Miso Bacon

You know how Coldplay sounds like diet Radiohead? That’s how regular bacon tastes compared to the miso-cured version; miso bacon is deeper, tangier, creamier, and has much more umami. The enzymes in the miso soften the meat while the salt and sugar firm it up; the result has a different density and is more sensual. The profound flavors of the miso add overtones to the meat, giving it a haunting complexity. It’s so very good.

I touched on the absurdity of food trends as exemplified by pork belly here, and I don’t have much more to add on that subject right now. I’ve been making bacon for a few years now, and the current version is the result of various tinkering and refinements made to successive efforts. The most important part of my technique is using miso as the basis for the cure. I find traditional cures of salt and sugar to be fine, but miso gives a more interesting result, both in flavor and texture. The osmotic pressure that salt and sugar exert on muscle cells is pretty extreme, which is great for dehydrating (the point of curing, after all) and transporting flavor into the tissues, but it also toughens the meat. Miso coddles the belly in unctuous protein full of live cultures that add a wonderful fermented tang and depth of flavor. The resulting bacon has a lovely softness.

In past iterations I’ve combined miso variously with umeboshi paste, maple syrup, coffee, herbs and spices of all sorts (I made a Thai-flavored batch once with lemongrass, lime leaves, ginger, galangal, and hot peppers) to good effect. This time around the cure was simple: locally-produced miso and even more locally made maple syrup. My focus with this batch was to lighten my touch a little bit; previous efforts have been seriously good, but this time I was looking for something that could do a little bit more and be eaten more like belly. There are many fabulous uses for the feral intensity of my last bacon, but eating a hunk of it as the center of a dish is not among them, and I wanted that option. I augmented this paste with some sea salt–just plain miso needs much more time, and the pork never quite firms up the same way–and lasciviously slathered it all over the two pieces of belly (which I bought from a farm across the river) putting each one into a pyrex baking dish once covered. The dishes went in the fridge, where they stayed for two weeks, each taking turns weighing the other down.

On a recent day of most welcome mildness, I fired up the smoker with maple branches from the tree in back and set the meat in there until it reached just shy of 150˚ in the center. I brought it back into the kitchen, let it rest for a bit, then cut it into roughly one-pound blocks for vacuum-sealing and freezing. I like to slice it thick, and crosswise into smallish squares, so that instead of long thin slices that get brittle too quickly, the result is more like big lardons that can crisp on the outside and stay tender and chewy within. It’s excellent in all regular bacon applications, from breakfast to frisée aux lardons to lentil soup and cassoulet, and this new batch also allows for more main-coursey uses as well.

Like pork belly tartes tatin with maple/cider vinegar caramel, for example. I left one of those hunks out of the freezer and poached it in a quart of phở that I pulled out of the same. I love phở, and try to always have some form of it on hand. Duck, lamb, turkey, beef–I find it to be one of the very most versatile stocks there is. It blends seamlessly with cuisines from Morocco to India to Asia (obviously) to good old American barbecue. And for braising a pork belly? Holy shit. It cooked at a bare simmer for five hours until it would have fallen apart if I turned up the radio.

Then I cut it into pieces and tucked it into ramekins that I had lined with a generous drool of a thick caramel made from the phở, apple cider, maple syrup, brown sugar, and homemade cider vinegar. I used scraps and trimmings to fill in around the edges, and then crimped in rounds of tart crust. They baked in a pyrex dish to catch all the blorps of porky caramel until the tops were well browned, then rested to cool a bit and bring the caramel back to a viscosity that wouldn’t gush all over when plated. And then I inverted them on plates, and we had at them.

The vinegar kept the caramel from getting too sweet, though there was a sweetness. The phở spices made deep and tender love to the smoky pork, and the crust–my Grandmother’s, of course, which is the best ever–provided a substrate with crunch and character enough to not be overwhelmed by the hedonistic superlatives that it bore heroically to our mouths. That it was also Valentine’s day I chalk up to good fortune, and good planning.

This here is part of that Charcutepalooza thing I mentioned recently. There are some good people involved, and demystifying the subject of meat-curing is a topic I can fully get behind.

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  1. Robert
    February 15

    Nice. Very nice.

    Brings to mind the both equally scary and romantic live brines of a century ago. Letting the good bugs have their way with the bad bugs leaves pork beyond devine.

    On the to-do list……..

  2. February 16

    Beautiful beautiful! I hope to make something like this one of these days 🙂

  3. February 16

    incredible idea. i’ve made my own miso and have a bunch in the fridge right now. next time…

  4. February 16

    Wow! The miso bacon was impressive enough – but the tart at the end looks fabulous! Great idea.

  5. February 16

    You had me at Pork Belly but what you did with it is truly amazing!

  6. February 16

    Bet you got lucky on Valentine’s night.

  7. February 16

    Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.

  8. February 16

    Damn fine smashup. Love miso, love bacon, why not? That 2nd to last pic really got me.

  9. I am loving your experiments… to answer your previous question, the stove-top smoked tongue was great. I am eyeing this new dish with great interest and will try it… just for fun… caramel and pork are heaven together!

  10. February 16

    Wow, miso-cured bacon! I’m getting another pork belly!

  11. Peter
    February 16

    Claudia: What’s important is that you know it.

    Robert: It’s true. Predigested food is better food.

    Mosaica: I hope you’ll let me know how it comes out.

    Briggs: Good for you; that’s on my to-do list. I have koji in the fridge.

    Inspired: It came to me in a dream.

    Fiona: I’ll be honest. The tart was very good.

    Zoomie: I am the luckiest man in the world. I think Julia is still getting lucky.

    Julia: Was it good for you too?

    El: It’s the foreshortening, right?

    Deana: Especially if the caramel is gastrique-like in its restraint.

    Annapet: Go for it. Let me know if you have any questions.

  12. February 20

    Great post! I did a very similar style for my post and thought I was going to be unique! Great minds think alike! I look forward to brining away.

  13. February 21

    What proportions of miso to maple syrup?

  14. Peter
    February 24

    Karen: Hurry!

    Cole: I’ll go check it out. I’m thinking about brining, too.

    Mr. Belm: Nothing official; to taste. I like a hint of sweetness, but not too much. Try a few mixtures on small pieces and see what grabs you. Make extra for the firemen.

  15. March 3

    You remembered the firemen!

    I have to make new bacon and prosciutto for Charcutepalooza; I fear all of my current projects (confit, sausage) will be out of sync with their deadlines.

  16. Peter
    March 4

    I’m having that same problem, hence beef dashi in lieu of duck prosciutto. I literally finished the last piece of a huge pastrami the day they put up the brine challenge.

  17. March 5

    I forgot to ask: any pink salt in the miso cure?

  18. Peter
    March 5

    No. I don’t use pink salt for any whole-muscle cures. I will be buying some soon to use in sausages and the like.

  19. […] dessert. I posted back near the beginning of this crazy contest about some miso-cured bacon tartes tatin that I had made, and they seemed […]

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