Almost seven years ago, I taught myself how to preserve. Since then, I spend almost every Saturday in summer pickling something after hitting up the Jackson Hole Farmers Market. My kitchen currently has two dozen jars of pickled green tomatoes, corn relish, dill pickles, pickled beets, dilly beans, raspberry jam and raspberry syrup (the product of jam that never set). I love the science behind this simple process: measuring exact amounts of ingredients, processing the jars for certain amounts of time. I think I like the precision.
So it was natural when one recent day I looked at my husband and said that I wanted to cure our own bacon. And on our last visit to Trio two weeks ago, I told owner Will Bradof about my latest kitchen quest. (Bradof has his own interest in curing meats. Make sure to get his house-made pate next time you’re in the restaurant. It’s part of the charcuterie plate, which seems to keep getting bigger and bigger. Not that I’m complaining.)
“Come in tomorrow afternoon,” he said.
So in I went the next afternoon, and he gave me a slab of pork belly, some juniper berries (ensuring I owned a spice grinder), some pink salt (it’s to prevent botulism, don’t worry about that, he said) and a book. Then, he sent me on my way with a few tips, like using brown sugar (instead of white) and fennel.
At home, I used the cure recipe from the book and did as Bradof told me with the fennel and sugar. Every day or so, I repacked the cure around the slab as the liquid seeped out. While the directions said I only needed to let it cure for one week, lots of powder skiing meant little time to cook dinner. So it ended up sitting in the fridge a few extra days.
When I took it out Saturday, I baked half of it in the oven for 2 hours at 200 F, then diced it to make carbonara.
We found the first half too salty, so I let the second half soak in water for 24 hours to leech out some of the salt before I baked it. The result was a perfectly flavored piece of pork, with hints of brown sugar and fennel in every bite, more like a pancetta than a bacon. The other night I diced a few pieces, sauteed them and threw them in with our arugula salad.
I ground black pepper, juniper berries and fennel and added them to this cure. Though normally I am a measurer, I just eyed amounts on these. Then, I packed the cure around the pork belly, putting a layer on the bottom and packing it around the sides.