I have always loved cooking with my children. When they were little, they would sit on the counter and help add ingredients to the mixing bowl, happily licking the beaters afterward. They would stand on stools and stir pots, picked veggies from the garden to help make salads, and gleefully made my nana’s shortbread recipe, which they would mix only with their hands, butter and sugar gushing between their little fingers. But I still enjoy that kitchen time with my kids today, even though they are adults.
Brilliant Daughter is my frequent companion in both savory and sweet endeavors, and was my collaborator on Eat Drink Merry. She is my canning assistant every spring, summer, and fall and often brings some really good recipes to light. I spend far less often in the kitchen with Butcher Son and, not surprisingly, the main ingredient involves meat of some kind. We’ve tried more than a few sausage recipes and he experiments with marinades on a regular basis. More recently we have had a yen to try our hand at smoking.
So we started out with pork belly. Butcher Son brought home two slabs for us to try our hand at smoking.
I had purchased a bacon cure when we were out visiting family in Colorado last January (and which caused me a bit of grief at the airport due to its nitrate/nitrite content.) I poured over several of the books I had (Smoking Food: A Beginners Guide and Jam It, Pickle It,, Cure It) and came up with a bit of a hybrid cure. I mixed it up, rubbed it on and sealed the two slabs in Ziplocs. (I should note here that there was one small hesitancy on my part when rubbing up the belly. There were actually nipples on the belly, which were so pale and small, you might have missed them, but which was a vivid reminder—to me—that I was looking at what had been an animal. Some might find this a bit uncomfortable, but it is the reality of what feeds us.)
Each day I checked the plastic packages in the fridge, turning them over and poking and prodding to see how they were coming along. They were probably ready after seven days, but there was one little problem: We didn’t have a smoker. No one we know has a smoker. So, Butcher Son, who has a knack for being creative, asked around and found someone willing to donate an old Weber barbecue for transformation. And boy did it need some transforming.
When the Weber landed in our driveway it was a rusty, dirty, falling apart hunk of metal. But on his lunch hour Butcher Son took it apart and started cleaning it. He washed, he scrubbed, he sanded. Then the thing literally fell apart in his hands. So on his day off, he redrilled holes, put the legs back on with reinforcement, scrubbed some more, and then headed out to buy some charcoal and wood chips.
Last Thursday he assembled the grill, and we began the process to cold smoke the pork belly, after a 10-day cure in the refrigerator. For four hours, I babysat the smoker, adding coals and wood chips as needed, making sure that smoke was still curling out of the upper vents. I watched as the pork belly went from pale white to faintly brown, to heavily tea-stained slabs. I worried that the coals weren’t hot enough, that they were too hot, that they would go out. But everything went well. And we had our first product.
Friday morning, we sliced it up and fried a few the bacon on the stove. I always find it more gratifying to eat the things I have taken the time to make. In fact, I always prefer to make things from scratch and if I had all the time in the world, I would probably make just about everything myself. But I am a realist and I cannot store all the ingredients or equipment needed and I will probably never have that much time. (Now I understand why large families were the norm back in the day, as it takes a lot of hands to make your daily bread and butter…literally.)
And despite my worrying, the bacon tasted great. Smoky, not too salty. And really not all that hard to do. Just takes time and patience, and a little creativity from my son.