Well, I promised, didn't I? I herewith break the curse of the starch post epidemic I was suffering from to present you with a 3.3 pound piece of pork belly. Rubbed and cured and massaged and roasted, it's actually now a 3.3 pound piece of bacon. That sound you hear? My (almost) vegetarian father and kitchen-phobic mother falling over backwards as they stare in disbelief at the computer screen. That's right, I went to the butcher a week ago, I bought a piece of pork belly the size of my head, and now I proudly own more bacon than Ma and Pa Ingalls would know what to do with.
Last November, Michael Ruhlman wrote an article for the New York Times about the glories of curing your own meat, having just published a book on this same subject. Included with the article was a recipe for bacon and one for corned beef. Ruhlman writes that home-cured bacon is cheaper and tastier than the kind you buy in a store (and certainly the brine-pumped bacon slices shrink-wrapped in the refrigerated section of the store paled in comparison with the hunk of meat in my kitchen). I also figured the challenge of hunting down the ingredients, finding the patience for a week-long preparation, and overcoming any feelings I might have about seven-day old raw meat resting in such close proximity to my living quarters would add to the fun. So I took Ruhlman's bait.
First, let me tell you right away: if you live in New York, go straight to Florence Meat Market on Jones Street to buy your pork belly (if you've never eaten at Inside or been to Florence Meat Market, make sure you try their Newport steak sometime - it is possibly the most delicious meat I've ever eaten.) Their pork belly costs $2.99 a pound, which, compared to the prices here and here and here, is practically getting it for free. You have to call in advance to order it, but it takes no less than a day or two to arrive. When I got down to the butcher to pick up the belly and was confronted with the porcine terror that is a 5-pound piece of pork, I begged them to let me buy just a little bit less. They kindly agreed on 3.3 pounds, and wrapped it beautifully. Florence's is a fantastic place - I hope it stays in business for a long time.
Back home, I mixed up the cure and smeared it all over the belly. I put the belly in a Zip-loc bag, wrapped it up in butcher paper and put it in my fridge for a seven days of rest. But the next morning, confronted with the raw-meat-and-garlic
stench smell in the early morning hours, I removed the package and marched it over to Ben's place. It was just too much to handle. Sweet Ben complied and let the belly rest at his place for the week. Every other day, the package was flipped. When the seven days were over, I rinsed the belly well. There is something profoundly ridiculous about standing at a sink and cleaning an enormous piece of meat that you have absolutely no idea how you're ever going to consume. But these were not the intrepid thoughts of a homespun bacon-curer, no! So I banished them from my mind and forged ahead.
The belly was placed on a rack on top of a baking sheet and slowly roasted at a low temperature until the interior temperature measured 150 degrees. It took my oven about 2 and a half hours. The bacon then rested until cool, at which point I sliced it up into different-sized portions. Ruhlman says you can refrigerate the bacon for two weeks or freeze it. I'm thinking of cooking up some for dinner tonight, so I can report on how it actually tastes. But then, I wonder: after Sunday breakfast, beef stew, Southern cornbread, and hostess gifts, I will still have more bacon than I'll know what to do with. Luisa's Homemade Bacon - just $2.99 a pound?