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Charcutepalooza Challenge #2 – Bacon!

All ready to go!

Well actually this is challenge number 1 for me, but the official challenge number 1 (duck prosciutto) is well on the way and should be ready any time soon; more on that another day, for now back to the bacon!

When I heard about the Year of Meat (AKA Charcutepalooza) I just had to be part of it.  I had been wanting to do some curing for a while and a challenge like this was just the kick up the backside I needed. I work best to a deadline (ask my boss!). One of the reasons I had been procrastinating was the ability to source the correct ingredients required for curing. I wasn’t going to risk poisoning anyone, least of all my beloved husband, so I had to get the real deal! I have read articles about people not using nitrates and nitrites for curing, but the prospect of botulism scares me a little. I had been googling for weeks with little success, apart from the odd article that reports nitrates and nitrites are not permitted for use in food in Australia. This worried me somewhat, so I had the bright idea to tweet my struggle to all those helpful tweeps out there, and sure enough, a couple of hours later some very obliging Aussies came up with the answer, moments before I was going to press “buy” and spend AUS$50 to ship the goods from overseas (I’m dedicated to the challenge!).

Unfortunately, to access the cure, I had to do an 80km round trip. Kosher salt was not easy to lay my hands on either, but with a little more investigating I managed to find a reasonably local source, although it still involved a 40 km round trip. So all in all, a 120km journey was required before I could even start the bacon. This means my food miles are not as “local” as I would like, but from here on in the furthest I will have to travel is 2km to my local butcher, which I think more than makes up for it.

So with the trials and tribulations of sourcing the ingredients, making the bacon was a piece of cake. The hardest part was looking at it every day for a week desperately wanting to try it!  I did have a little crisis part way through the week. As I read and re-read the recipe, I thought the bacon should be releasing more liquid and firming up more than it did, but not wanting to give up I decided I would cook it on day eight as long as it didn’t smell rancid when I opened the bag! Following a good sniff, it seemed ok so I set the oven to the incredibly low temperature and cooked away, or should I say “set” the bacon, as the low temperature was really just enough to set the protein but not cook it.

The cooking of the bacon was an after work task for Monday, and I had to leave it to do it’s stuff whilst I prepped and ate dinner. But of course, I just couldn’t resist trying some bacon once it was set, so Monday nights dessert was bacon! And oh my word was I pleased!  I should probably mention at this point that I have been a member of a UK based sausage making forum for the last twelve months. In that time I have read many posts about home-made bacon, but dare I admit that I overlooked them, often wondering what all the fuss was about. If it wasn’t for this challenge I would never have entertained the idea of cooking bacon, but having sampled the real deal I think it will be a regular occurrence; there is no going back now!

So now to the point of this blog, what did I actually do with the bacon?! On first inspection I wondered what on earth I would do with a kilo of bacon, especially as I can’t actually remember the last time I bought bacon as it’s not a regular ingredient in our diet. When I was discussing the weekends events with my work colleagues that was also their first comment, but a week later we have eaten it all so it certainly wasn’t a problem!

Apart from my sneaky bacon sandwich before work, the first dish to be made was home-made pappardelle with bacon and mixed mushrooms.  I was lucky enough to find some wonderful mushrooms at Eveleigh Market (see previous post) at the weekend and the bacon was the perfect accompaniment. I’m not particularly good with quantities, but here is the recipe:

Pappardelle with Bacon and Mixed Mushrooms (serves 2)

For the Pasta…
200g ’00’ flour
2 free range eggs
Pinch of salt

For the Sauce…
3 slices of bacon about 1cm thick
2 small leeks, white part only
1 clove of garlic
2 handfuls of mixed mushrooms
a small wine glass of dry white wine
1 small handful thyme, leaves picked
1 small handful parsley, leaves picked
olive oil
knob of butter
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese and truffle oil to serve

Start by making the pasta. Put the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Crack the eggs into the well in the flour and mix with a fork to incorporate the flour.  Make into a dough; you may need to add a couple of drops of water depending on the size of the eggs. Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.

To make the sauce, chop the bacon into 1cm cubes. Wash and slice the leeks. Slice the garlic. Slice any large mushrooms leaving the smaller ones whole.

In a large frying pan, fry the bacon on a high heat until starting to crisp up, then add the leek, thyme and garlic, reducing the heat to soften the leeks slowly. Once the leeks have softened, add the knob of butter, followed by the mushrooms and cook for 3-4 minutes. Increase the heat again and add the wine, allow to bubble and reduce by half.  Finish with the chopped parsley, season to taste and keep warm.

Meanwhile, roll the pasta to the thinnest setting on the machine (I use my mixer attachment which makes home-made pasta easy!).  Chop the pasta into 30cm lengths, then fold in half and half again and cut into 1.5cm ribbons.  Cook the pasta in salted boiling water for 3 minutes, or until cooked to your liking.

Add the pasta to the sauce and mix until well coated. The sauce should just loosen the pasta, it should not be swimming in the sauce. If it is too dry add some reserved cooking water.

Serve the pasta sprinkled with Parmesan and drizzled with truffle oil.

Now that was meant to be the end of this blog, but the bacon was so good I had it the following day as part of a chicken and bacon Caesar salad!

On the third day of this bacon extravaganza, I served it with a fantastic tray baked cod, as Charcutepalooza meets the Nic and Jamie project (see Nic and Jamie page).

On day four it made the best ever BLT for lunch.

On day five it was served, sauteed with leeks and peas as an accompaniment to barbecued, home-made sausages.

The initial plan was to divide the bacon into manageable portions and freeze, but by day six, there was just enough to add to cabbage, and serve with the Sunday roast!

So the moral to this story is, home-made bacon is worth every bit of the effort taken to make it, which was a little for the first one, but now I have all the ingredients, ready mixed in a sealed container, it should be a piece of cake. This home curing lark is brilliant! Bring on the March challenge!


Comment from Mosaica
Time February 15, 2011 at 11:34 am

Oh, Nicola! What a great bacon journey to follow! I especially like your litany of bacon meals since you finished roasting. I’m going to serve BLT’s with mine to my mom & her sweetie when they visit later today :-)

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