This is a recipe for what’s called ‘green bacon,’ an unsmoked lightly cured pork belly made with just salt and spices, no nitrates. It’s not that I am against nitrates, but sometimes I like a lightly cured, fresher-tasting bacon with my sauteed greens, pasta or beans.
I adapted my recipe from Victoria Wise’s American Charcuterie, which is one of my favorite charcuterie books; Wise was one of the first chefs at Chez Panisse in Berkeley back in the early 1970s.
My version of this bacon really hinges on juniper berries, which are available in some good supermarkets, or you can order them online.
Because there is no smoke, no nitrate and such a sort cure, this bacon only lasts about 10 days in the fridge, tightly wrapped. But it freezes fine.
A word on the pork belly: Buy the best quality you can find, preferably from a local farmer who raises high-quality pork. Older pigs make better bacon, and it goes without saying that fatter pigs make better bacon. If you live near Sacramento, I get my pork belly from a farmer named John Bledsoe, who sells at the Sacramento and Davis farmer’s markets on the weekends.
Makes one 5-pound slab of bacon (you can cut it into smaller pieces after it’s cured)
- 1 five-pound piece of pork belly
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup black pepper
- 4 tablespoons of crushed juniper berries
- 2 tablespoons crushed dried sage (I use a native California white sage)
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- Get a lidded container just about large enough to contain the pork belly. Cut the belly into a nice rectangular shape to fit. Use the trimmings in sausage, or slow-cook them.
- It is your choice to leave the skin on the belly or cut it off. If you are planning to slow-cook your finished bacon, like with beans or by itself, leave the rind on: It is delicious once cooked. But if you plan on this with sauteed greens or in place of commercial bacon, slice the rind off carefully with your sharpest knife.
- Mix all the spices and rub them into the pork belly. Coat the belly with any remaining spices.
- Put the belly in a large freezer bag or wrap in plastic wrap or butcher paper, and then put it into the fridge.
- Keep the bacon in the fridge for 5-6 days, depending on how thick it is. Really thick belly needs more time. Turn over the slab every day. It will weep moisture; this is a good thing. Just leave it in the container.
- After the bacon is cured, take it out and rinse it off with cold water. Pat the bacon dry with a paper towel and set it on a wire rack to dry a bit. You can leave it on the counter for a few hours, or overnight in the fridge.
- Cut it into pieces you think you’ll use within 10 days and freeze the rest in plastic, then foil. Or, better yet, vacuum seal them.