A few months ago I set aside a big piece of pork belly in the chest freezer for making into homemade bacon, and then promptly forgot about it. When I was cleaning out the chest freezer for Friday’s pig pool I found it buried at the very bottom, and my husband and I decided that it was time for another bacon experiment. The last bacon experiment experienced some mishaps but ended with a few bites of very good bacon, and we wanted to try again. I had come across a mysterious cured pork product at the local Asian grocery store called “Chinese bacon” some time ago and tried cooking with it. It contained that chemical tang of nitrites and nitrates that only an Asian vacuum-sealed pork product can have, that smell that tells you “I am made of equal amount pork and preservatives to last through nuclear winter without giving you ptomaine poisoning”. While I appreciate not getting ptomaine poisoning, I was also quite curious whether I could make the original product, the Sichuan-style bacon the way little Sichuan grandmas make it, without the preservatives.
So when we dug out that slab of pork belly, I knew I had to try making my own Sichuan bacon.
Sichuan (Szechuan) Bacon
This recipe is exactly how I made the bacon, which is a combination of this recipe from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook and the “American Style Bacon” from Charcuterie, with no preservatives. If you’re unfamilar with black cardamom, here are some pictures and details. You can also often find black cardamom pods at Chinese grocery stores called “tsaoko” or “tsaoko cardamom”.
3 lb slab of raw pork belly, trimmed to fit neatly in a 10×14 glass baking pan
1/2 c Fujian cooking wine
1/4 c gallberry (medium dark) honey
1/2 c kosher salt
1 tbl ground Sichuan pepper
1 tbl ground cinnamon, the best quality you can get
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole peppercorns
2 whole black cardamom pods, cracked open
Combine the whole cloves, peppercorns, and black cardamom pods in either a sturdy mortar and pestle or in an electric spice grinder. Grind until coarsely powdered. Combine wine, honey, salt, and all the spices in a bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. Rinse the pork belly and pat dry with paper towels. Pour half the cure in the bottom of a 9×13 or 10×14 glass or ceramic baking dish. Lay the pork belly on top, and then pour the rest of the marinade over the top. Rub the marinade over the meat with your hands until every inch is covered. Wrap securely with plastic wrap (not aluminum foil!) and place in the bottom of your fridge.
Turn the bacon in the marinade every day for five days.
On the sixth day, take the bacon out of the marinade. Poke it with your finger. It should feel much firmer, and there should be more liquid in the bottom of the pan than you started with. This is from the salt drawing moisture out of the meat. Heat your grill or smoker to 200-225. Rinse the marinade off the meat, but don’t get fussy about it, then pat it dry. Some of the spices will stick to the meat, and that’s okay. Smoke the bacon at 200 degrees for one hour with hickory wood chips, then check the temperature of the meat. You can’t smoke the meat too long or it will get bitter, so pull the meat when either the internal temperature reaches 150 or the smoker drops below 175, whichever comes first. We pulled the bacon after 1 hour and then roasted it in a 200 degree oven for another hour until the internal temp reached 155.
Cool the bacon until you can handle it. Carefully, using a long sharp knife, slice off the skin, leaving a good layer of fat underneath. Discard the skin, or make cracklings with it. Then cut the bacon into 1/2 pound pieces, wrap each piece individually or place in a small freezer bag, label them, and put in the freezer. Since this bacon does not contain preservatives, the safest way to keep it is in the freezer, only taking out as much as you can use in a few days.
Home-Cured Sichuan Bacon & Cabbage
1/2 pound chunk of Sichuan bacon, diced
1 medium Savoy or Napa cabbage, rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1″ fresh gnger, peeled and minced
1/2 tsp Sichuan pepper
1 tsp chile flakes
2 tbl Fujian cooking wine
1 tbl coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
Heat a large pan or wok over medium heat. Add the bacon to the pan and cook until there’s a good amount of fat rendered. Add the garlic, ginger, Sichuan pepper, and chile flakes. Fry the spices gently in the pork fat just until they are good and sizzling and the garlic turns golden. Then add the cabbage, still damp from rinsing. Turn the cabbage in the pan until liberally coated with the spices and pork fat. Fry until the cabbage is limp and starting to get golden around the edges. Add the cooking wine and the coconut aminos (or soy sauce) and stir constantly until the liquids have reduced to a glaze on the cabbage and the bacon is crispy.
Serve immediately over hot cooked rice with chopped Sichuan preserved mustard leaves or any preserved vegetables you have lying around. This cabbage also makes a spectacular base for fried rice, just add cold cooked rice to the pan before adding the wine and aminos, fry the rice until hot and starting to brown, then add the sauces and serve with a soft-fried egg on top.