Saturday, November 13, 2010

Curing Bacon

In the interest of learning about Charcuterie, I picked up Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie tome titled simply, Charcuterie. The book begins with a primer on curing. It's a very interesting read about the history of food preservation using salt and how salt used to be a tradable currency.

Did you know that the word Salary actually comes from.... Salt?

From Wikipedia:

The Roman word salarium

Similarly, the Roman word salarium linked employment, salt and soldiers, but the exact link is unclear. The least common theory is that the word soldier itself comes from the Latin sal dare (to give salt). Alternatively, the Roman historian Pliny the Elder stated as an aside in his Natural History's discussion of sea water, that "[I]n Rome. . .the soldier's pay was originally salt and the word salary derives from it. . ." Plinius Naturalis Historia XXXI. Others note that soldier more likely derives from the gold solidus, with which soldiers were known to have been paid, and maintain instead that the salarium was either an allowance for the purchase of salt or the price of having soldiers conquer salt supplies and guard the Salt Roads (Via Salarium) that led to Rome.

Here's Ruhlman's Basic Dry Cure that I implemented:

1 pound kosher salt
13 ounces dextrose
3 ounces pink salt (I used Prague Powder from Canada Compound)

The first step in the curing adventure was to source some chemicals. Pink Salt and Dextrose. After reading Ottawafoodies, I realized that there was really only one place that an amateur like me could get his hands on these highly dangerous chemicals, The Canada Compound! Yeah, it's basically just sugar and another type of salt used for curing called Sodium Nitrite. It basically prevents bad stuff from growing in the meat that can KILL you.

Once the chemicals arrived, I went pig huntin'. Much to my surprise, getting a full pork belly isn't easy. You have to order that too. I spoke with my local butcher and she told me that it would take about 2 weeks for a naturally raised pig to show up at their doorstep and only then could she slice me a slab of belly.

It was worth the wait. When I finally purchased the 5 lb naturally raised pork belly from my local boucherie (butcher in Quebec), La Maison Bisson, I got really excited. I had everything to start making my own bacon!

I grabbed my trusty kitchen digital scale and started weighing out the basic dry cure. When you get into curing, it's very important to go by weight and not by volumetric measurements. Every salt has a different density, takes up more or less space in a cup. The ratio of Sodium Nitrite to Salt (sodium chloride) must be accurate. So Ruhlman says.

To be sure that my dry cure was perfectly homogenized I decided to use a mixer to properly blend everything. After mixing it all together, I had over 3 cups of dry cure. I thought I would have to use it all for the belly, only to find out from reading further in the method that I would be weighing out 50 grams. That's about 2.5 tablespoons out of the full 3 cups. I have a lot of dry cure left over.

Next all I had to do was rub that salt all over the pork belly. Incidentally, I left the bones in. According to chef Luke Hayes of Luke's Gastronomy in Kingston, when I tweeted to him whether or not I should take out the rib bones, he tweeted back to me "Leave them Tasty Bones In!". So I did. I have had this guy's charcuterie at his restaurant, and he knows what he's talking about.

So where is the belly now? It's resting in a glass baking pan in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap while the sugars and salts slowly draw out the liquid, brining and curing the meat for the next 7 days.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Pita Chips FTW!

Living in Gatineau, QC we have access to Ottawa's wonderful middle east artisans. The Middle East Bakery on Somerset is a well known treasure chest for ottawa foodies. They probably supply most of Ottawas schwarma shops with pita bread, because we've seen their label on the opened packages of pitas all over the city. Recently after coming back from Costa Rica, we were blessed with a taxi ride from the airport hosted by a driver who came from Lebanon and he gave us the secret to amazing pita bread in Ottawa. He told us to go to the Middle East Bakery on somerset on Monday, Wednesday or Friday at 3:30-4:00 ish and that is when THE freshest bread will be ready. He was not kidding. This stuff was amazing. After we used the fresh pita for a Falafel night, we used the rest to make pita chips. We have to submit that these were the best pita chips we've ever scooped our organic hummus with.

Pita Chips

3 high quality medium pita breads split horizontally in half
2 tbsp good quality olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. Cut each pita half into wedges and arrange the wedges evenly over 2 baking sheets.
  3. Brush each wedge with olive oil, sprinkle with the parsley (or chives, and other herbs)
  4. Salt and pepper to taste. (it'll all stick nicely to the oil)
  5. Bake for 12 minutes
  6. Let chips Cool and serve with hummus, baba ganoush or any other fantastic spreads or dips.

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