This is something I’ve wanted to try since the River Cottage Rising Star competition. I chose to cook a summer fricassee of peas, broad beans and pancetta as part of my dish, and having been super prepared for the competition, I cooked the dish for anyone I could for about two weeks before hand. I was literally sick of it by the time I cooked it for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and co on the night of the competition. But as I was cooking on the night, I couldn’t believe how different it tasted to when I had made it at home. I was used to shop bought lardons, and when I tried the home cured pancetta I’d been provided with, I just about died. It was beautiful. So thick and fatty, yet really soft and not chewy at all. Since then, I’ve been inspired by the meat fridge almost every time I’ve been down to River Cottage.
Various River Cottage-y people are always floating about for a foodie chat (which is one of the best things about doing an apprenticeship with River Cottage, in my opinion) and on one occasion I got chatting to the main meat man himself, Steve Lamb. After a tour of the meat fridge, Steve talked me through home curing bacon, and explained how the supermarket stuff varies. He promised me it would be the best bacon I’ve ever eaten, and, well, as a normal person and therefore massive fan of bacon, I couldn’t help but try it myself.
There really is something about the simplicity of home curing, and also the old school element. It’s probably one of the most rewarding cooking processes I’ve ever done too: you tend to this beautiful piece of meat for ten days, checking it’s progress, making sure everything is ok…in short, I really cared about the bacon. And I promise you, it’s worth it. I was so sad when my first self-cured bacon sandwich ended. But that was also mixed with pride. I was really proud of myself for actually giving this a go, and I really think you should too.
Oh, and if you do, make it special! I bought a really lovely loaf of sourdough from Harts Bakery in Bristol for the occasion.
A big thanks to Steve Lamb for his help on this subject and also words of advice in his book “Curing and Smoking”, River Cottage Handbook No.13. Also to Ruby and White Butchers on Whiteladies Road, Bristol, for this delicious piece of Pork Belly. I’m sure I’ll be back for much, much more!
For the Cure, You’ll need:
To start with, make sure you tell your butcher what your doing. They’ll give you lots of advice and make sure you’ve got a correctly prepared piece of meat before you start curing. The folks at Ruby and White did this perfectly for me. They de-boned my pork belly and cut it to the size I needed.
Next, you’ll need a plastic container, like the one in the picture above. Use a smaller one if you like, I bought a large one as I thought I’d probably be curing larger bits in the future!
To make your cure, just mix your ingredients in a separate bowl- preferably a round bottomed one so that you can make sure everything is incorporated.
Place a handful of cure at the bottom of your tub, then place the pork belly, rind side down, on top. Sprinkle the cure over the meat and pat it down, making sure all the sides and ends are evenly coated. Place into the fridge and leave for 24 hours. Keep your cure in an airtight container in the meantime.
The next day, remove the meat from the cure and discard the liquid that has formed. This is all of the moisture coming out of the meat. Give the tub a rinse out and dry it thoroughly. Put a fresh handful of cure in the tub and repeat the curing process, again making sure the meat is evenly covered, and pop it back in the fridge. Repeat this for five days.
After the fifth day, rinse the meat under cold water, and then clean with a cloth soaked in malt vinegar and pat dry.
Place back into the clean container and leave in the fridge for 5 days. You don’t need to do anything in this time.
The meat can also be hung and left outside at this point, and Steve goes into lots more detail about this process in his book.
After that, the meat can be sliced, cooked and eaten. Enjoy!