A modern heritage foodstead
The Ladies and I were talking this morning at breakfast about the merits of pigs and cows.
Finally, Bling stamped her shapely hoof on the ground and let us all know in no uncertain terms that she would have no more of it. “Anything pigs can do,” she said, “cows can do better. Cows can do anything better than pigs.” “Yes. They. Can,” she firmly finished.
Well. Bling didn’t know this, but February’s Charcutepalooza challenge was looming large in my mind. I had skidded in at the very last minute and was rushing to get my hands on a copy of the book and the needed ingredients. I was feeling the pressure to step up and deliver or forever feel my shame.
I still wasn’t sure how I should approach this meaty challenge and then, as I listened to Bling’s words, I knew I had it. Charcutepalooza: the Beef Tour was born. I don’t really think that’s what Bling thought we were talking about, but that’s ok. I thought it best not to mention anything about ducks….
My head must truly be under a rock because I had no clue this awesomeness that is Charcutepalooza was even going on until the very last minute. Even today, my book and pink salt still have not arrived. Frantically studying the internet for pancetta instructions, I read the word botulism way too often to feel confident fudging my way through pancetta.
My bacon and I are still in the getting to know you stage so I’m keeping things simple. I want to focus on the flavors and differences of the pork and beef versions. I used the same rub – salt, Demerara sugar, bay, thyme, roughly cracked black peppercorns and nutmeg on both meats. I didn’t use the pink salt, not because I’m against it, but because it hadn’t arrived in the mail yet.
My bacons need to continue curing for a couple more days, so for today, I carved off a hunk of both meats to prepare cured Belly Dan Barber’s Way. It’s simple enough; cured, braised and pan-fried belly. It pairs easily with pretty much anything; pan seared cabbage, mashed potatoes, grits, French fries, beans & greens, risotto, green beans, sautéed greens or mashed Jerusalem artichokes and a crisp, bright salad. And, it’s going to make great pulled beef/pork for tacos or salads.
I assure you that even though Auburn Meadow Farm is all about the cows, this pig is getting a fair shake. In fact, in Dan Barber’s recipe, I have to admit the pork is my favorite. The beef was very good too, but was dangerously close to tasting like pot roast.
Having never seen nor tasted Dan Barber’s pork belly made by Dan Barber himself, I realize I am really putting myself out there. This is one of those deceptively simple dishes that a master can really make shine. After the curing, the braising and the frying, the fat layer achieves this perfect, melting state of barely solid with a delicately crispy crust that is almost wonderous.
Committed to keeping things really, really simple, I chose basic seared cabbage wedges as my side. I figured with all the salty, fatty cured meat-y flavor, I needed a side that can take a solid back seat and showcase that meltingly luscious fat.
The meat fat created a really nice coating for the cast iron skillet. All I did was cut a cabbage into 8 wedges (leaving the core in keeps the wedges intact), heat the skillet to medium – medium high, melt some fat, then add the cabbage. Turn gently after 3 – 5 minutes and brown the other side.
Because the meat was salty and seasoned with the cure, I only added freshly ground black pepper. Sear your beef or pork belly and serve immediately. Yum! Simple, warm, homey supper from local ingredients.
As the beef and the pork continue to age in the cure, the appearance of the pork is suffering more from the lack of pink salt. The beef looks rich and dark while the pork just looks duller and grayer each day.
Both were really salty straight from the cure – but – the flavor! Making your own cure mix makes a world of difference. Both are yummy but oh, my, that beef has promise! Steak-y flavor with a bacony texture – I’m really excited and just a little sheepish that I haven’t thought of this before.
Beef bacon excites me because it’s a fresh and unexpected way to use a cut of beef that is typically overlooked. This bacon that will soon be in my freezer is the kind of simple project that makes quick everyday meals awesome with very little extra effort. When you are trying to eat as few processed foods as possible, these are the sorts of things that demonstrate that eating humanely raised meats and local, seasonal vegetables is a nearly painless adjustment to your lifestyle and one with lots of unexpected benefits and pleasures.
Beef bacon doesn’t threaten pork bacon’s existence, but it does add lots of interesting and simple options for those committed to using the whole animal. Everyone wants steaks and roasts, but there’s so much more to a beast. Again and again the less expensive cuts prove to be the ones that steal the show….