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Pepper bacon cure for bad weather blues

I am weary of this weather and I can only imagine that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  We were so lucky the past three years with the snow and chill, but now we have chill and rain, an awful mix.
I must refrain from using the choice vocabulary that runs through my mind as I see the green splotch work its way across the radar after a week of sub-freezing temperatures.
Maybe this is why the British get a bad rap for being grumpy.  Chilly, damp, rainy weather is not good for the soul.  But then, the good people of Seattle seem to do quite well with it.  Who knows?
One thing is certain: this is the time of year that many of us throw on a few extra pounds, since hearty, heavy comfort foods hit the spot.  Partnered with weather that may not be quite as ideal for outdoor activities for many, the problem blooms, as does your waist size.
And then you sit down to a stack of bacon on freshly baked bread smeared with mayonnaise.  On the ubiquitous BLT, we find our favorite meat paired with crisp, cool lettuce and ripe tomatoes.  If you’re smart, you will buy the vine-ripened tomatoes, since they will have the most flavor.  Their acid offsets the fat in the bacon perfectly and you are left with a sandwich that is fit for royalty.
There are a few tips when it comes to making your own bacon at home.  The first is that it won’t be ready by the weekend.  You have to plan this one out and give yourself a week and a half.  You also need a way to vacuum pack or wrap so that it will keep in the freezer for a very long time.
Lastly, you need to make a small investment into the food additives that make the bacon magic happen; powdered dextrose and Prague powder #1.  Dextrose is important in the curing process because it acts as a catalyst in the absorption of the flavors and curatives into the meat.  It is 70 percent as sweet as sugar so it won’t overpower the brown sugar in the recipe, but it is heavier than the meat, so it will absorb through the cells to help to maintain moisture.
The Prague powder is the real key to making the perfectly cured bacon.  Of course, you can cure without it, but you are on your own.  There is much more control needed to ensure that bad germs aren’t growing during the curing process.
There are two types of Prague Powder, #1 and #2.  A simple way to remember which is which is by the simple phrase we mutter all the time down here in the summer: “It sure is a hot 1 out there.”  Ergo, #1 is for cured products that will be hot-smoked, while #2 will be useful for products that are strictly going to be cured in a cool, dry environment.  There are plenty of online sources for purchasing both of these additives.
After a week in the cure (which becomes a brine in essence) the bacon is ready for drying (one day), smoking (a few hours), and then airing out (one day) and then packaging.  As such, you can see how this turns into quite a project.  None of it is hard, but it just takes a little planning and organization.
But what you are left with is a pile of the best bacon you’ve ever had, although your first batch might not be perfect.  Like anything in the cooking world, you need to practice in order to master even the basics. And once you do, it is one more thing for your arsenal that they can never take away from you.
Especially on a cold, rainy, miserable day.
Fresh Pepper Bacon
Makes 10 pounds
10# Fresh pork belly
8 oz. kosher salt
8 oz. Dark brown sugar
2 oz. Powdered dextrose (buy online)
1 oz. Prague powder #1 (online as well)
2 Tbsp. Whole black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. Granulated garlic
Combine all dry ingredients well and set aside
Have a container large enough to handle the belly at the ready
Coat pork belly with the dry cure and place in container
For the next 6-7 days, rotate pork belly.  You will notice that the moisture from the belly will turn the whole thing into a brine, and you want to make sure that all of the belly has equitable time in the salty pork juice
Remove belly and rinse completely.  Don’t be the cowboy that I was when I was younger thinking that it made sense to leave the brine there.  Rinse it off
Pat dry and place, uncovered, in a spot in the refrigerator where it will not become contaminated or will contaminate anything else
Allow to dry in icebox overnight
Hot smoke between 195-200F until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 145
Remove and place in refrigerator, uncovered overnight.  This helps to aerate the pork, getting rid of a lot of the acrid ‘cigarette ash’ taste
You now have fresh bacon and you can slice, dice and chop it use however you see fit.  Just be sure to save the little bits as they work great in soup, chili, beans et al