Archive for the ‘pork’ Category

Although we’re about as far away from picking fresh asparagus from my garden as we can be here in Southern New England, once in awhile I give in and buy some at the supermarket. As long as the stalks are nice, green, and thin–I don’t like the fat ones–I’ll buy some to prepare this simple but delicious recipe.
Prepping asparagus is easy, and you don’t need a knife to cut off the woody bottoms of the stalks. Simply bend the stalks at the bottom and they will naturally snap off at the right point.
My daughter loves this dish, and as any parent will tell you, if your kid is craving a dish that has vegetables in it, count yourself lucky–and make it!!
4 mild Italian sausages, sliced into pieces 1/2″ thick
1 lb. penne pasta
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh trumpet mushrooms (white button mushrooms work, too)
2 cups fresh asparagus, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, passed through a garlic press
1 cup homemade chicken broth
6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Have the pasta water boiling, and add the pasta, cooking until just a bit more undercooked than al dente.
Heat a large pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Sauté the sausage pieces until browned and cooked through, but not over cooked. Remove the sausages from the pan and place them in a separate bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left behind in the pan.
Place the pan back on stove and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, and sauté for 10 seconds. Add the sage, and saute for 10 seconds, stirring. Add the chopped mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, then add the chicken broth, and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Pour the contents of the pan into the bowl with the sausages.
Return the pan to the stove, add a little more olive oil, and on medium heat, sauté the asparagus pieces. Cook them until they are al dente, not too soft. Once the asparagus has reached this stage, return all the contents of the sausage/mushroom bowl to the pan to heat through. Drain the pasta, and add it to the pan as well, combining all the ingredients. If it looks too dry, add a little pasta water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Make sure you serve this hot, with grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top, and drizzle lightly over the top with extra virgin olive oil.

 

I’m a fan of Berkshire pork, also known as kurobuta pork. It’s a heritage breed with wonderful, tasty “good” fat, which gives the meat fantastic flavor any way you cook it. I get it on line, and keep a stash of cuts (pork belly, pork chops, ribs, etc.) in my freezer.

But I was craving a pork loin the other day, and not having one of those in my arsenal, I searched for one in my local store. I found one that was humanely raised and organic, with a nice layer of fat on top ideal for low-and-slow cooking…certainly worth a try.

There are as many pork rubs out there as there are barbecue fanatics, and nobody has “the best” rub. The best rub is the one you make with the ingredients that you like. So, go with your favorite flavors, and you won’t go wrong.

This time around, I used this combination…

 

 

2 tablespoons Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal. See note below.)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika

 

Combine these in a bowl and set it aside.

 

Not all Kosher salt weighs the same, so equal measurements of different brands will give you different levels of saltiness and different results. The two biggest brands are Morton’s and Diamond Crystal, but Diamond Crystal is less dense…it weighs less than Morton’s. Keep that in mind as you salt your food. That’s why you’ll see Kosher salt measured by weight, not by volume, in many recipes.

I had a 4-lb. pork loin this time. I removed it from its wrapper and placed it in a tray for seasoning. I gently scored the fat cap with a sharp knife so the fat melt while cooking, and so that I could really rub my spice blend into every bit of the meat.

I inserted a meat probe in the deepest part of the loin, so that it would notify me when my pork loin reaches its optimum temperature.

 

The pork loin, probed and ready.

 

I let the meat sit at room temperature for at least an hour, bringing the internal temperature of the meat from 33 to 68 degrees.

I use an electric smoker, so I plugged it in and set the temperature for 250 degrees. I added hickory chips through a side chute, so it smokes the meat while it cooks.

 

In the smoker…

 

It used to be that the recommended minimum cooking temperature for pork was 160 degrees. But today’s pork is different than our mama’s pork, and the current recommended temperature is 145 degrees. Personally, I don’t want to eat pink pork, but I also don’t want to dry it out…so I split the difference: I cook the pork until the thermometer reads 145, then I remove it from the smoker, cover it in foil, and let it rest for 20-30 minutes. In that time, the temperature of the meat still rises a few degrees, and that’s when I’m OK to serve it.

 

I’m notified when the pork reaches the desired temperature.

 

I leave the probe in the pork so I can monitor the temperature while it’s resting. Jumped 1 degree by the time I brought it into the kitchen!

 

Resting, wrapped in foil. My small pork loin went up a total of 4 degrees, to 149. But larger cuts of meat will experience an even bigger temperature jump.

 

Delicious and perfectly smoked!

 

The relatively flat pork loin actually tightened up and became rounder during the smoking/cooking process.

 

 

 

 

Few dishes scream out “comfort food” like meatloaf. My Mom’s meatloaf was awesome, and she’d cut a huge slab of it onto my plate, with fantastic butter-loaded Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles on the side. I couldn’t stop eating it.

I never thought of making meatloaf when I moved away, because it gave my Mom something special to make for me when I came home to visit. She was thrilled that there was a dish she could make that I would devour every time, without hesitation. (The others were her roasted lamb and Lithuanian pierogis called koldūnai (kol-doon-ay).

But now that my Mom is in an assisted living facility, I’ve had to take meatloaf matters into my own hands. I never got my Mom’s exact recipe. But I had an idea of what went into it, so I gave it a shot.

The standard mix for my Mom’s meatloaf was one-third each ground beef, pork and veal. I go 2/3’s beef and 1/3 pork instead, unless I can get my hands on humanely-raised veal from a farm down the road. My Mom used Lipton onion soup mix in her meatloaf. I chose to stay away from packaged ingredients which have chemicals and preservatives. And instead of layering slices of bacon on top as many people do, I fry and chop the bacon and mix it into the meat, giving my meatloaf delicious smokey bacon goodness in every bite!

To keep this dish gluten-free, I use GF breadcrumbs. I buy loaves of Udi’s frozen gluten-free bread, toast the bread slices, then put them in a food processor to make great-tasting bread crumbs that have all the flavor of regular bread crumbs, without the gluten.

 

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4 strips bacon, fried and chopped
1 yellow onion, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
pork fat or olive oil
2 lbs. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup ketchup
2 eggs

 

Fry the strips of bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and chop it fine. Set it aside.

Keeping the rendered bacon fat in the pan, sauté the onion with it until translucent. Add the salt, pepper and garlic. Set the pan aside, letting it cool to room temperature.

 

 

In a bowl, combine the meat, bread crumbs, ketchup, bacon, eggs, and the sautéed onion mixture. Form it into a loaf and place it in a loaf pan. Bake at 350 for about an hour.

 

Delicious, caramelized meatloaf. Leftovers are always welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been experimenting with my coffee rub, one that combines coffee with cocoa powder, brown sugar, salt, garlic and onion. I’ve tried it on various cuts of beef, on chicken, and pork…and it works well on everything!

 

A Berkshire pork belly, cured for several weeks, then rinsed.

 

I took some of the rub and cured a beautiful Berkshire pork belly with it, to make bacon. I simply scored the fat side of the belly, then massaged both sides of the belly with the rub, and placed it in a container in the fridge for several weeks. I flipped it over every few days to allow both sides of the belly to come in contact with the liquid that formed when the salt in the rub extracted moisture from the meat. After several weeks, I removed the belly from the container and rinsed it well with clean water, drying it with paper towels. I then re-rubbed the pork belly with more of the coffee rub and placed it in the smoker for 2 hours at 250 degrees, smoking it with hickory, my favorite wood for bacon.

 

The pork belly, re-rubbed and ready to smoke.

 

It just so happened that on the weekend I was smoking the belly, I decided to smoke a couple of racks of pork ribs for myself. These also came from a beautiful heritage Berkshire pig, and I coated them with the coffee rub, allowing them to rest in the fridge for 24 hours putting them in the smoker.

 

The Berkshire pork ribs, rubbed and ready to smoke. I cut the racks in half for easier handling.

 

Since the ribs and belly were in the smoker at the same time, the ribs first smoked at 250 degrees with hickory along with the bacon, for about 2 hours. Once I removed the bacon, I dropped the temperature of the smoker to 225, and smoked the ribs for 2 more hours. I then removed the ribs, sprinkled them with a little more coffee rub, and wrapped them in aluminum foil, before returning them to the smoker for another hour.

 

 

The ribs, and the bacon, were absolute perfection!

 

 

The ribs, smoked for several hours.

 

Re-sprinkling a little coffee rub on the ribs.

 

Wrapping the half-racks in foil. Some go back to the smoker, some head for the freezer to be enjoyed later.

 

Since I had 2 full racks of ribs, more than enough for several meals, I cut each rack in half before smoking for easier handling. Once I wrapped them in foil, I let a couple of them cool on the counter before placing them in a freezer bag and putting them in the freezer for future use. Already smoked and cured, all I’ll need to do is take a foil package out of the freezer, and place it in a 250-degree oven for a couple of hours to warm the ribs up and make them fall-off-the-bone tender.

 

The ribs, after another hour in the foil.

 

Here’s my coffee rub recipe. Make a lot of it and use it on everything from burgers to whole chickens to pulled pork sandwiches.

 

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coffee (use your favorite)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

 

Rib perfection!

 

Pork chops were a favorite of mine growing up, but my Mom cooked them only one way: breaded and fried in a pan full of oil. They were good, but they were greasy, and my Mom was not big on seasonings. And she cooked the hell out of it. It was time to improve on the original.

Using the best quality pork I can get, like heritage Berkshire pork, makes a real difference in flavor. It also matters to me that the animals are humanely treated while they’re on the farm. No factory-farmed meats.

 

chop 1

 

 

2 Berkshire pork chops
1 egg
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (gluten-free works, too)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
olive oil

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Set up 2 bowls. In one, crack and scramble the egg. In the other, combine the bread crumbs, salt, pepper, oregano, parsley, granulated garlic and granulated onion.

Place an oven-proof pan on medium-high heat and add a little olive oil. Once the oil is hot, coat the pork chops in the egg wash and then coat them with the bread crumb mixture. Place the chops in the hot pan to brown and sear on one side. After a few minutes, flip the chops over in the pan and place the pan in the oven to finish cooking.

 

chop 2

Remember, good pork does not need to be cooked to death! A light pink to the meat is OK. You want to cook the meat to about 145 degrees, letting it rest for at least 3 minutes before serving.

 

 

 

As I’ve mentioned previously, I love the Kona-crusted NY strip at the Capital Grille, so much so that it inspired me to make a coffee rub of my own. I’ve been using it on steaks and burgers for years. But last week, I used it on a slow-smoked pork shoulder for the first time, and it was fantastic!

I used a smaller pork shoulder, about 6 lbs., and smoked it for about 12 hours. Obviously, if you use a larger hunka meat, you’ll need more time. I prefer a bone-in shoulder over boneless. I think it gives greater flavor.

 

Rubbed and ready to smoke!

 

My coffee rub is easy to make, and I usually make a lot of it at once, since it stores well.

 

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coffee (use your favorite)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

I mix all the ingredients well, then rub generously on the pork shoulder before placing it a 250-degree smoker for about 12 hours. I use an electric smoker, which allows me to set the temperature and forget it, with the exception of occasionally adding hickory chips. I love just a hint of smokiness…I don’t want the rub to be overpowered by the smoke.

 

Perfectly smoked, with the bone easily sliding out of the shoulder.

The brown sugar in the coffee rub creates a beautiful crust on the meat, which goes really well with the pork and the barbecue sauce I make.

The barbecue sauce uses much-needed vinegar. It cuts through the rich fattiness of the pork, and is absolutely delicious.

2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

 

Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the flavors have blended, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temp. If you store it in an airtight container in the fridge, it’ll stay good for a few months.

 

A beautifully smoked pork shoulder, amazing barbecue sauce…what more do you need for an amazing pulled pork sandwich except a toasted brioche bun and perhaps some of my world-famous home fries on the side?

The home fries? That recipe is for another blog!

 

 

I’ve got two methods for cooking pork chops, each depending on the thickness of the chop. If the pork chop is thin, I got for high heat over hardwood charcoal, flipping the meat often so that it cooks all the way through without burning. The famous Cope Chops are perfect for this method. (https://wp.me/p1c1Nl-1xU)

Cope chops.

 

 

But if I’ve got a thicker chop, I like to brine it first, so that it retains its moisture during a longer cooking process. I brine the chops for a couple of hours, then light a fire using charcoal briquets, which will give me a steadier, longer-lasting flame.

Nice, thick chops!

 

Making a brine is easy, and it adds wonderful flavor to the chop. I use a smaller batch of the brine I use on my Thanksgiving turkey.

2 quarts water
1 onion
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1/2 cup Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole allspice
2 bay leaves
2 quarts ice water
2 to 4 thick-cut pork chops

 

Pour the first 2 quarts of water into a large pot. Quarter the onions, carrots, and celery (not need to peel them) and add them to the water. Add the Kosher salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice, and bay leaves. (A note on the Kosher salt: different brands have different weights. For example, Morton Kosher Salt is heavier than Diamond Crystal, so you’ll be adding more salt with the same 1/2 cup measurement.)

Boil for a few minutes, then remove from heat to cool.

 

Let the pot come to a boil for a few minutes. Remove it from the heat and let the brine cool down to room temperature.

Once the brine is at room temp, add the 2 quarts of ice water, and drop in the pork chops. Make sure they stay covered with the brine. Let the chops brine for about 2 hours.

The chops are in there!

 

After 2 hours of brining, rinse the chops under cold water, and pat them dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.

Light a fire using charcoal briquets. While the fire is heating up, make the rub for the pork chops.

 

1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

 

Combine the salt, garlic, onion, brown sugar and pepper in a bowl, and then season the chops liberally on all sides with the mixture.

Pork chops with the rub. I love grilling some Vidalia onions, too.

 

Let the chops rest at room temperature while you’re waiting for the grill.

Once the coals are ready, I establish a hot side and a cool side on the grill. I sear the chops on the hot side of the grill, being careful not to burn them. (The sugar in the rub may char a bit, but that’s OK.)

 

Once you’ve got a nice sear on all the chops, move them to the cooler side of the grill, and close the lid, making sure there’s air circulating so you don’t smother the fire.

Having a meat thermometer is handy, because although you want pork to be cooked thoroughly, you don’t want to overcook it. You’re looking for a temperature of 160 degrees for pork. Once you’ve reached that, you remove the chops from the grill, put them on a plate, and cover them with foil to rest for about 15 minutes. During that time, the interior temperature of the chops will rise to about 170, before slowly cooling down.

Removing the chops and letting them rest gives you enough time to throw some tasty veggies on the grill. I like to simply rub them with olive oil, and any of the pork rub that may be left over, tossing them over the hot part of the coals until just cooked.

 

 

By the way, when using a meat thermometer, be careful you don’t do something dumb, like I did. I didn’t notice that I had it on a Celsius setting, instead of Fahrenheit. So I couldn’t understand why my chops were “only” at 60 degrees after a long time of cooking! (That’s 140 Fahrenheit!) I caught my mistake in time, fortunately not cooking the crap out of my chops!!

 

 

 

Easter Sunday nightmare at the airport: my wife is stuck in Florida, and it looks like she won’t be home until after midnight. So, our Sunday brunch as a family will have to wait until another time.

My daughter just got back from a little vacation of her own yesterday, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to cook whatever she wanted. (I already knew it was going to be this dish!)

 

Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Fettuccine Alfredo are my daughter’s two favorite pasta dishes. When she couldn’t decide which one she wanted for dinner one night, I decided that she’d get both! (Yes, I spoil her rotten!)

The addition of chicken and peas made for a more balanced plate. This is now one of my go-to dishes when guests arrive, since many parts can be prepared ahead of time. And the gluten-free version tastes as good the original!

 

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Start with the chicken…

The breading for the chicken uses gluten-free bread that I’ve toasted, crumbled and put into a food processor to make breadcrumbs. (I use Udi’s frozen GF bread, found in any supermarket.) I get a lot more flavor this way than using store-bought breadcrumbs from a can. I add gluten-free flour to it to lighten it up. Cup4Cup is by far the best GF flour I’ve tried.

If you’re not on a gluten-free diet, simply use regular breadcrumbs and all-purpose flour in the same proportions.

1/2 lb. chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
1 egg, scrambled
1/2 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
3 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
olive oil, for frying

Scramble the egg in a bowl. Cut the chicken into pieces, and add them to the egg, making sure they get evenly coated. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs, flour, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Fill a pan with about an inch of olive oil. Heat to medium-high, for frying.

In batches not to overcrowd the pan, take the chicken pieces out of the egg and toss them in the bread crumb mixture, shaking off the excess. Place them carefully in the hot oil and fry on both sides until golden. Since they’re small pieces, they should cook all the way through easily. Drain on a plate covered with paper towels. Do this with all the chicken and set it aside. Try not to eat it all before you make the rest of the dish! (This chicken can also be eaten as is–these are my daughter’s favorite nuggets–or used with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese to make a delicious chicken parmigiana.)

 

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The carbonara factor…

Many recipes for Spaghetti alla Carbonara use pancetta or bacon. But the original recipe calls for guanciale: cured (but not smoked) pig jowls, or cheeks. It’s easy enough to find in a good Italian food store, but I cure my own. I buy raw heritage Berkshire pork jowls from a farm that raises the pigs humanely, and cure the jowls for about 3 weeks in a combination of salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Then I rinse them, pat them dry, and cut them into portion-sized pieces, wrapping them individually and freezing until I need them. It’s a lot of work, but to me, totally worth it.

3 oz. guanciale

If the guanciale is frozen, let it thaw just a little, then cut it into the smallest cubes you can manage. Place it in a pan and cook them until they’ve browned and crisped beautifully. Keep an eye on the pan, as guanciale can burn easily. Use the fried meat bits for this recipe and save the fat for flavoring a future dish! Set aside.

 

The Alfredo sauce…

Despite what you get in crappy restaurants like Olive Garden, Alfredo sauce should not be runny or soupy. It should cling to the pasta and be rich in flavor. When making this dish gluten-free, I use Garofalo gluten-free pasta exclusively, because it tastes just like real pasta. (Believe me, I’ve tried every GF pasta out there.) I buy mass quantities at Amazon.

If you’re not on a GF diet, simply use your favorite regular pasta.

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Fleur de Sel or sea salt
1 lb. pasta, fresh or dried
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
freshly ground black pepper

 

Put 2/3 of the cream and all the butter in a large saucepan that will later accommodate all the pasta. Simmer over medium heat for less than a minute, until the butter and cream have thickened a bit. Turn off the heat.

Drop the pasta in a bowl of boiling salted water. If the pasta is fresh, it will take just seconds. If it’s dry, it will take a few minutes. (Gluten-free pasta takes a little longer.) Either way, you want to cook the pasta even firmer than al dente, because it will finish cooking in the pan with the butter and cream. Drain the pasta immediately when it reaches that firm stage, and transfer it to the pan with the butter and cream, tossing the pasta gently for a few seconds to coat.

Turn the heat under the saucepan with the pasta on low, and add the rest of the cream, all the Parmigiano Reggiano, and a bit of pepper (no salt because there’s plenty in the guanciale and cheese.) Toss briefly until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is well-coated.

 

At this point, you don’t want the pasta to get to dry, so you add…

1 cup of frozen peas

…tossing gently to warm them through. Also add the cooked guanciale at this time.

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Plate the pasta in a bowl or dish and serve the chicken alongside.

 

 

 

 

 

Well, it’s good to be back home after a nice getaway in St. Lucia. Please check out my previous blogs for my day-to-day adventures. I’ll have more to say in a future blog.

One of the first things I needed to do when I got home was to have a look at food items I needed to re-stock…and bacon was high on the list!

Fortunately, I started curing a beautiful slab of Berkshire pork belly a couple of weeks ago, and it was ready for the smoker today. With the doors open here at home, I can smell the hickory wood wafting through the yard. Hope I’m making the neighbors jealous!

Let’s face it: there are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest food combination ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth.

BLT wraps: home-cured and smoked bacon, local farmstead romaine, home garden tomatoes.

 

If I’m buying bacon, I go on-line to Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that has made great bacon for decades. The prices are good, and they include shipping. (www.smokehouse.com) I buy in quantity and freeze what I don’t need right away. My favorite is the thick-sliced country bacon “steaks.”

But nothings beats making your own.

Bacon comes from the pork belly, and they’re easy to find in any good butcher shop. But to get something a notch above, I’ll buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire pork, from Heritage Pork International. (www.heritagepork.com)  I follow the simple curing techniques outlined in “Charcuterie,” a great book written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

To cure bacon, all you really need is salt and sugar, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like Himalayan salt you would find in a gourmet store. Pink salt is bright pink to let you know that it’s a special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. The reason is: nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help keep the flavors of spices and smoke. They also keep the meat nice and pink instead of an unappetizing gray. That’s good. But nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this. (I buy uncured deli meats and hot dogs at the supermarket, because processed meats are a different story. But since I know exactly what goes into my own bacon, I’m not worried about the level of nitrites.)

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 oz. pink curing salt

Mix the ingredients well. An important note: all salts do not all weigh the same, so go by the weight and not a cup measurement. I keep this basic dry cure stored in my pantry, ready to use when I need it.

When it’s time to be making’ the bacon, I combine the above rub with other ingredients to make my bacon rub.

 

My bacon rub:

1/2 cup basic dry rub

1/2 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar

1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

 

Mix these ingredients well (yes, there’s quite a bit of sugar there, but I like my bacon a little sweet!) Rub it generously all over the pork belly.

I have a large plastic container with a lid that fits one slab of pork belly perfectly. I place the belly inside it, put the lid on, and place the container in the fridge. The pork belly stays there for at least a couple of weeks, maybe three. I flip the belly every few days. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. Just flip it, put the lid back on the container, and back in the fridge.

In two or three weeks, once the pork belly has been cured, wash the brine off the meat, and pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. I place the pork belly in a digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for 2 hours, using hickory chips.

 

 

 

Bellies in the smoker

Bellies in the smoker.

 

 

Smoked bacon

Smoked bacon!

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort. Just remember that you still need to slice the bacon and fry it. Don’t eat it straight out of the smoker. That first slice you cut off your bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite you’ve ever had in your life!
And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make it three or four? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!

Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

Off on a vacation for a few days, so I’m posting this a bit early. But let’s face it: weekends are for ribs, and even if you don’t have the grill ready for the season yet, you can enjoy this recipe because the ribs bake in the oven.

The balsamic vinegar I use in this recipe is not the super-expensive stuff that should only be drizzled at the very end for a Caprese salad. I use the $9-a-bottle stuff that you can find in any supermarket. Good quality, and I try to find one from Modena, Italy, the world headquarters of balsamic vinegar.

3 lbs. pork ribs (I like the St. Louis cut)
4 cloves garlic, minced or through a press
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Place the ribs in a roasting pan, cutting the racks in half if you need to, to make them fit.

In a bowl, combine the garlic, rosemary, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar and salt, and then rub the mixture evenly all over the ribs.

Let the ribs marinate for an hour at room temperature or longer in the fridge.

Marinated ribs, ready for the oven.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat it to 425. Pour 1/2 cup of water into the roasting pan with the ribs and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.

Roast the ribs until the meat is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

While the ribs are roasting, make the barbecue sauce…

1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce (I like Frank’s)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

 

Place the balsamic vinegar in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and cook the vinegar until it is reduced by a third, about 8 minutes.

Whisk in the ketchup, apple cider vinegar, honey, mustard, molasses, Worcestershire, hot sauce and salt. Bring the sauce back to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer until it has thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

 

After baking, brush the ribs with the barbecue sauce.

 

Remove the ribs from the oven and transfer them to a baking sheet lined with non-stick aluminum foil.

Increase the oven temperature to 450 .

Brush both sides of the ribs generously with the barbecue sauce and bake them uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the sauce is browned and sizzling.

 

Delicious balsamic ribs!

 

Leftover barbecue sauce is great for dipping the ribs in!