Serves: Makes 4 (2½-pound) slabs of bacon
- 3½ tablespoons fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 1½ tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 (10-pound) pork belly
- 2 teaspoons (10 grams) curing salt
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 2 cups sweet pulverized wood chips, such as apple, cherry, alder, or oak
Procedures:Benjamin Bettinger is a star on the Portland, Oregon, food scene. He is the executive chef at Beaker & Flask, named Restaurant of the Year by Willamette Week in 2009, the restaurant’s first year of operation. He also happens to make spectacular homemade bacon! We wanted to learn how to make bacon and thought how fun it would be to give homemade cured and smoked bacon as a gift. Ben generously shared his recipe. What sets Benny’s bacon apart is the blend of spices, as most bacon recipes, whether commercial or homemade, do not include any spices other than black pepper in the curing rub. Pork bellies are available by special order from most butcher shops. They are usually about 10 pounds. This recipe will work without adjustment, give or take up to 1 pound. Use kitchen gloves to rub on the curing salt, as it can be highly irritating to the skin. Use pulverized wood chips sold for stovetop smoking, not the larger chips meant for outdoor grills.
In a medium, dry heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, toast the fennel seeds, peppercorns, mustard seeds, and bay leaves over medium-low heat. Swirl the spices in the pan until they release their aromas and take on a slightly darker color, 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately transfer the spice mixture to a spice or coffee grinder and grind to a powder.
Place the pork belly on a large rimmed baking sheet with the fat side down. Sprinkle the top (meat side) with about 40 percent of the curing salt, and then 40 percent of the spice powder. Wearing disposable gloves, rub the salt and spices into the meat. Next scatter about 40 percent of the brown sugar over the spices. Using muscle power, firmly press and rub the brown sugar into the flesh. Sprinkle about 40 percent of the kosher salt over the brown sugar and firmly press and rub the salt in, getting as much sugar and salt to absorb into the meat as possible. Flip the belly over so that the fat side is up and repeat this coating process with the remaining 60 percent of the curing salt, spice powder, brown sugar, and kosher salt.
Wrap the belly in several layers of plastic wrap; or place it in a food-safe plastic bag, squeeze out as much air as possible, and tie it closed. (This is how Ben does it.) Refrigerate the wrapped belly on the baking sheet with the fat side up for 5 days.
Slice the cured belly into 4 equal slabs, about 2½ pounds each.
Set up a stovetop smoker with the wood chips scattered on the bottom and the drip tray set on top. Wrap the wire rack in aluminum foil and set it over the drip tray. Working with one slab of belly at a time, place the belly on the foil-wrapped rack, close the lid of the smoker tightly, and turn the burner to medium-low. Smoke the belly for 20 minutes, then open the smoker lid, flip the belly over, and smoke it on the other side for an additional 20 minutes. At this point, check whether the belly is easily pierced with a meat fork. If it is, then remove it from the smoker. If not, flip the belly again and continue smoking until it is easily pierced. Remove the bacon from the smoker, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Repeat this process with the 3 remaining slabs of belly.
Storing: Refrigerate for up to 1 month or freeze for up to 1 year.