All of the bbq’ing this summer has me thinking about an ingredient that people don’t really make at home that much: salt pork. What is it. It’s effectively unsmoked bacon, a cut of pork from the belly, back, and/or sides that is cured with salt. It differs a little from pancetta in that pancetta uses slightly different spices, has a longer cure time, and is hung out to dry, but they are pretty close. This version is a mere 5-day affair, and, at the end of it, you can say you made your own unsmoked bacon. Impressive. I love it.
Salt pork is a flavoring agent. I have no other words to use than that it gives a “salty” and “porky” flavor to whatever it is added. And since it’s mainly fat, it subtly adds a certain mouth feel, a warmer, creamier texture to any dish. I consulted my favorite butchery book, The River Cottage Meat Book, the first time I made this. I have since modified salt and sugar amounts and added in a few extra spices for good measure.
What I really love about making this, besides the fact that it keeps in your fridge for about a month, is that it is one of those foods that has applications in so many different cultures. Baked beans, collard greens, chowders, stews – it can be found throughout American cooking. However, it’s also a large part of French and other European cuisines like in the dish petit salé, and West Indians use it in everything from peas and rice to callaloo. I personally add it to (almost) everything: Sunday morning spicy, scrambled eggs, pasta with black pepper, a scrumptious cornbread with honey chili butter, Brazilian feijoada (which I have to make again soon), any sauce to liven up a fish dish…it’s really endless. Hope you enjoy this as much as I do!
2 lbs pork belly, without the skin
3 cups coarse sea salt
2/3 cup light brown sugar
3 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp whole coriander
2 garlic cloves
I start off with the pork belly without the skin – it’s just a personal preference. You can leave the skin on if you’d like.
First, wash and dry off the pork belly. Combine all of the other ingredients in a bowl. Place pork belly in a non-reactive container. Rub with a portion of the salt mixture until thoroughly coated. Cover with plastic wrap and weight down with something – tomato cans, a serving dish, whatever works.
After 24 hours, the pork belly will have released some liquid. Pour off this liquid. Rub all sides again with the salt mixture, recover, and weight. Repeat this process for five days.
At the end of five days, rinse and remove excess salt from the bacon, dry and wrap in cheesecloth. It can be stored in the refrigerator and is good for up to a month.