If you’ve ever tasted traditionally cured bacon from a good butcher, you’ll know the difference in quality against supermarket bacon. Since you’re here, I imagine you’re curious to make the leap and create some outstanding bacon yourself. This recipe takes flavour to a new level with boar meat – darker and more flavoursome than commercial pork. There’s a little more fat, as you’ll find with heritage breeds, and it’s pure white and full of flavour.
My approach to learning to make bacon started with a fridge full of sandwich boxes filled with pieces of pork with cures from cider to maple syrup. After a couple of years of trial and error, altering quantities of salt, sugar and curing spices, I’ve settled on a recipe I’m happy to share with friends and fellow food lovers.
The most important ingredient in a cure is salt. We’ll be using 3.5% to bring the meat to a safe level for consumption. Much more than this and you’ll have some very salty bacon on your hands. To combat saltiness, and compliment the sweetness of pork, add sugar into the cure. We could use white sugar, but that would be a lost opportunity to add more flavour. In this recipe, I like to use dark brown molasses sugar. If you can’t get hold of any, just use the darkest sugar you can find.
Pepper brings a warmth and savouriness, however it’s not a flavour commonly associated with bacon. It does enhance the flavour of the pork, but only if done subtly. I don’t recommend coarsely ground pepper, because it sticks into the meat, and leaves lumps of strong black pepper in your bacon slices. I use finely ground white pepper. If you can’t get hold of it, just use the same weight of whole peppercorns – they’re easy to remove after the cure is finished.
The signature ingredients in this cure are black treacle and juniper. You could leave them out and still enjoy good bacon, but the subtle liquorice notes of black treacle and the fresh pine scent of juniper add a layer of complexity that turn this from great bacon into luxury bacon. Juniper also pairs well with the faint gaminess of boar.
The most important tool for ensuring your safety when making bacon is a set of accurate scales that can measure less than one gram. If you’re a drug lord you’ll probably have some hanging around. If not, you might need to find some online. The brand I’m using is called “Rad”, and they’ve served me well for a number of years.
The reason for precise measurements is most importantly for weighing pink salt (instacure no.1). This salt is used to remove the risk of botulism-causing bacteria growing on your meat. It has the added benefit of adding a deeper red to the finished bacon. It’s also really dangerous to ingest anything over recommended quantities – even one teaspoon will probably kill you. The key ingredient in pink salt is Sodium Nitrite. Studies have recently shown that this ingredient increases your chances of developing cancer if eaten regularly. One advantage to making your own bacon is that you have control over how much you use, and can keep the quantities to safe levels. Supermarket bacon is comparatively less healthy. Some bacon manufacturers use Celery Salt instead of pink salt, because it sounds better, but the active ingredient is exactly the same. You could choose to omit it from the cure (lots of people do, and safely), but I’ll leave it to you to you to make that decision.
Rubbing the Cure
Once your ingredients are accurately measured out, clean down your work surface and grab a large, clean dish to stick your boar meat in. Trim any loose bits of meat from the cut and rub the cure all over it, into every nook and cranny. I recommend leaving out the black treacle at this stage, because it doesn’t rub in properly. Stick it in the bag after the rest has been rubbed in. As the salt and sugar draw moisture from the meat, the black treacle will dissolve into the liquid.
Once the cure has been evenly distributed, put the boar meat into a ziplock bag and seal. Keep this in the fridge for four days, turning once a day. Very quickly, you’ll start to see the cure doing its work, drawing moisture from the meat and concentrating the flavour. After 4 days, the cure will have done its job and can be carefully rinsed off.
Once you’ve rinsed the cure from your bacon, pat it dry with towels, then put it on a clean cooling rack in a fridge and leave it there for two more days. The fridge will continue to remove some moisture from the bacon, helping to firm it and concentrate the flavour. If you like, you can leave it for longer. I sometimes hang mine in a separate fridge for 1-2 weeks.
Once two days are up, your bacon should look similar to the image below. It’s not the prettiest sight, because the molasses has blackened the edges, but the bacon inside is going to be some of the best you’ll ever eat.
Bacon at room temperature is almost impossible to slice properly by hand, so before you slice it, take a tip from the manufacturers and put it in the freezer (wrapped) to firm it up. An hour should be about enough. Then take a long, sharp knife and slice the bacon in slow, even strokes. This bit comes with a bit of practice. If you choose to skip the freezer step, you’ll very quickly wish you didn’t!
The end pieces will have absorbed a lot of the molasses and might be a little too strong for eating as bacon slices. I like to chop this into chunks and use with pasta or add to stews (even Ramen) for added flavour.
All that’s left now is for you to cook a piece and try it. I recommend using a cast iron skillet and slowly bringing up the temperature so that the bacon cooks in its own rendered fat. You’ll notice that your bacon releases almost no liquid (unlike that horrible water-injected supermarket stuff) and crisps up very quickly. I’m very proud of this recipe and I hope it brings you the same joy it’s brought to me and all the people I’ve fed it to.
Because you’ve gone to the trouble of curing and ageing your boar bacon, you can freeze it without damaging the structure of the meat. Just neatly stack it or lay it out in bags and freeze it for later eating. I like to make small stacks of it and defrost it overnight for breakfast. It’s so flavoursome that I’m often happy with three slices of bacon and nothing else. Knowing that you made it yourself only adds to the satisfaction.
Remember that this bacon recipe will be suitable for heritage breeds as well as commercial pork and isn’t limited to boar meat. The quality of the meat will have a big impact on the flavour, and boar meat makes an exceptionally good bacon.
In order to make your life easier, I’ve created a boar bacon ingredient calculator spreadsheet that will calculate ingredient quantities for you, based on the weight of the boar meat you have. You can download it here, or open it in google sheets. You can also use it for regular pork bacon.
Follow @greedyferret on instagram for unusual recipe ideas and cooking techniques.
Wild Boar Bacon Recipe
Traditional English bacon with a twist - boar bacon!
- 100 % Boar belly or loin
- 3.5 % Coarse salt
- 3.5 % Dark brown sugar
- 0.2 % White pepper (finely ground)
- 0.4 % Juniper berries (lightly crushed)
- 2 % Black treacle
- 0.25 % Pink salt (Prague Power #1)
Assuming that the weight of the meat is 100%, measure the cure ingredients as a percentage of this, using scales that can accurately measure less than a gram.
Remove rind with a small,sharp knife, leaving fat intact. Mix cure ingredients and rub all over, except for black treacle (really sticky).
Place in ziplock bag, drop in black treacle, remove most of the air and seal. Place in the fridge. The treacle will dissolve quickly when the salt draws moisture from the meat.
Turn one daily for 7 days
Remove cured meat from bag. Rinse quickly in cold water to remove the cure.
Pat dry with kitchen paper and place on a cooling rack in a fridge for a day. This is partly to form a pellicle (harder edge) and partly to develop flavour.
Once firming stage is over, chill in a freezer for a couple of hours to make slicing easier. Use a very sharp slicing knife in long, slow strokes, or use a mechanical slicer. Freeze in batches or give away to your favourite people.