• Berkshire Bacon Fried Rice

    frice6frice10frice13Ah, home-cured bacon. The culinary gift that just keeps on giving. Once you start making your own bacon, the possibilities seem limitless. So much flavor, so many textures, so many ways to use it. You can use bacon as a main dish, an accent for salt and/or crunch, a sandwich ingredient, or just serve it for breakfast. And the fat adds flavor to anything you cook with. Good stuff.

    frice2frice3And good stuff becomes great stuff if you use the right pork. Most pork belly will work for home cured bacon, and it will be much better than store-bought, packaged bacon. But if you spend a little more time and money you can order a Berkshire (sometimes called Kurabota) or Duroc pork belly from an artisan farmer. Not only are these pigs more humanely treated, but they taste a whole lot better than “industrial” pigs. While there are a number of artisan breeds, we prefer the sweet, dark and meaty Berkshire for bacon and barbecue.

    frice4frice5Making bacon with Berkshire pork is no different from using regular pork, we just follow our standard bacon recipe. But because this pork is so sweet we prefer to very lightly smoke with applewood or simply finish in the oven. The pork has enough flavor to stand well on its own. Sometimes the best thing you can do as a cook is leave the ingredients alone.

    frice1So what do we do with our Berkshire bacon? Actually, we sell some to friends. It helps cover costs and keeps us from eating too much. And we do serve bacon for breakfast on weekends. But usually we cook with bacon as an accent. And there are few better ways to use bacon than in fried rice. So simple, so easy, but soooo good.

    For this dish we adapted a recipe from “Breakfast for Dinner” a fun cookbook that, not surprisingly, uses breakfast-related ingredients for dinner. While sometimes a real stretch (yes, fried rice has bacon and egg so there is some “breakfast” there…sorta), the recipes are fun and supply some good ideas. That’s enough for us.

    frice11The recipe combines fried brown rice with a mixture of bacon, onion, frozen peas, green onion, a little mirin (or water), garlic and ginger. You can top with a fried egg (our preference) or scramble the eggs and mix them in. Garnish with some carrot ribbons, green onion or sesame and then season with soy and Sriracha. Then you are in business…

    frice12How does it taste? Soft and crunchy rice with nutty flavors, crisp, sweet and salty bacon, savory onion, garlic and ginger, sweet earthy peas and rich eggs. Hard to go wrong here. Just be sure to make your own bacon, or use the best artisan bacon you can find. You won’t be disappointed.

    Berkshire Bacon Fried Rice:

    (Adapted from “Breakfast for Dinner”)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • If you don’t cure your own bacon, look for slab bacon or artisan bacon that is meaty and lightly smoked with applewood. Hickory-smoked bacon will work here but the flavor will dominate the dish.
    • We use left over brown jasmine rice in this dish, as the nutty flavors work well. But any long-grain rice (or really any leftover rice) will work. You need day old rice for this dish- as it will not turn mushy when cooked.

    What You Get: Tasty, easy fried rice at home. What else do you need?

    What You Need: No special equipment required, and you may have the ingredients in your fridge right now.

    How Long? If you already have the rice cooked, about 20 minutes. Anytime dish.

    Ingredients:

    (Serves 4-6)

    • 2-3 cups day-old cooked brown jasmine rice (or leftover rice)
    • 1/2 pound bacon, diced or cut into lardons
    • 1/2 large yellow onion, diced
    • 4 green onions, thinly sliced, plus extra for garnish
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
    • 1 cup frozen peas
    • 3 tablespoons mirin (or water)
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 medium carrot, sliced into ribbons
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper
    • Soy sauce, to taste
    • Sriracha, or hot sauce, to taste

    Assemble:

    1. Place a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until slightly crisp and the fat renders. Drain all but a tablespoon of the fat from the pan, and reserve. Add the onions and cook until soft, 2-3 minutes. Then add the peas, green onion, and ginger. Cook for 2-3 minutes than add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, stirring frequently (don’t burn the garlic). Add the mirin, stir and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and our the mixture into a large bowl.
    2. Place the pan back on the stove over medium-high heat and add the reserved bacon fat. You should have 2-3 tablespoons of fat (add oil if needed). Spread the rice in the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown crispy spots form, 6-8 minutes. When done, add the rice to the bacon mixture and stir to combine.
    3. In another pan, over medium-low heat, cook the eggs until the whites set but the yolks are still runny (or to your preference).
    4. To serve, place the rice mixture in a bowl. Add an egg to the top and garnish with the carrot ribbons. Season with soy sauce and/or Sriracha. Serve.
  • Tomato, Cheddar And Bacon Salad

    Tomato, Cheddar and Bacon Salad.

    Here in California, Indian summer is (finally) in full swing. This means we get a few weeks of end-of-season tomatoes, and we do try and make the most of them. As noted in the blog, we generally make Caprese salads with our tomatoes, or even match them with blue cheese for a tangy dish. But as we move toward fall, we like to match up the tomatoes with bigger, meatier flavors. Around here, that usually means adding bacon.

    And since we make our own bacon and need to use our ripe tomatoes, this dish pops-up regularly on our table. And if matching tomatoes and bacon, then cheddar cheese won’t be far behind (no, we don’t make our own cheese…yet). In fact, this salad is really a deconstructed version of one of our favorite versions of grilled cheese and/or filling for omelets. The sweet acidity of the tomato matches with the salty, crunchy bacon and the sharp, creamy cheddar cheese- a good range of flavors and textures. We also add some Italian parsley, oil, vinegar, seasoning and (optionally) a little hot sauce to round out the dish. This salad has a lot of flavor and will please a crowd.

    Making the salad is as easy as browning some bacon or pancetta, slicing tomatoes and grating cheese. But we do suggest a few things to make the most of the dish. Firstly, using a few varieties of tomatoes (we used purple Cherokee, Valencia and Sungolds) adds depth of flavor and texture. Secondly, be sure to use the best bacon you can get and cook until very crispy, the crunch adds a lot to the dish. Sharp cheddar cheese, white or orange, works best. Sherry vinegar plays very well with tomatoes, but cider vinegar will also work. A little heat will add a lot to the dish, if there is a hot sauce you like, a few dashes on the tomatoes will take this dish over the top. Finally, make the dish a few minutes ahead, allowing time for the cheese to reach room temperature and the flavors to meld is worth the wait.

    Continue reading

  • The Putney Farm Bacon Chronicles

    Breakfast of champions.

    We sold our first home-cured bacon! In fact, we have a few customers now and demand is growing. We did not plan on building an underground bacon business, but selling some of the bacon does help with expenses. It also helps to sell some of the excess bacon, as we are experimenting with different cures and flavors, and the pork is piling up (otherwise we eat it all).

    A kitchen that smells like bacon is a happy place.

    We have been testing different sugars in the cure (brown sugar, maple syrup, cane syrup) and also different seasonings like garlic, thyme and juniper. So far, brown sugar with a touch of garlic, a solid amount of pepper and a few sprigs of thyme has been the favorite cure. This week we will be experimenting with applewood and cherrywood smoke, maybe hickory as well. We will be updating the blog as things unfold.

    And if you want to buy some bacon, let us know.

  • Asparagus and Rice Soup

    Make this tonight, you will be very happy.

    We have been blogging about food for a month and just struck gold. This is not to say we haven’t made some good dishes and cocktails. We have, and we feel great about sharing them. But sometimes you make a dish and it just sings. This is one of those dishes.

    Is this the best dish ever? No. But is this the best dish you can make with 2 pans and in 30 minutes? Possibly, yes. We tested it on friends and kids. They agree. Kids happily (as in finishing the whole thing) eating asparagus? Yes, it’s that good. Friends texting you saying “holy s#@t that’s good”? Yes. And we have Judy Rodgers from Zuni in San Francisco to thank for it. Continue reading

  • Make bacon at home. Have a BLT. Smile.

    A few weeks ago I was perusing Michael Ruhlman’s excellent cooking blog (Ruhlman.com) and came across a quote that piqued my interest:

    “No excuses, if you like to cook, for not curing your own Pancetta”

    Actually, I can think of many excuses for not curing my own Pancetta: Other cooking priorities, a 24-hour day, a good local supplier, fear of poisoning family, etc.

    But one thing I am learning, as I try to expand my cooking skills, is not to dismiss passionate statements like the one above. I will write more on passion and food, but I am finding that if an experienced, and thoughtful, chef like Ruhlman says something this definitive, he means it. Now at times, foodies can make passionate statements about everything (this may be why many people find foodies annoying). Random, and sometimes misinformed, passion can lead to a lot of blind alleys and poor, wasteful cooking. But I took Ruhlman at his word, and I am glad I did.

    I did make one change and start with Bacon, rather than Pancetta. It turns our both are cured pork belly, but Pancetta is air-dried while bacon is cooked and/or smoked. Other differences between bacon and pancetta include accents to the cure (sugars, herbs, garlic, spices, etc) but these accents are really under the control of the cook. The one step that may be a barrier to home-curing is the need to buy “pink” curing salts. Ruhlman gives you an internet source and I ordered it for $2 and it took a few days to arrive. I now have enough for dozens of cures.

    You want this, you really, really do...

    In all honesty, I chose to start with home-cured Bacon because it takes less time and we could not figure out where to hang Pancetta without our cat taking early samples. But the first attempt with Bacon was such a success that we will be making more of our own Bacon with different cures and smoke. Carolyn already wants a maple-syrup cured Bacon and it is easy to do! We will also make Pancetta, we just need to rig a drying setup that defeats the cat.

    Once our Bacon was made, it turned out to be the basis of a surprising off-season meal- BLTs! We had a decent hothouse tomato, (yes, yes I know it is winter but it is a local product from the farmers market, jeez), Ecopia Farms lettuce (the best in the world, seriously, more on this later) and Carolyn made a loaf of wheat bread that morning. What a gal, sigh.  The sandwiches were a great treat and it all came together because we made the bacon. Thanks Ruhlman.

    Home Cured Bacon:

    (Adapted from Michael Ruhlman)

    Notes before you start:

    -       Find somewhere you can buy pork belly. A few calls to your local butcher shops should work, but it is not as easy to find as one might think. Internet mail order is also an option.

    -       You can use pork belly with skin on or off (you may not have a choice) but if you do not want to use the skin, it will be useless added weight.

    What you get: Very tasty bacon that has sweeter, cleaner flavor with very little shrinkage. Great for all traditional bacon uses. The bacon can be thickly sliced and served by itself as an appetizer. If you have been to the famous Peter Luger steakhouse in New York and had their bacon appetizer you will get the same experience at home- friends and family will rave.

    What you need: The only special equipment required is curing salt (sodium nitrites)- which is safe in the small amounts used, it should be kept away from children. Otherwise you need a few sturdy 2- gallon ziptop plastic bags or a big plastic container(s). Space in the fridge for 7 days for curing. An accurate meat thermometer and a scale are very helpful.

    How long?: 10 minutes of prep. 7 days of curing. About 3-4 hours of cooking or smoking time. If you start on a Saturday morning you can have bacon the next Saturday evening and you will be ready for a truly awesome Sunday brunch.

    Ingredients:

    -       5 lbs. fresh pork belly. Skin-on or skin-off. It is OK to slice the belly into pieces to fit in your bags / containers.

    -       2 oz. Kosher salt (1/4 cup), Kosher salts vary in size of crystal- using weight is better.

    -       2 teaspoons pink curing salt #1 (see here for source)

    -       4 bay leaves, crumbled

    -       4 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper, freshly ground if possible

    -       1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

    -       ¼ cup dark brown sugar

    -       1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed with a knife. The garlic shows in the final product, if you do not like garlic or the cloves are large- adjust to taste.

    -       5 sprigs fresh thyme (optional- we love thyme and use it, it adds a very savory note)

    Assemble:

    1. Thoroughly mix salt, curing salt garlic and all the herbs/spices in a medium sized bowl.
    2. Add pork belly to bags or plastic container.
    3. Add curing mix to containers- rub onto belly. Take you time and get an even coating.
    4. Seal container / bags. If using bags, seal and place on a sheet pan. Add to fridge. (It is wise to add a post-it note with date and time).
    5. It takes 7 days to cure, halfway through cure open containers and spread out the cure again on the meat. You will see some liquid has been drawn from the belly- this is fine. Keep the liquid or drain.
    6. After 7 days, take out the belly and rinse with cold water.
    7. To finish bacon, preheat oven to 200 degrees (you can also smoke the bacon- but that is another recipe). Place belly on a sheet pan or rack on sheet pan (better). Cook until internal temp is 150 degrees. This may take up to 4 hours depending on the size of your piece of belly.
    8. Slice it up and cook it! Eat, repeat.