Rub some salt and brown sugar on a pork belly, and three days later you’ll wake up to bacon. It’s that simple! The cut, which comes from the back and sides of a hog, is salted and lightly dried, not smoked, and is reminiscent of an Italian pancetta. Traditional American bacon is made from pork belly and smoked.
Here, we use a dry cure, which is easier than a wet cure because you don’t have to deal with sloshing containers of brine. The bacon comes out nicely salted with a hint of sweetness, and because it is not smoked, the delicate pork flavor shines through. It can be used any way you would use store-bought bacon: in salads and sandwiches, alongside eggs, or in any recipe that benefits from a subtle, salty pork flavor.
1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz./75 g.) kosher salt
1/4 cup (2 oz./60 g.) firmly packed brown sugar
2-2 1/2-lb. (1-1.25-kg.) piece skinless pork belly (about one-third whole belly), 1 1/4-1 1/2 inches (3-4 cm.) thick
Coarsely ground black pepper (optional)
Make the brine. In a small bowl, stir together the salt and sugar until well mixed. Place the pork belly on a cutting board.
Rub the brine on. Sprinkle pepper over the fat side of the meat until well covered, if desired. Then thoroughly rub one-fourth of the salt-sugar mixture into the fat side, and the remaining three-fourths of the mixture into the meat side.
Let the belly brine. Slip the belly into a 2-gallon (8-liter) resealable plastic bag, press out the air, seal closed and place in the baking dish. Put the dish in the refrigerator. Turn the bag over once each day for 3 days. The juice will leach out of the meat into the bag. Do not drain the juices off.
Rinse and dry. On the third day, remove the belly from the bag, rinse it briefly under cold running water, and pat it dry. Put a large wire rack in a nonreactive baking dish, put the belly on the rack, and place the dish, uncovered, in the refrigerator to dry for 2 hours.
Taste it and store it. Cut a slice, fry it, and taste it. If you prefer it saltier, cure the bacon a day longer next time. If you prefer less salt, rinse off the rub a day earlier. Wrap well and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Or slice the bacon, wrap in parchment paper, then plastic wrap, and freeze for up to 3 months.
Because of its fat, bacon can easily take on flavors from the far corners of the world. For a flavorful ethnic spin on the basic bacon above, add the following spices to the dry rub.
2 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
4 large garlic cloves, pressed
Use this bacon chopped in fried rice recipes, stir-fried with long beans, or wrapped around water chestnuts and roasted until the bacon is crisp.
1 1/2 tsp. ground fennel seed
1 tsp. red chile flakes
Add this fragrant chopped bacon to tomato and meat ragus or white bean and vegetable soups, or use it to top pizzas.
1 1/2 tsp. coarsely ground caraway seeds
2 tsp. cracked black pepper
Use thickly chopped bacon in choucroute, the famous dish of Alsace, or add to braised pork and sauerkraut. Add crisp-cooked, chopped bacon to vinegary potato salad or to a simple cheese quiche.
Adapted from Family Meals, by Maria Helm Sinskey.