Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mutton Bacon: that's right, you heard me, I made bacon from a sheep - here's the recipe

I don't know if it can be rightly called bacon in the purest use of the word.  Bacon is made from pork.  But this cured and smoked mutton belly is to me far more tasty than any bacon I've ever consumed.

Even though I've been working with wool for a long time now, it's only recently I started thinking of sheep as a sources of food.  Locally, lamb is a very expensive meat, and very limited. There are lamb legs, lam ribs and lamb chops... and nothing else.  One would imagine there is more to a lamb than two legs and some chops.  Mutton is unheard of here, not even considered fit for pet food.  This is a shame.

Traditionally, sheep have been a major meat source in Europe  the Middle East, and North Africa.  England especially has a long history of wool and mutton.  The more I read about history, the more I want to cook what I read about.  I wanted to experience mutton.  And when I finally did, I found I liked it.  I like it a lot.  When prepared right (and by prepared I don't just refer to how it's cooked, how the animal is butchered and slaughtered have a large effect on taste and tenderness) it is exceptionally tasty.

As I mentioned, I butchered a ram not long ago.  There is a lot of meat on an adult sheep, and many cuts I don't know what to do with.  The belly had layers of meat and fat, and I didn't want it to go to waste.  Why not make bacon from mutton?  So that's what I did.

I used the Basic Dry Cure mix from the book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing as a base for my mutton bacon.  It's been reproduced so many other places that I'm feeling okay to post it here as well.  You need to know that this book is a fantastic source of information and a great starting place for curing your own meat.

Basic dry cure

1lb kosher salt
8oz sugar
2oz pink salt (cure #1)

Mixed all together really well, label, and store away from children and foolish people who might eat it accidentally.

Mutton Bacon

For this recipe, I'm assuming you have some basic curing experiences   If not, try making regular bacon first.  If at any point the meat smells rotten, has fuzzy or black mould on it, then toss it out and start again.  if it gets a white mould on it, it's okay, but if the white mould is fuzzy then that's bad.

1 kilo mutton belly
1/4 cup basic dry cure
2 bay leaves (ground)
1 tsp each rosemary, thyme, juniper berries, pepper (dry and ground)
1/4 cup salt (on later reflection, I would leave this out next time)

  • Mix the cure together with the spices and extra salt.  Coat the mutton in the cure, and place in a ziplock bag with any remaining salt-mix.  Keep in fridge for about 7 days, massage the spices into the meat through the plastic daily.  Should feel firm.
  • Rinse the salt off and leave the meat to dry for at least an hour, uncovered in the fridge.
  • At this stage you can hang to dry in a cool place for 1 to 3 weeks, or you can smoke it.  I hot smoked mine with pear wood for 4 hours, then increased the temperature to make certain the internal temp of the meat was 140F or higher.   You can store the smoked meat in the fridge for a few weeks, or freeze it.
  • Which ever you choose, it tastes better for resting a day or two before slicing and frying or using the bacon in recipes.  If it's too salty, then boil the bacon for about 30 seconds before frying.  This is not an eat raw meat.
After the curing and drying, I divided my mutton bacon in three parts.  1 part I hung to dry in my curing chamber, the other two parts I smoked.  After smoking, half went in the freezer for later, and half went in the curing chamber to dry.  

I fried up a bit the day I smoked it and it's exceptionally yummy.  I'm very curious what the dried bacon will be like, as I've never tried this technique before.

The extra 1/4 cup of salt I used in this recipe may be optional.  I just felt more comfortable using more salt because I intended to hang it.  If you are just sticking it in the fridge after smoking, then you may not want to add this extra salt.  but then again, the flavour wasn't anywhere near as salty as I expected, so I leave it up to you.

Update:  Of the three methods I used to make this - hung cured, cured and smoked then hung, and cured and smoked and put directly in the fridge when cool - I liked the third best.  The first method of just cured and hung to dry developed some rather dodgy mold after a few days, so I tossed it.  The one that was smoked, then hung to dry was okay, but I suspect the temperature wasn't even enough during the drying.  If I had better temperature control, I think this would be my favourite method.

Affordable cooking? - can be, especially if you are butchering your own side or whole mutton.  Mutton use to be a very economical meat, but these days it's hard to come by.  This is a cut that is usually discarded, or sold for making lard.  Finding mutton belly, or whatever they call it these days can be very difficult and therefore expensive if you go to the wrong place.

Allergy friendly?  I think so.  You can adjust what spices you use, and it can be made without the Pink Salt (but you need to be more careful with meat safety and it won't have that rosy colour, but it can be done)

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