Every Friday afternoon, co-workers stop by my office and ask: what will you bake this weekend? Sometimes this is small talk, but most times they ask hoping to find out what kind of treats I’ll be bringing in on Monday. So when they asked three weeks ago my answer was: oh I’m not baking, I’m making bacon and pancetta! At first, I got strange looks and then a long talk ensued about pork belly, curing, nitrites, botulism, and what to make with all that bacon. I think my boss was the most shocked by this. I explained about charcutepalooza and how this was really about trying to do something outside my comfort zone. I said we wouldn’t be posting the recipes for bacon & pancetta, but instead would showcase how we used the finished product in our kitchens. She immediately said: you must make the Aldine baked beans my mother used to make. She had mentioned the famous baked beans before. Apparently, there used to be a hotel in Pennsylvania called the Aldine hotel where they made the best baked beans. She e-mailed me the recipe and explained that the recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, which in effect candies the beans. Even before I started curing my bacon, I knew what I would be making with it.
The most exciting part about charcutepalooza for me is working with ingredients that I would not have worked with before. I really want to try different heritage hog breeds, and locally sourced if available. I think that if you purchase from farmers that treat animals well this encourages and allows them to continue doing things right. If they don’t have a market for their product, they will stop doing what they do and all that will be left is animals bred for commercial purposes that are not treated respectfully nor killed humanely (and probably not very tasty). For this challenge I took the opportunity to order some pork from as far away as WA, but also got some from my local farmers market.
With help from @woolypigs (Heath Putnam Farms) on twitter, I ordered 10 lbs of Mangalitsa pork belly. I have been dying to try Mangalitsa pork since I read an article about it on the New York Times some years ago. What really drew my attention to the Mangalitsa breed was how beautiful these hogs are. I know, you are not supposed to talk about how cute your food is, but these guys have curly hair and I find them just adorable. I would love to go to a farm and photograph them up close, they seem to have a lot of personality. They are probably not as adorable once they reach 300 lbs and try to bite you. It’s hard to believe that they were nearly wiped out until brought back by a Hungarian farmer in the early 1990s. Heath Putnam from Wooly Pigs introduced them to the US in 2006.
These hogs have a lot of fat and a strong flavor. Instead of being the other white meat, they really are the other red meat. I don’t know how to explain the difference between regular pork and Mangalitsa other than comparing it to the difference between chicken and duck. Imagine regular pork being chicken and Mangalitsa being duck. That’s what it’s like. The meat is much darker, the flavor is more intense, and there is a lot more luscious fat. I wish I had taken a photo of the meat part of the belly. You could tell from the indentations and membrane that each rib had been removed individually, showing really beautiful artisan butchering.
The good news is that if you are in the DC area, you may soon be able to order mangalitsa pork from a local source: Seaton Place Farm in Delaplane, VA. To learn more about Mangalitsa, watch this fabulous short video by Liza de Guia starring Michael Clampffer of Mosefund Farm.
I also got 5 lbs of local Tamworth pork belly from Cedar Brook Organic Farm in WV at Dupont Circle Farmers Market. I wanted to try some Tamworth belly as well, because I read that they produce the best bacon. Tamworths are the only pigs that Cedar Brook Farm raises. This pork is also more like red meat than white, and has much more fat than regular pork. My vendor was super excited when I mentioned I’d be making bacon with his pork, and found a beautiful piece with evenly distributed fat for me. If you are ever at the Dupont Circle Farmers market, and you smell fried breakfast sausage, just follow the aroma to their stand for delicious samples.
So what did I make with 15 lbs of pork belly? I made a sweet maple bacon with the Tamworth belly, regular bacon with 5 lbs of Mangalitsa, and pancetta with the remaining 5 lbs. When I first got the bellies, I trimmed them to get uniform rectangles. That way they would cure evenly. I cooked any leftover trim pieces uncured and added these to whatever I was having for dinner that week. Pork belly is really delicious stuff.
I liked the maple bacon the most, it was perfect as is. This is definitely what I want on my plate next to eggs and toasted baguette. The bacon with regular cure is also great for eating as is, but I have been using it mostly for cooking. The pancetta turned out to be delicious, full of savory and sweet notes.
Breakfast: Toasted Baguette Slices, Blueberries, Bourbon Bacon Jam, Baked Beans, Fried Egg, Maple Bacon, and Regular Bacon
If I were to make bacon or pancetta with Mangalitsa pork belly again, I’d probably remove the thick fat layer and cure that separately. The tiniest bit of this stuff renders a lot of fat anyway, and it is so luscious and creamy. I ended up trimming the top layer of fat and removing it from both slabs of bacon in order to have more uniform slices. Right about now I can hear you screaming: sacrilege!. It’s just that I much prefer to use that delicious fat in other ways. I saved the trimmed fat and froze it to use when needed.
In case you are wondering, the difference between Mangalitsa and Tamworth is subtle but noticeable, both in flavor and amount of fat. I find that the texture and mouth feel of the fat is the biggest difference. Mangalitsa fat is clean tasting and creamy on your tongue, the meat has an intense flavor with a hint of sweetness. The Tamworth also has a rich flavor profile, and more fat than commercial pork. I can see why it is known as the best breed for bacon.
(Candied) Baked Beans
Adapted from Mom’s Best Recipes
I made a lot of additions to the original recipe because I really wanted these beans to have a lot of flavor, and I’m not sure you can do that with just sugar, bacon, and beans. The name of this recipe should really be candied baked beans. They become caramelized and are quite sweet.
1 lb marrow beans or other white beans (dry, uncooked)
1 tablespoon salt
1 farcellet *
8 ounces diced bacon
1 small onion, diced
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1. Wash beans, place in a large bowl and cover with water, soak overnight.
2. Strain and rinse beans, place in large Dutch oven and cover with water by one inch. Add salt, 1 clove of garlic and farcellet. Cook until tender. Mine took about 2 hours.
3. Cook bacon in a skillet over low heat, until crispy. Drain bacon, reserving fat in a small bowl. Add about 1 teaspoon bacon fat to the skillet, add the onions, sprinkle with salt, and cook over low heat until slightly browned.
4. Add bacon, 3 tablespoons of bacon fat, and onions to beans. Add black pepper, sugar, molasses, tomato paste, and vinegar to beans.
5. Pre-heat oven to 300°F. Place beans in the oven uncovered and bake for 3 hours. Watch them closely during the last hour of cooking. You want them to have absorbed most of the liquid. All the beans touching the pot will be slightly browned and caramelized. If you like your beans with more liquid, just remove them once they reach the consistency that you want. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary.
*Farcellet is a little bundle of herbs, much like a bouquet garni. I bought a bunch of them when I was in Barcelona, and really want to use them up before they lose potency. These can be made at home by wrapping the dried herbs with twine. The farcellet consists of thyme, marjoram, fennel, and rosemary, wrapped inside bay leaves and secured with twine. The farcellet is pierced with a fork before adding it to the pot so that the herbs inside the bay leaves can also infuse the dish.
Now, for the pancetta, I used the thinner part of the Mangalitsa pork belly simply because the other section (the one I used for bacon) would have been impossible to roll since it was so thick. Flavor wise, I love the interplay of sweet and savory in the cure. The thyme and juniper berries really perfume the meat. This pancetta is way better than any I have ever bought at a store. And it was so very easy to make.
The first thing I made with the pancetta was BLT sandwiches (PLT sandwiches, I guess?), with pancetta standing in for the bacon. They were a big hit. Sadly, we were starving and I did not get a chance to take a photo. But I know I will be making more of those sometime soon. Instead, the recipe I’m sharing with you is Bolognese sauce. Typically it is served over tagliatelle, but here I pour it over simple Parmesan risotto.
It is difficult to write down a recipe for Bolognese sauce since I usually just throw in whatever I have on hand. I added Herbes de Provence because I did not have any fresh herbs. If you have fresh rosemary and thyme, you can use a sprig of each. You could do all beef or all pork. And you can entirely omit the mushrooms. Sometimes I’ve even used white wine in place of red. Everyone has a favorite recipe for a thick rich meat sauce, my intention here really is to enhance the sauce with the delicious pancetta. You could substitute the pancetta with bacon. Basically, I don’t want to go out and buy 10 ingredients for one recipe. I try to make it work with what I have at home.
1 ounce dry porcini mushrooms (or a handful of fresh cremini mushrooms, finely chopped)
3 ounces pancetta, diced
4 cloves of garlic chopped
1 small onion chopped
1 small carrot grated
1 celery stalk grated
8 ounces ground beef
8 ounces ground pork
1 cup red wine
1 cup whole milk
1 ½ cups strained tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon herbes de Provence
1 bay leaf
Pinch of sugar
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
½ tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1. Rinse dry porcini mushrooms under cold water. Place in a small bowl and pour ½ cup boiling water over them. Let soak for 15 minutes. Drain, mince, and reserve the liquid.
2. Add pancetta to a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Render most of the fat. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan.
3. Add the ground beef and pork, season with salt and pepper, and cook until they start to brown. Add the garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and herbs de Provence and cook until vegetables are tender. If you are using cremini mushrooms add them now.
4. Add the wine, and cooked until it reduces. Add the milk, and cook until it reduces by half. Add the strained tomatoes, mushroom water, tomato paste, bay leaf, pinch of sugar, grated nutmeg, a bit more salt and pepper, and simmer over very low heat for 30-60 minutes until you have a thick and rich sauce. The longer you cook the sauce, the more flavorful it will be. If it starts to dry out at the beginning, you can add a bit of water. Finish the sauce with ½ tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley.