I was at work helping the huddled masses, as per usz. Typical day. Oh, but it wasn’t, friends. It was the day I was to start the February challenge of Charcutepalooza, which for February was bacon (for apprentices), and pancetta (for the more charcuterie minded individuals). I never can decide. Did you guys take the Myers-Briggs (No relation! Or is there? The check’s in the mail, grandma!) personality test? I did! In high school we all had to get to know ourselves or whatnot, so we could eventually end up the cogs in the wheel that we all become. Anyway, the test determines if you are introverted or extroverted, sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling, judging or perceptive. I am practically a 100% P, or perceptive person. This may sound good, but basically it’s this: us “P” mofos can’t make up our minds. We like to weigh our options and keep them open until the very last nanosecond. Sometimes you can really score with this MO. Sometimes not. This is why, if you followed my wacky adventures in canning last year, you would’ve seen that l never could decide on one recipe. In my personal life this has extended to which professional degree to pursue, which job to stick with, which city to plant roots in. So, again, as usual, I weighed my options. Bacon or pancetta? Well, they both sound good! Pork belly from the farmer’s market, or from one of Seattle’s several ethical meat butcher shops? I was having trouble making decisions really early in the game, dear readers.
Quickly, I found out that The Swinery, our local butcher shop, was going to have fresh pork belly in it’s shop on Tuesday. Score! At least I had that decision made. Have I told you about The Swinery? All the meat from The Swinery comes from within a 300 mile radius of this West Seattle shop. Double S offered to be on the case and procure me my pork belly early one Tuesday afternoon. There I was in my office, telling Double S to ask a butcher when a pig was slaughtered. Just another day of being partners with little old me!
I sent Double S in there with a list of demands only a food blogger, or maybe these guys, could love.
The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland! Unlike last time, I decided to read around the interwebs before I read the recipe in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, our primer for Charcutepalooza. I decided that i wouldn’t read the recipe for the first time at 10pm with the pork belly on the counter staring at me, like I usually do. And like those duck breasts were last time. Metaphorically. My secret shame is that I don’t read recipes all the way through. Then I get to the end and realize I was supposed to start brining something the week before. To avoid this dilemma, I read the ENTIRE chapter on salt cures in Charcuterie, and Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s awesomely extensive post on her adventures in bacon making, as well as various kooks online who’ve made bacon. I asked Double S, who I’m sure was cringing about another one of my hair-brained schemes AND missing freezer space on speculation, to get two pork bellies or “a lot” of pork belly. I wasn’t sure on the terminology. For the bacon, I wanted a 5 pound piece of uniform bacon-y looking thickness, with an even distribution of fat and lean meat. It needed to be bacon shaped, knowwhuddimean? Then, because I can’t help myself, I decided to make pancetta too. For the pancetta, I wanted a smaller piece because I’ll use this less. I wanted about 2 pounds, and I wanted it thinner with less fat. All the better to roll you with my pretty!
I also wanted to know the name of the farm where this pig grew and how long ago it was slaughtered. And Double S did it! Let’s have a round of applause for Double S! I even think a slow clap is in order. Right, casts of Cool Runnings, Lucas, Can’t Buy Me Love and some other random movies starring the likes of George Clooney and Ben Affleck?
The pork belly that Double S got was from Carlton Farms, in northwest Oregon, just north of Portland. The pig that provided this belly was slaughtered within the previous 3 days or so. It was very fresh and had a thick rind when I got it. We had one big belly, about 9 pounds.
Then I had to debate how to cut and trim the belly, and what spices to use. My major dilemma was whether to use pink salt. I had just procured a bag of pink salt when I discovered that there is much debate regarding its merits. Pink salt is mainly just table salt, but has a small percentage of sodium nitrites added to the mix, whose job is to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Namely, the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Street name: botulism. Botulism ain’t nuthin’ to eff with, yo! Although I kinda carelessly disregard botulism’s specter when canning, there’s just something about meat that makes me more jittery than strawberries and cucumbers. So although I read that you can make bacon with kosher salt no biggie, I decided to use pink salt for my bacon and pancetta this time, especially after reading Michael Ruhlman’s post about safety whilst making charcuterie. Perhaps if it works out, I’ll go au naturale next time I make bacon or pancetta. And I may even use kosher salt too! Ha! I’ll be here all week, folks!
Then it was time to cut my meat. When you’ve got this much fresh meat in front of you, you feel a wee bit stressed. Ruhlman’s book told me to trim the meat so that it was a nice rectangle. Crap! I knew I should have asked for a few good knives for Christmas. But how? And how big of a rectangle? Is the piece for pancetta supposed to be this thick? Would I have to wrap it in cheesecloth again–say it ain’t so! I put aside my indecisive nature and just started trimming. Maybe the piece for pancetta would reduce in size due to fridge curing and the rolling would be easier next week?? This was really me throwing caution to the wind, folks.
By the end of my trimming, I had about a 3.5 pound piece of belly for bacon, and about the same amount for pancetta. I had over a pound of trimmings. I don’t think I could stomach any kind of pates or rillettes (I’m new at this, ok? Don’t hate!), so I decided to make salt pork, figuring I could toss it in to stews with lots of veggies and beans, to add a nice meaty taste when needed.
After purchasing the largest Ziplock bags I’ve ever seen in my life, I made my dry spice rubs. I followed Ruhlman’s dry rub for the bacon, and added some brown sugar to add that nice bit of traditional sweetness. I would have added maple syrup, but we were all out and I had already gone to the store that day. Enough is enough. So brown sugar it was. With some pink salt, kosher salt, sugar and brown sugar, into the fridge it went. I also put the dry cure on my pancetta and put it in the fridge for a cure.
All you have to do for the next seven days is live, love, debate, watch teevee, call your mom, read a book, and flip the belly once a day or so.
I turned them everyday. Well, I skipped one day because Double S and I headed over to the depressingly snow deprived Little Bavaria of Washington. Effin’ global warming!
After almost nine days I removed these bad boys from their Ziploc hiding places and gave them a test run! Nice and firm! Much firmer than when I checked them at day 7. I rinsed and rolled and tied my pancetta, and took it downstairs to it’s creepy yet properly humid lair to rest for a few weeks. Stay tuned for more about that…it takes three weeks to cure! Wish me luck! Now it was time to deal with my bacon. I rinsed and patted it dry, then into the oven it went. We have a new oven and I’m still learning its real temperatures. I roasted it for about 2 hours at 200°, but it was nowhere near done. I then increased the temperature to 225° and roasted it another 40 minutes and it looked ready. Double S’s uncle Gary just gave us his old electric smoker, which I will use for future bacon attempts, but for this challenge the oven worked well. And I didn’t have to go outside into the monsoon that is a Seattle February.
After the bacon roasts, remove the rind and excess fat layer. This is a greasy, slippery job. I noticed that the grease and fat itself was different from when I touch store-bought bacon. Namely, it rinsed right off my hands and didn’t seem as thick and viscous as the stuff from the store.
Needless to say, we were psyched. I immediately fried up a piece and it was a taste sensation. Nothing like the bad bacon I’ve had in the past. I’ve never been as bacon crazy as is de rigeur these days, but I may have turned over a new leaf tasting this fresh bacon. Visions of homemade completely DIY BLTs danced through my head. Tomatoes from my garden (if we could get a few days over 70º this summer), lettuce which grew like wildfire last summer, homemade bread and homemade mayo for a summer dinner on the deck this summer. This. Is. Me.
On the night we were making bacon, we happened to be having steak and baked potatoes for dinner. It was like fate, am I right friends? We refrigerated the biggest slab for slicing the next day, but cut up some strips (or lardons, for you frenchies) for our arugula (or rocket, for you English blokes) salads.
So, steaks, arugula salad and baked potatoes, both with freshly cured freshly fried lardons. This was us.
After the bacon roasts, refrigerate or partially freeze for easier slicing. You can leave some of the bacon whole for tossing into soups or beans, you can cut the aforementioned lardons for salads and the like, and you can slice it thin for breakfasts, BLTs and whatever your heart desires. We sliced it and sealed it into individual packs for freezing.
Now it was time to make something with our new bacon. Here, my problems making decision stopped. I knew as soon as I heard about this challenge that I wanted to make rouladen with my bacon. I’m hella German, on both sides, so I was introduced to rouladen at a young age. Rouladen is a southern German dish made by rolling bacon and onions inside beef and letting it braise in it’s gravy for several hours. Yep, awesome! I googled around to see what kind of recipes I could find for rouladen. There weren’t many, but see here and here for more ideas. From my research it seems that to be more traditional, one should add mustard and pickles to their rouladen. I decided that I wanted to make the roulden I grew up with, and not try to combine 4-9 different recipes I found online like I usually do. Focus!
I grew up requesting rouladen from my grandma almost every year for my birthday, until I hit my terrible teens and didn’t do bacon much for years. My grandma would dutifully make it for me every year. My grandma was my biggest fan at all my basketball and softball games growing up. She bought me Garbage Pail Kids and Mad Magazines (my childhood vices) when my mom said no. She introduced me to my first good salami and pickles and real life butcher shop. She made landjager and beef tartare and stollen every Christmas, and sauerbraten and Kartoffelklösse every Thanksgiving. I was going to explore my German roots with my new bacon, so I decided to call my grandma and get the scoop. She still calls the sink the “zink.” You can’t get much more German than that. She doesn’t cook much anymore, but I knew I wanted to talk to her about her roulden, and ask her how I could make it with my homemade bacon. And of course impress her by telling her I made bacon. I wished I remembered watching her make them back in the day. I didn’t remember. I was too busy sorting these while she cooked.
I called my grandma on a Saturday afternoon. She immediately remembered how to make rouladen, even though it had been awhile. She went right into it, noting that she never had a recipe for it and that there isn’t a recipe for our family’s sauerbraten either, just that her mom had brought them to St. Louis with her from Germany. We talked about how neither rouladen or sauerbraten in German restaurants is ever up to our family standards. It made me miss my family and regret being so far so as to not be able to share my cooking exploits with them on a daily basis. My family is a food family. My grandpa was a baker and my great grandfather was a butcher. Thanks, charcuteplaooza for helping me explore my roots and talk food with my family. I took notes, even when my grandma used words like oleo and garlic salt. I had read about rouladen being made with beer and wine and pickles and various vegetables, and I told her as much. She seemed to immediately be transported back to watching her mom Minnie make rouladen, telling me how her family didn’t like the pickles inside. For shame! The Briggsy family was built on pickles! As we said goodbye, my grandma was getting hungry for the rouladen she hadn’t had in years. Next time I’m in town, these are for you, grandma!
Adapted (slightly) from a recipe by my grandma Irma
1-2 lbs beef, sliced to less than 1/4 inch thick and pounded. My grandma recommends top or bottom round steak. I had bottom round, sold for carne asada, from Thundering Hooves here in Washington.
1-2 onions, sliced really thin. Friends don’t let friends not use mandolines, mmkay?
1/2-1 slice of your fresh bacon per slice of beef.
Garlic, to your preference, diced.
Beef stock. Maybe you made your own?
Beef boullion cube or two. My grandma is 87, ok? Don’t hate.
Salt and pepper.
1. Secure yourself some thinly sliced beef. I really wanted mine to be tender, so I also pounded it with a meat mallet, aka some saran wrap and a cast iron skillet. Lay the beef slices out flat, and give your self room to top the slices and roll them. Season the slices with salt and pepper.
2. Put 1/2-1 slice of bacon on top of each slice of beef.
3. Slice onions very thin and top the slices of beef.
4. Add pickle (fermented are best!) to some or all of the slices. I wanted to faithfully follow my grandma’s direction, but I love pickles SO MUCH that I had to try a few rolls with pickles. Don’t tell my granny!
5. Roll each prepared slice as tightly as you can, and secure with toothpicks or (you guessed it!) butcher’s twine. I used toothpicks cuz my grandma always did.
6. Put more sliced onions and the diced garlic into a large skillet with just a touch of oil. Brown them for a minute or two, then add the rouladen and brown them on both sides.
7. After each rouladen is brown, add beef stock to the pot. My grandma used water and beef bouillon cubes. I used about a half a container of organic beef stock, water and some organic beef bouillon base. You want the rouladen to be about half covered (or move) in gravy. Let the rouladen simmer on low heat for 60-90 minutes, covered. After about an hour, add 1-2 TBSP cornstarch to thicken the gravy.
8. Serve with noodles to sop up that delicious gravy! My grandma served this with a 50s mom version of spatezle, egg noodles fried in butter and breadcrumbs. I used homemade breadcrumbs and cooked my egg noodles in heavily salted water. In the Briggs household, there is no sin worse than running out of gravy. Any cook of any family meal in my house would keel over dead rather than have their food accused of being dry. And I keep up that tradition to this day! Just ask Double S, as I foisted gravy upon her last night at dinner.
The February Charcutepalooza challenge goes in the record books as a success! In other words, mmm bacon. We’ll see about the pancetta, but I’ve got high hopes. I love how Charcutepalooza is already building my confidence in my meat curing skills. Stay tuned for how the pancetta turns out. Next month, we’ll be doing some brining. I already ferment and brine my ass off on the regular: see here and here and here and here. I already brine almost all the chicken I work with, so the challenge will be perfect for making corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day (another family tradition), and of course the mandatory reubens that will be made from the leftovers. See you then, friends!