not be complete without many Christmas Lunches. Christmas Lunch is the ubiquitous term for a multi-coursed feast punctuated by multiple toasts with schnaps, beer and wine.  The season for these festive lunches spans the weeks of advent to several days following Christmas day.  “Lunch” is actually a misnomer, since these smorgasbords can take place either during the day or evening.

A traditional Danish Christmas Lunch begins with a fish course, followed by meat, cheese and dessert. To me, the fish course sums up the beauty of nordic cuisine: Fresh, minimalist and refined. Herring, fjord shrimp and salmon are served open-faced on various breads (smørrebrød) with garnishes. There are many herring preparations: marinated with dill, folded in curried cream, spiced with wine and cloves. Every family has their own recipe which they think is best.  Fjord shrimp are another Nordic delicacy: tiny shrimp the size of a fingernail, painstakingly peeled and artfully arranged in a towering piles on soft white french bread, and crowned with a dollop of creme fraiche and a squeeze of lemon.

My favorite fish is gravlax. It’s preparation and presentation are the essence of Nordic cuisine in simplicity and taste.Salmon is cured over days until it is meltingly soft with a clean taste of the sea. It’s edges are flecked with pepper and dill and tinged with salt, adding a restrained flavor that doesn’t overpower the fish.

Gravlax Platter

Every Christmas I make my own Gravlax which we enjoy on Christmas day or New Years Eve.  It’s very easy to prepare.  Pay attention to the quality of the fish:  It must be very fresh with a good consistency, not too mushy and preferably an Atlantic fish, such as Loch Duart Salmon.   To serve, fold a slice of Gravlax on toasted brioche bread.  Squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon juice and smear a spoonful of Honey Dill Mustard  on the fish.  Garnish with a dill sprigs.

Gravlax

Gravlax (gravlaks in Danish and Norwegian or gravad lax in Swedish) literally means salmon in a grave or hole.  During the middle ages fisherman would salt salmon and let it ferment by burying it in a hole above high-tide line. Nowadays (unelss you wish to connect with your inner-viking) it’s not necessary to bury salmon in sand, but, rather in salt and sugar and let it sit in the refrigerator.  The salmon will cure over several days, during which the salt and sugar will turn into liquid, creating a brine.

Serves a party

One side of salmon, about 3 lbs. (1.5 kg.), with skin, pin bones removed
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
10 oz. (350 g.) sea salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup fresh dill sprigs
1/4 cup Akavit or vodka

Finely grind peppercorns with a mortar and pestle.  Mix pepper, salt, and sugars together in a medium bowl.   Rub fish all over with salt mixture.  Line a long baking pan or dish with plastic wrap.  Place half the dill sprigs over plastic wrap.  Arrange salmon, skin-side down on dill.  Sprinkle Akavit over salmon. Top with remaining dill.  Cover with additional plastic wrap, sealing the fish.  Place a heavy pan or tray on fish.  Weigh down pan with cans or bottles.  Refrigerate for 3 days.

To serve, remove fish from refrigerate.  Remove plastic wrap.  Pour off collected juices and wipe off excess brine and dill.  Slice diagonally from one corner of the salmon towards the center of the fillet. Serve with french bread or toasted brioche.  Garnish with fresh dill sprigs and honey dill mustard.

Honey Dill Mustard

1/4 cup honey mustard
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup chopped dill sprigs
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk mustard and vinegar together in a small bowl.  Slowly whisk in oil to emulsify.  Stir in dill, pepper and salt.