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…wine cured bacon…

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I am sometimes in need to totally withdraw from life as I know it. I’ve found that over the years people do not quite get this or understand what it means or why I need it. Maybe it is a character flaw – or maybe it is a flaw in people who don’t understand it. I am not one to judge those sorts of things. I am not afraid to recognize that I need to step back and wander and entertain the thought that on any given day I can wake up and be anything I desire, or simply look at something totally different than I ever have. Being tethered to as little as possible is liberating. How else does one ever afford them self the luxury to truly question everything you’ve ever known? Is it necessarily unhealthy? I rather believe it’s a very healthy thing, if not necessary in life. In fact it’s the very thing I encourage everyone I know to embrace and cultivate to the best of their ability…

I think about things like that because even though it’s been a long while since I’ve posted anything here, I’ve still written. It’s consisted of nothing I’ve felt compelled to share with any audience other than myself or a select few people close to me. My mind is always wandering, I cannot shut off the gears, no matter how much I drown it with scotch, with beer, with solitaire, odd geometry problems, or patterns I find in fractions… It’s always going off on some tangent, pondering something.

A while ago I started writing about cuts of meat one should know and I suppose if I was better organized and careful I would have prefaced this whole thing with a proper introduction to pork belly. It is a cut of meat one should know! Eventually I would get into traditional bacon as a bit of back ground, as it is familiar to most people, describe that it is dry cured – rubbed with salts and sugar mostly and set to absorb them while moisture is drawn out of it over the course of a week. Then it is smoked and chilled and ready to be sliced into rashers… If I was better prepared I would do that. I’d probably talk about pancetta too – how it is similar yet different – different seasonings, and instead of smoking, it’s air dried and allowed to lose even more moisture while developing a dense flesh and earthy flavor… Then I’d probably talk about other ways of using it; as a confit, or braised or diced and finished with sugars to caramelize (rillons)…

I’ve been distracted from that however, as the holidays came and I’ve been fixated on hams and brines and really thought I’d be writing about that, too…

Stepping away reminded me of the real prize of making anything, though – of having a variety of experiences and techniques at ones disposal, realizing that when you stop thinking in traditional terms, new doors open…

I work one day a week at a butcher shop, which is often unfulfilling and tedious, though it needn’t be. Every once in a while it is illuminating and challenging and fun because I am allowed to let my mind work… One day there was a woman who requested bacon to be made without sugar. It was a bit of a conundrum because traditional bacon relies on sugar to balance the salt and you cannot very well dry cure pork belly with salt only and expect a suitable result… It was a conundrum until I thought that the right way to balance the salt was to use a brine, like a ham, so that the percentage of it could be managed and kept at a palatable amount. Instead of water, I used white wine – a chardonnay to impart flavor along with some orange zest… After a spell in the brine, it was smoked. It turned out amazingly nice…

It is moments like this that make me realize how much creativity there is in life, in cooking, in stepping back and looking at the tools and skills you have amassed, often for no reason. It makes me realize the value in wandering and never relying on convention or what was done the day before, or the way someone else did something…

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