Michael Ruhlman talks Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

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Michael Ruhlman is a well-known author, food blogger, cook, and journalist whose mission is to translate the chef’s craft for every kitchen. In addition to CHARCUTERIE: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, he has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books about food and cooking, including Ruhlman’s Twenty, which won both a James Beard Foundation award and an International Association of Culinary Professionals award.

Michael found out that the best things in life happen when you get carried away.  He went into a culinary school to write about what it means to be a chef, and instead he became a cook, got a job line cooking, lucked into one of the great restaurants of the world to work with the chef on his book, and Ruhlman kept on writing about food. “I got carried away, and it’s made all the difference.” Ruhlman’s main goal is to get people into the kitchen to cook, to try new things, learn, and have fun. The kitchen to some is a challenging place, but it should not be.  With the right techniques, books, equipment, and attitude anyone can cook like a pro in their kitchen.

Directions

Maple-Cured Smoked Bacon

Today, when people no longer need to preserve food to survive, this recipe is a powerful reminder of America’s rich culinary history. Likely made popular by English settlers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (all manner of cured pork sides were, writes Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food, “peculiarly a product of the British Isles”), cured or smoked pork has long been a part of our cooking, essential in regional specialties from New England chowders to Southern succotash. Making your own bacon embodies all the reasons we should take the time to do it at home. There may be no better flavor than good bacon, and even if you only have a charcoal grill, you can achieve excellent results.

Many small producers make excellent versions of bacon in this country, varying with time of the cure and the seasonings used. This recipe is for a sweeter bacon. There should be some sugar or sweetness to balance the salt, but if you prefer a more savory taste, omit the maple syrup. If you like black pepper, add it to the cure. Seasonings can vary infinitely, but it is the curing and the smoke that make bacon one of the greatest flavors on earth.

  1. Combine the salt, pink salt, and sugar in a bowl and mix so that the ingredients are evenly distributed. Add the syrup and stir to combine.

  2. Rub the cure mixture over the entire surface of the belly. Place skin side down in a 2-gallon Ziploc bag or a nonreactive container just slightly bigger than the meat. (The pork will release water into the salt mixture, creating a brine; it’s important that the meat keep in contact with this liquid throughout the curing process.)

  3. Refrigerate, turning the belly and redistributing the cure every other day, for 7 days, until the meat is firm to the touch.

  4. Remove the belly from the cure, rinse it thoroughly, and pat it dry. Place it on a rack set over a baking sheet tray and dry in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 12 to 24 hours.

  5. Hot-smoke the pork belly (see page 74) to an internal temperature of 150 degrees F./65 degrees C., about 3 hours. Let cool slightly, and when the belly is cool enough to handle but still warm, cut the skin off by sliding a sharp knife between the fat and the skin, leaving as much fat on the bacon as possible. (Discard the skin or cut it into pieces and save to add to soups, stews or beans, as you would a smoked ham hock.)

  6. Let the bacon cool, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate or freeze it until ready to use.


Yield: 4 pounds/2 kilograms smoked slab

What's Needed:

 

The Cure:
1/4 cup/50 grams kosher salt
2 teaspoons/14 grams pink salt
1/4 cup/50 grams maple sugar or packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup/60 milliliters maple syrup

one 5-pound/2.25-kilogram slab pork belly, skin on

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