Bacon’s smell wafting through the air is so enticing that even committed vegetarians are sometimes tempted to stray from their virtuous path. These days I mainly use bacon and pancetta as flavor-boosting ingredients; it’s been years since I ate it on its own.
Since I use bacon to boost flavor, I buy the best available. So I was intrigued to read on Kits Chow, that Christine’s Home-Cured Bacon was so good, her husband asked her not to buy bacon from the store anymore. I had to try it.
Although I’ve visited Kits Chow more than once over the past year, I was there recently because I was paired with Christine for March’s Taste and Create. Invented by Nicole of For the Love of Food, Taste and Create is one of my favorite food writing events. Every month Nicole pairs participating food writers; each is responsible for trying one recipe from the other’s blog and writing about it.
Some months it can be a challenge to find something I want to write about on my partner’s blog (although I’ve always found something delicious to make). Other months there’s an abundance of recipes I can’t wait to try; this was an abundant month. I haven’t made it yet, but Christine’s simple Ginger Custard will appear on our table shortly after I next go shopping.
Christine writes from an Asian perspective, while I focus on Mediterranean foods, but there are many similarities in our cooking styles. We both emphasize foods made with fresh, locally available products, and enjoy making ingredients from scratch.
Christine shares my passion for creating variations on a theme. For example, she recently wrote about and photographed a series of grilled cheese sandwiches; every time I look at this post, I crave an immediate grilled cheese fix. I also appreciate Christine’s creative Asian-Hellenic fusion cooking.
But back to the bacon.
Christine used a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe from the Guardian to make her bacon. The recipe is simple: pork belly is liberally coated with a dry-rub of salt, sugar, and spices, and then cured in the refrigerator for several days.
The result was delicious: meaty, juicy, and mouth-watering. I’m calling it flat pancetta rather than bacon because it isn’t smoked (a hallmark of American bacon). And since I renamed it pancetta, I used the meat to flavor a wonderful risotto made with edamame beans and garlicky sautéed mushrooms. I’m only sorry there isn’t any leftover risotto; writing the recipe has left me wanting more.
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall via Kits Chow
The original recipe recommended curing the meat at least 4 days, or as long as 10, draining the juices and applying more cure every 24 hours. I stopped the process on the fourth day because the pancetta was getting too salty for my taste. Since I cured it for shorter than called for in the original recipe, and because the recipe doesn’t include nitrites or nitrates, I froze all the pancetta I didn’t use right away rather than worrying about spoilage. The best place to buy meaty pork belly is in Asian markets (in Anchorage, Sagaya is the best source). Be sure to look the pork over carefully and buy the meatiest piece you can find. Once, in desperation, I bought a frozen piece of pork belly wrapped in freezer paper. The butcher repeatedly assured me the meat was skin-on; it wasn’t, plus the “meat” was 90% fat. The fault was my own for buying meat sight unseen.
2 Tbsp. black peppercorns
2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. juniper berries
5 bay leaves
1 1/3 cup kosher salt (3/4 pound)
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar (1/4 pound)
2 pieces meaty pork belly, with skin, 1 1/2 – 2 pounds each
Make the Curing Mix: Grind the peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries, and bay leaves in a spice grinder, or pound them in a mortar and pestle until they are finely crushed. Mix the ground spices with the salt and brown sugar.
Day 3: Repeat Day 2.
Day 4: Rinse off all the cure under cold running water. Dry the meat very thoroughly. Wrap in wax paper, parchment paper, or cheesecloth and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use (before choosing storage method, read the above headnote).
The mushrooms need to be sautéed in batches to ensure they brown properly; if you try to brown all the mushrooms at one time, they’ll steam rather than brown. Because home-cured pancetta can be salty, be sure to lightly salt the mushrooms or the finished dish may be too salty (the mushrooms need some salt to ensure they cook properly). Pancetta is often sold in packages of very thinly cut pre-sliced meat. Although I use pre-sliced pancetta in a pinch, I mostly buy pancetta direct from the deli counter (if I’m not making my own at home). I ask for either a chunk of pancetta, which I hand slice and dice at home, or have the deli staff cut the pancetta into slices the thickness of thick bacon. With thicker slices, eaters enjoy bursts of pancetta flavor when devouring the risotto; thinner slices tend to melt into the other flavors.
1/2 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, cut in 1/4” slices (about 2 cups sliced)
1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut in 1/4” slices (about 2 cups sliced)
2 Tbsp. butter, divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic, divided
3/4 cup diced home-cured or store-bought pancetta (rind removed), 1/4” dice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced onions, 1/4” dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/3 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
10 ounces shelled edamame beans, blanched if fresh or thawed if frozen
6 Tbsp. minced fresh mint, divided
6 – 7 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup freshly (and finely) grated parmesan cheese
Cook the Mushrooms: Sauté the cremini mushrooms, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil, until the mushrooms are nicely browned. Stir in half the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove the browned mushrooms from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat with the shiitake mushrooms, using the remaining olive oil, butter, and garlic.
Make the Risotto: In a sauté pan large enough to hold the finished risotto, sauté the pancetta until the fat renders and the pancetta begins to brown. Stir in the onions, lightly seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until the onions soften and begin to turn golden. Stir in the rice to completely coat it with oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine, bring to a medium boil, and cook, stirring, until the wine is almost all absorbed.