Saturday, November 24, 2012

Frankenbacon - Mi Amigo el Mexi-Bacon

So here we are on the home-stretch as we explore the insanity of Frankenbacons. Most appropriately stated by the great thespian Ozzy, "I'm going off the rails on a crazy train," Similar to the last post I won't be putting in too much background as it's already been discussed ad nauseum here, here and here. And this brings us to #3 on the list of experiments, Mi Amigo el Mexi-Bacon. This second to last bacon installment kinda straddles the line between the Bulgogi Bacon and the Dilly Bacon and caused me both a bit of grief and anguish. Similar to the Dilly there just wasn't a lot of flavor present but like the Bulgogi, there should have been a lot more there. To be honest, I had high hopes and they were dashed like a fart in the wind.

Below is the base recipe and while other posts didn't seem to need a lot of methodology discussion I feel that this one needs at least a bit, primarily for the lessons it taught, but mostly what to do different next time. With no further ado, here we goooooo.....

710 grams pork belly
21.3 grams kosher salt
2.4 grams pink salt
1 ancho chile (see methodology below)
3 molino chiles (see methodology below)
1/3 cup piloncillo (unrefined mexican cane sugar)

The first three ingredients are a basic bacon cure while the rest is the Mexi part of the equation. Typically when working with dried chiles the standard way to prep them is to remove the stem, open up the chile and remove the seeds then toast the chile in a dry skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat until they become fragrant, soften and blister slightly. You want a light toast, not char. Also, because chiles are an imperfectly shaped product you'll likely need to press them down onto said dry skillet with a spatula. Alternatively I've heard of some people toasting chiles over an open gas flame while holding the chile with tongs.
Now the piloncillo, that's one tough mother to crack, literally. It's unrefined cane sugar that's poured into a cone-shaped mold and allowed to solidify. And when I mean solidify I mean solid like a rock. In the last when my piloncillos were not as fresh I had to resort to either a hammer or the spine of a heavy chefs knife to break the cone into chunks. Sadly I'm not joking so be careful here folks. Thankfully the cone I purchased for this run was super fresh and I was able to shave off slices like a big ol’ bar-o-chocolate. I followed the standard use of piloncillo which is to say melted, I put the sugar in a saucepan over very low heat and melted the sugar into a liquid.

So now what we have are some toasted chiles and Mexican napalm, I mean sugar. The idea was that I'd rub the belly down with the salt and cure, paint on the sugar and sprinkle with chopped chiles. However, I will now share with you the first fart in the wind. I prepped the sugar while I was working on the chiles, but because I didn't want to overcook the sugar into burnt caramel I pulled it off the heat as soon as it was happily melted. However, once I got around to using the sugar it had cooled back into a near solid block. So....back onto the heat it went, but carefully and just until it melted (again).

Now back to a semi-melted sugar I pour it onto the (cold) pork belly and the first thing that happens is that I'm back to hard as a rock, or at least that's what I thought. In my haste to save the day I attempted to smear the hard sugar over the belly and found out that it. Was. Not. Solid. Or even cool for that matter. I refer you to my prior reference to Mexican Napalm. The words that spewed forth from my pie hole would have made a sailor blush and the end result was chunks of solidified sugar encrusting my fingers and leaving a sad patchwork of sugar on the belly. To add insult to injury I decided to attempt to rub the now shredded chiles on the belly leaving me pretty much tarred and feathered which would be fart in the wind numero dos. Not so much pleasant. But hey, I now had the beginning of some presumably, hopefully, maybe awesome bacon. So the bacon was allowed to cure in all its ugliness and when done it was rinsed, hung and smoked per the other frankenbacons.  On the middle belly in the picture below note the patchwork coloration achieved by imperfect application of chile making the bacon look like one of Cruella DeVille’s precious’. And believe you me the looks did not improve one little bit with smoking, not even a little.

So tasting notes.... Meh...boring. Not much there but still had the funk of the other frankenbacons which I've previously attributed to the hops in the smoke production. So what needs to change? Quite a bit to be honest, my failures are opportunities for improvement and this is how I'm planning to proceed....

  1. No napalm - instead I'll find a way to grate the piloncillo so it can be applied more like standard sugar
  2. Pulverize the chiles into a powder
  3. Enhanced flavorings and I'm leaning towards cumin (one of my personal favorite spices) and/or cinnamon Stay tuned for the final installment of Frankenbacon-dom, Hopped Bacon.


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