So, for the Holidays this past year I did not have one party to cater…thanks Mr. Government for sending the economy into a downward spiral…so I decided I was going to make some of my tasty treats to sell. I stuck with a few of my tried and true, world famous delectables like my basil and vodka cured lox, and my Caesar salad dressing. Then, I somehow got it into my head I was going to take local, organic pork bellies and make smoked apple wood and pepper bacon. I am not here to tell you how to do it, but more like how NOT to do it. It wasn’t a disaster so to speak. Everyone but me seemed to love it in the end. Let’s just say it didn’t go as smoothly as I planned.
I think it all started by going the wrong way on the freeway to pick up the pork bellies. I usually have an acute sense of direction, but not on this day. When I got the pork bellies home there was one main issue with them that turned out to be huge in the end. They weren’t whole pork bellies. They had been cut into pieces for packaging purposes. This left the bellies in strange shapes and sizes, which lead to the next issue; getting them to cure evenly. I wound up with 9 different pieces of belly to equal 30lbs. It also still had the skin on. Now, most of this is my responsibility for not asking all the right questions. It took me forever to find a local place to get them and I was so excited to find them finally that I jumped the gun a little.
Let’s jump forward 7 days. All seemed nice and kosher,(HA!!) until I found out from one of my purchasers of said bacon that she needed them by a certain date. This meant I was going to have to stay up after work and smoke them in the dark. Note to self: invest in headlamp. Now, during the week while the bacon was curing I was also making jam, smoked olives, Caesar salad dressing, candied spiced nuts, gravlax, spice rubs, and working full time at my usually part-time job. I was exhausted and barely able to stand when it was time to smoke the bacon. I smoked it for 5 hours at 150 and just figured it was time for it to come out. In the dark and half asleep I pulled it off the smoker and attempted to take the skin off while it was still warm. I was just tooooo tired and decided I would deal with it in the morning.
The next day I packed it all up in the car, along with my vacuum sealer and headed off to work to slice and package. This is when I perform my second attempt to take the skin off. FUUUUUNNNKKKKK!! I am just still too tired and have no patience for this. I get the skin off one of them and throw it on the slicer. It is at this point that I realize I haven’t smoked it long enough and gotten it to the right temperature and I need to cook it some more. I am aware as a chef this could be a dangerous venture and I do spend about the next hour on the internet doing some research on what to do. In the end, I decide to bring it up to a certain temp in the oven. This seems to go well and when it comes out I easily remove the skin with my sharpest knife. . It is also at this point that I call said purchaser and let her know that there is no way in hell it is going to be ready in time and what can I do in place of the 5lbs she wanted.
After the bacon has chilled sufficiently in a very cold fridge overnight, I pack it all back up in the car and head back to the slicer. Oh, it is soooo pretty…and tasty. There is just only one thing wrong. I am losing way too much of it to scrap because of the way it was cut. I start to panic as I see my now 26lbs of bacon dwindling. I am cursing the person who cut this into so many pieces and myself even more for buying it like this. I get down to my last slice of bacon and get a whopping 17lbs in the end. Exactly what I needed to fill my existing orders after the 5 lbs I didn’t have ready. This seems to be the only highlight of the whole experience. That and everyone else seems to have really enjoyed it. I have yet to try any of my bacon except for the miniscule piece I cooked when I first started slicing it.
So in review, let’s just go over the do’s and don’ts
- Do ask many questions when speaking to suppliers
- Don’t get it with the skin on. It’s just another step to the process.
- If you have to, do take it off while it is still warm
- Don’t multitask 10 other things during this process.
- Do sit down and take deep breathes and gather your thoughts.
- Don’t try and smoke it at 8 o’clock at night after working since 7am.
- Don’t finish it in your oven unless you want your house to smell like smoke for the next 2 weeks.
- Don’t guarantee a certain amount if you don’t know how much you are going to have.
- Do ask me how to make bacon. I can now tell you exactly what to do and what can go wrong and what to do if it does go wrong.