There’s something incredibly exciting about having a large cut of meat at your disposal. Sure, it’s just a raw hunk of muscle at first, but the thing has so much potential just waiting to be tapped into. For me, and I’ve said this multiple times, one of the best bang-for-your-buck slabs of meat you can buy is a pork loin. You can slice them into boneless pork chops or you can cube them and use them for stew meat. You can even just bung it into a crock pot with some broth and veggies, turn it on low for eight hours, and have lunch ready to roll for the entire week. It’s a fantastically versatile piece of meat.
Pork loin is also incredibly mild. Yes, that makes it very accessible, but that means it will also soak up a ton of the flavor you surround it with. It will soak up everything around it, which also makes it a prime candidate for home curing! And that’s why I decided to try my hand at homemade Canadian bacon.
Let’s keep it simple, here. Home curing isn’t something to be afraid of, and in fact it is a quite easy process. Curing meats involves surrounding the meat in a brine, or salty water solution, for a long while and essentially replacing the natural juices with something more flavorful. You are essentially taking the meat of the muscle and replacing all moisture with your own flavorful solution. Salt will act as a flavor enhancer and somewhat as a preservative, meaning your pork loin will be fine in the fridge – without going bad – for a week or more.
Curing solutions are very simple to make. You start with a fair amount of water, throw it into a stock pot, and begin boiling your solution. You’ll want about a gallon of solution with curing salt, which is next to rock salt and ice cream salt in the grocery store. The curing salt contains some other chemicals that will penetrate the muscle deeper than just salt alone. Added to this solution, you also want some form of sugar and the other flavors you’ll enjoy, and you’ll typically use around 1/4 cup for every pound of meat.
The solution I used broke down as follows:
1 Gallon of Water
1 1/4 Cup Morton’s Tender Quick curing salt
1 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
4 Garlic Cloves
3 Bay Leaves
2 Tablespoons Black Peppercorns
2-3 Shots of Gin.
Once you figure out your solution, you just want to boil it all together for about ten minutes so the flavors get to know each other. Then, pop it in the fridge to chill, and once it’s cold it’ll be ready to cure your meat. You can also strain the spices out of the solution if you want, as the flavors are already extracted, however it’s not entirely necessary. Yes, there will be chunks of peppercorn and garlic, but you’ll have to rinse the meat before cooking anyway.
This solution makes a quite mild, slightly sweet final product, but you should notice that it’s very easy to customize. Brown sugar is one thing, but maple syrup would work as well. Similarly, bourbon would work quite well with the maple syrup, whereas the gin gives it a cleaner flavor. Also worth noting, if you have a pork loin that came in one of those vacuum sealed bags, chances are it’s been brined already. In order to seep out as much of that original brine as possible, you’ll want to rinse your pork loin and soak it in clean water for about an hour.
Also on the prep work front, the fatty layer on top of your pork loin will need to be trimmed off. You’ll also want to clear off as much of that shiny fibrous layer under the fat as possible. That will make the final product much more workable and easier to slice. In the interest of experimentation, I also cut my pork loin in half to roast one portion in the oven and smoke the other portion outside in my double barrel smoker. If you’re into smoking meats, go hog wild, but you can have a great product straight from the oven, too. It will just be less smokey, obviously.
Curing requires time and patience, but luckily not much work. After your pork is trimmed and rinsed and your curing solution is cool, you just have to soak it for about a week. Make sure your meat is properly covered with the solution, or even flip the meat over midway through the week to make sure all sides are coated and cured properly. After your week is up, you simply need to rinse the meat off again and soak it in cold water. The brine has loads of sweet and salty flavor, but it will be too much if you don’t dredge out a bit of that wonderful flavor you’ve already infused deep within the muscle. A nice rinse will do, then soak it in clean water for an hour.
Also, in order to get a nice crust on the outside of your meat, after the clean water bath you’ll want to dry the meat of a bit and let it air out in the fridge, uncovered, to get a bit more dry. This will let it brown properly in whatever method you’re using to cook. Smoking or in the oven, you’ll want to keep it low, around 225-250 until the internal temperature of the meat hits about 155 degrees. You could pull the meat out a bit earlier, but if that’s the case, you’ll have to treat it like regular bacon and cook slices in a skillet before your serve them. Just in the interest of food safety, that is. I’m 100% anti-trichinosis.
I hope you enjoy the home curing experimentation in your own kitchen. Having both cooking methods – smoking and roasting – represented in one recipe really helped give an idea of the possibilities with Canadian bacon. I prefer the smoked one, myself, but It can get a bit overwhelming. Another option is to smoke the piece for the first few hours of cooking, then move it to the oven to finish to food safe levels. Then, you have a bit of the smoke infused without it being overwhelmingly like munching on a camp fire.