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(Mis)Adventures in the kitchen

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Steve Maskery

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About a year ago I treated myself to a Smoking and Curing course with Steve Lamb from River Cottage. It was excellent.

I've done a bit a bit of smoking and I have about 5 chunks of wannabe prosciutto hanging up in the workshop in varying stages of air drying. The first should be ready by Christmas, I think.

I was talking about all this will my mate Charlie (who is 50% in on the prosciutto lark anyway) and he started talking about bacon. I have Lamb's book and sure enough there is a recipe for bacon. So we did it.

PDV salt, sugar, pepper, ground bay, juniper. Rub, refrigerate 24hrs, discard drainings, rub, repeat 10 days. Hang 10 days.

hanging.jpg


Today was the day.

I made some bread rolls and Charlie came over for breakfast.

The bacon is VERY firm indeed. Quite hard.

I had bought a bacon slicer, but it is a bit of a toy really, very flimsy and there was a strong smell of burning after only a few seconds of use :(

slicer.jpg


So it was hand carving instead. Well it looks like bacon. I would prefer it a bit fattier, but that is OK.

slices cut.jpg


Into a cold pan and cooked.

cold pan.jpg


sizzling.jpg


The moment of truth:

first bite.jpg


milliband.jpg


And the verdict.

Oh dear. It wasn't very nice. It was too hard and it didn't have a very nice flavour. I think it was the juniper. I've used juniper in venison dishes and I didn't like it then, I should have remembered. Juniper is to be drunk and that's it, I think, in my book.

So what to do? Well I probably will try again, without the juniper. I was talking to the butcher in Morrison's and he says he makes his just by packing it in salt with the Cure, vacuum it, refrigerate 10 days and it's ready to eat. I've not used Cure, my understanding is that if you salt it properly it is not necessary.

I'm afraid it was a lot of work for a disappointing result. Sigh. But I probably will try again.
 

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We started out our bacon journey using the River Cottage Meat Book as a guide. Several years of disappointments - it was sort of bacon, and our pork, but not what you might call delicious...our first attempt was inedible salty with an unpleasant flavour once we had soaked the salt out.

Several years later, with much experimentation, we now make perfect, fabulous bacon, every single time, guaranteed. We follow the bacon101 recipe from The Salt Cured Pig. I was going to post the link, but their website seems to have been discontinued. They have a Facebook group you could join where they do much curing and smoking.

So, because I can't give you a link, here is the recipe: very simple method. You are going to make a brine out of salt, saltpetre and water, and you are going to immerse the pork in the water. A ziplock bag™ or sealed freezer bag of some variety is best, but we use a big Tupperware box. Note that there is hardly any liquid, so a small bit of meat in a big box is not going to be submerged: we get around this by filling freezer bags with water, sealing them, and using this to help displace the brine so it covers the meat. (We tend to make 30kg at a time, but I just happen to have 6kg equalising in the fridge at the moment). The meat stays in the brine for a day for each half inch to the centre, plus a day. If you forget and leave it for two weeks, it will be fine - better to go over than take it out too soon. Once ready, it needs 5 days to a week for the salt to equalise, otherwise it will be too salty on the outside, and not enough in the middle. Take it out of the water, stick it on a rack in the fridge and wave at it every time you look in.

To make the brine: for 1 kg of meat, you need 421 ml water, 50g salt, 25g sugar, 5g sodium nitrite(saltpetre, cure, whatever you want to call it). I have put these numbers into a spreadsheet, to make it easier, and yes you need to be exact.

Two points: firstly we never put sugar in the mix, and it is perfect - you may prefer something sweeter, or not. Secondly, note no flavours, no herbs, certainly no juniper berries. We used to, but it is much nicer without. Try the basic recipe to have a base to work from, and then experiment to you heart's content. Add a bit more salt, a bit less; see what different amounts of nitrite do (careful! you can overdo it very easily), try the dreaded juniper berries. How hard could it be?

Edit: I've just seen your bit about cure: if you don't use it your bacon will have a different flavour, and it will be an unpleasant grey colour when you cook it. Use the cure - it's an integral part of the bacon flavour, and it makes the meat look nicer. I also don't know if the above recipe will work properly without it - you would need to put much more salt in the mix to ensure a proper cure, and it won't taste as good. I know this, because I also said "you don't need cure, just salt is fine", but it isn't.
 

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I tried the dry rub method, it works ok but is a bit hit and miss.

I prefer the equilibrium method, very simple, no mess and so far fool proof. I don't use curing salt, just plain table salt and some simple flavourings. You do need a vacuum sealer though.

I have made my own air dried hams as well, on a small scale. They work ok but barely cheaper than buying it these days and a lot more fuss so I don't bother. Bacon though works very nicely.
 

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Steve Maskery":3qbkaw86 said:
OK. I've just ordered this and this.
I'll take on board what you have said. Thank you muchly.
We use tongmaster for all our sausage seasoning and cure stuff, so should be fine. Btw, you can make bacon out of frozen meat, just in case you have any random leftover bits lurking in the freezer. It also doesn't have to be pork, although you may need to change the names to protect the innocent.
 

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Steve Maskery":3ekilu2d said:
I want to try this, too.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQUUb8kMfQA
I wonder if you have to learn to talk funny first?
"Hotter than a snake's a$$ in a wagon rut!"

I smoke about half my bacon, using my defunct gas BBQ which is mounted on a rocket stove (all very heath Robinson), with the wood chips smouldering in an old dog food can with some holes in the bottom. You need a box for the bacon, some smoke, and enough pipe to cool the smoke/not cook the meat. I have done it in a 200litre metal oil drum, and also with a dish of wood chips in the bottom of the bbq. The latter needs careful watching to make sure it doesn't catch fire and cook/burn your meat. 4 hours is plenty to get enough flavour. I use Holme oak chips - just bang a branch through the chipper - but it can become an all-consuming passion to get the right flavour combinations. I imagine you have better access to fruit woods than I do.

Forgot to mention: to slice bacon, put it in the freezer until it is semi-frozen - much easier to get thin, straight slices, and much less waste. Use a thin slice jig on the table saw, obviously.
 

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Steve Maskery":cwx0tlla said:
I was planning to use my offset smoker BBQ. I have one a bit like this:
Well, if you're going to be all posh about it!

Do you want to hot smoke, which is basically cooking the meat, or cold smoke? I've never done hot smoking, because everything I do is going gets put in the freezer. Yanks are very big on hot smoking, and I have no idea what the benefits are - never eaten anything hot-smoked. They also insist on smearing sugar all over their meat, which is worse than what the French do with all their fruit sauces.
 

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Oh I forgot to add about hams etc. I don't use the X number of days per inch or anything. I use the same method they use in the factories which is salt it until X% of weight has been lost. Doing the per inch method always ended up with a ham that was too salty as there are too any variables involved. Using the weight method they were always fine.
 

Steve Maskery

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I want to cold smoke, so the challenge is to get the temperature down as low as possible without the darned thing going out.
I've only every done hot smoking. I have a Cameron stove-top jobbie and it's great for a haddock fillet, or possibly even two, but it's nowhere near big enough for any kind of joint.
 

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a smoking tube may help you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8xkSIRnS44

put it in the unlit bbq, or use it to boost the bbq smokiness. I haven't used one, but the `father in law smokes cheese using one and people often mention them on a pellet smoker facebook group I am on.
 

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Steve Maskery":18pucc2f said:
About a year ago I treated myself to a Smoking and Curing course with Steve Lamb from River Cottage. It was excellent...........
You may be interested to know that when I took the chimney down in my house I found a wrought iron hook built in about 4 feet up from the bressumer. This was a back to back arrangement of flues, and the hook bridged the centre divide and served each side of the double chimney, meaning it was possible to be smoking 2 sides of pork at once. The house was built in approx 1700, but there is some evidence that the chimney was rebuilt about 1800.

Any idea how long half a pig would have had to stay up the chimney? Would it have been smoked as a one-off, or, for instance, might they have taken it down and hacked a bit off now and then, and returned the remnants to the hook afterwards?
 

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If your last two photos are anything to go by you certainly like a very runny egg Steve :shock:

Charlie said you were doing some curing, if you’re into your own meat production & fancy a crack at a game bird (the feathered variety :D ) let me know.
 

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MikeG.":bgvwck6l said:
[

Any idea how long half a pig would have had to stay up the chimney? Would it have been smoked as a one-off, or, for instance, might they have taken it down and hacked a bit off now and then, and returned the remnants to the hook afterwards?
There is a good chance it would have lived up there permanently until eaten. Certainly a flitch of bacon hanging in the chimney was normal. Imagine the layers of creosote and tar built up on the outside, and the very, very salty brine cure to boot: it would have been inedible by modern standards, but without refrigeration that's what you do.
 

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My friend's father worked as a salesman for an agricultural company just after WW2, and part of his round was N. Wales. He told us he always remembered going to one farm in particular. The farmer had to send out for his nine year old daughter as no one else spoke English, and when he was taken into the kitchen the grandmother was sitting by a huge open fireplace smoking her clay pipe, and in chimney breast were half a dozen hams smoking. The little girl told him they weren't pig, they were badger.
 

Steve Maskery

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RogerS":811r4pnp said:
Jeepers, Steve. All that just for two of you ?
I had 3 of those slices, Roger, Charlie had the rest. And he is as skinny as you are. Go figure, the world is not a fair place.

Doug - thanks, I'll bear that in mind. But I did cook a (roadkill, but still warm) pheasant once. It was like eating my shoes.
 

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Steve Maskery":3pxdhkg6 said:
RogerS":3pxdhkg6 said:
Jeepers, Steve. All that just for two of you ?
I had 3 of those slices, Roger, Charlie had the rest. And he is as skinny as you are. Go figure, the world is not a fair place.
We believe you, Steve...we believe you :wink:

Steve Maskery":3pxdhkg6 said:
But I did cook a (roadkill, but still warm) pheasant once. It was like eating my shoes.
You overcooked it ! Properly cooked game is very succulent. Especially from field to plate.
 
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