Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bacon Bit

The dish pictured to the right, Atlantic sea scallops sautéed with bacon and scallions in a cream sauce with grapes, was very successful and I was going to go on and on about the virtues of seafood but I thought a change might be in order and so I am putting my feet back on dry land with this post despite the taste of seaspray.

I want to focus on the bacon I used in the dish, because I sured it myself. I am a big fan of Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman's  book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing and I now frequently make Prosciutto Crudo and Bresaola, my method based on their recipes in that book. I have yet to cure Biltong which was a favorite of mine as a child in South Africa. I am not going to give my adaptations of their recipes here but to mention some of my spice and herb additions since there is always a risk of botulism poisoning with non acid cured meats and although I do use "pink salts" that by definition include sodium nitrite to preserve color and to retard growth of botulism  in the drying meat (don't click unless you can stomach vivid descriptions and pictures) I am always the first to taste each item I cure with instructions to people close to me if I go catatonic - call 911 and name the likely suspect. The book was given to me from a "Secret Santa" list when it came out and I already have complaints that I have not made peppered salami from the giver. Interestingly enough the Latin word botulus means sausage which explains the whole problem in one word and I have yet to get the fermenting bacteria or the casings, which are expensive, to foray into sausage making.

I'll address curing ham and beef at another point but, for bacon you need a Pork Belly which is easily found at Asian markets in Los Angeles and neatly trimmed to manageable proportions, but most important is the selection of flavorings, quite apart from the curing agents. You can suit yourself when you pick these but keeping them few and keeping them simple usually yields the best results. For this one I cured with juniper berries and the classic allspice berries crushed and mashed with whole black peppercorns. It takes about five days to flavor the pork belly and for the meet and fat to fully absorb the spices. The result was a mild, sweetly flavored bacon that fully complimented the halved table grapes and subtle sashimi grade scallops when it was chopped finely and combined with butter as the first sauté medium for the scallops, and, since it was all finished with cream the flavors were silkily distributed throughout. This dish was all about less is more - YUM!