Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Birch Bacon

I honestly can't remember in recent history, a time I've been more excited about something than January 15th, 2011 at 10am.  For all you curious types, that's when I read that the next charcutepalooza challenge would be bacon.  That's right people, homemade bacon... and pancetta.  What more could I ask for?

So that weekend, the hubs and I wandered down to a butcher we are huge fans of to get a large pork belly.  I figured I would do half of it as bacon and half of it rolled as pancetta. I had recently worked with smaller cuts of pork belly for the first time in our relatively new sous vide supreme with some amazing results so I was pretty excited to try this challenge.  Plus... bacon!

When I was reading the recipe in Charcuterie for the bacon, I saw a note that indicated for a sweeter note, you could add some maple syrup.  I have to admit now that I'm not crazy over maple syrup the way some people I know are.  The hubs could main line it into his body however.  Here's where we enter tangent territory. (I know, you all love my tangents)

Last summer I'd read a recipe I found through Liqurious for an Old Fashioned made with birch syrup instead of raw sugar.

Photo from Art of Drink blog 

I liked the idea of using a syrup instead of plain sugar in an Old Fashioned because I felt it would add some complexity to what was already a pretty amazing drink.  So I scoured the internet and ordered way more syrup than necessary in order to justify the shipping costs and because I was secretly dreaming of homemade birch beer.  I just knew this was going to be the best Old Fashioned ever.  Can we just talk about how right I was for a second?  This was the Old Fashioned of my dreams.  Birch Syrup has a nice (mild) smoky flavor and a caramel-y sweetness that is not cloying at all.  So much better than maple, I promise!  Maple is meh, get on board!

Anyway... Delorean yourself to a few weeks ago when I was getting ready to rub my belly (will that ever stop being funny? no.) When I thought hrmm, I have had some pretty great maple bacon...  and birch > maple... and I knew I was planning to make bacon jam with at least half of this bacon.  And suddenly my brain was like HEY LADY.... BOURBON BIRCH BACON.  Duh.  How did it take me so long to think of this?  The flavor of bourbon should work perfectly with the mild smokiness in the birch syrup.  So, I cooked off the alcohol from a few tablespoons of bourbon, (in case it did something to the meat?) added it to about a quarter cup of birch syrup, and added that to my dry cure.  Then I rubbed it all over the first half of the belly that was destined for a salt cure only and waited.  And waited.

Can I just tell you how hard all the waiting involved in making charcuterie is?  It’s hard.  You know you have something that is inherently great sitting in your refrigerator... But... if you wait it out that greatness gets better.  WAY better.

Fast forward to a week later and it is time to make the donuts bacon jam (side note: bacon jam filled doughnuts?!).  I cleaned off the cure and patted that puppy dry and sliced off a couple strips to try.  The bacon was a bit saltier than I would have liked (I think this is due to the fact that we couldn't find a belly from a butcher/farmer that we were happy with that had skin on it so we ended up with a skinless one) but the flavor was incredible.  A hint of interesting sweetness added to what I can honestly say was the best bacon I'd ever tasted.  This bacon is the JAM (pun obviously intended.)

Speaking of jam!  I'm sure if you have graced the internet with your presence lately you've seen or heard about this bacon jam recipe that is making the rounds from Foodie with Family.  I've linked to the recipe and the pictures there do it way more justice than I ever could but PEOPLE - make this jam. ASAP.

I followed the recipe pretty much as-is with a few specific things to note.  I wanted a bit of smoked flavor that I wouldn't get from my fresh bacon alone so I used half my bacon and half Wellshire Farms black forest smoked bacon.

I rendered about a cup of fat off of this (hold your horses we'll get to that) and pulled it from the pan when everything was good and crisped.  I added some rosemary sprigs to the onion and garlic in the pan but removed it once everything was cooked down.

The only other change I made was to use half maple syrup and half birch syrup (continuity! woop!) instead of just maple syrup.  I don't even know why I'm still typing since you've probably left to make your own bacon jam but whatever.  Then I pureed it and let it sit off the heat to cool down.

Then I ate like 4 cups of it.

Just kidding I only ate 3 1.  Since I had plenty of bacon fat, and a starving sister sitting in my kitchen staring at me, I figured it was time to make some dinner.  I wasn't particularly hungry due to all the aforementioned bacon jam eating but I had invited her over for dinner and felt semi-obligated to provide her with food.  I defrosted a pork tenderloin and cut up some onions, carrots, mushrooms and parsnips.  I browned all the veggies in the bacon fat with a couple of sprigs of thyme and then spread them out in an oven proof pan just big enough to hold them.

 Then the pork tenderloin got the same browning treatment while I made a glaze for it and the veggies.

I just mixed together equal parts bacon jam (!!) and whole grain mustard.  I added a splash of white wine, salt and pepper and some chopped rosemary and poured it over the pork that was now resting on top of the browned vegetables.

Then I popped the whole thing in a 375 degree oven for about fifteen minutes and dinner was served!  And my sister was no longer making a face like 'if you don't feed me something besides jam I will just eat you.'

Win-win, I say.
I should mention that I made pancetta as well but it's not quite ready to taste yet.

I have big plans for that puppy though so stay tuned!  Also I wanted to take this time to thank all the organizers of Charcutepalooza for being supportive and building such a great learning community. Well that’s enough bacon talk for today.  Time to start thinking about getting my brine on.  Can't wait!

1 comment:

  1. Bacon jam sounds amazing, and now I'm really thirsty for a birch syrup old fashioned, too!