Last Thursday, 22nd July, myself, Babaduck Babbles, the Beau and one of his friends, went on an adventure to Dun Laoghaire to learn the art of curing bacon from the gregarious Ed Hicks of J Hick & Sons.
We arrived at the factory shop of Hicks which is located in the laneway behind Upr George's Street and were warmly greeted by Ed and met the rest of the people taking part in the course that evening. We were all there to learn for various reasons; ranging from owning a pig to curiosity at one of the oldest food preserving techniques.
The first thing Ed did was give us a run down of pork curing and how there is two ways you can cure; wet and dry. Wet curing is when the salt is mixed with water to create a brine in which the bacon sits. Dry curing is when the curing salts are rubbed directly into the skin of the bacon which is then wrapped and left in a dry, cool place. We listened to this information whilst surrounded by sausage making machinary and the work bench where we would later cure our bacon.
Ed then produced some raw beech-smoked rashers, some of which he put immediately onto a hot plate to cook, after a brief discussion about whether cutting or not cutting the rind is the best thing to do when cooking.
He cut the remaining rashers into pieces which were handed out for us to smell. The rasher had a golden ring around it from the smoking and a lovely wood smoke scent, which got more complex the more you smelled it. Then we got to eat some of the pieces that had already been cooked, and boy were they good! The first flavour, unsurprisingly, was salt, then you got the flavour of the beech wood smoke. I'm afraid that my descriptive powers are a little lacking at this point, but suffice to say they were the nicest smoked rashers I have ever tried.
Still chomping on bits of bacon, Ed showed us around the rest of the factory. We saw the smoker and the walk in fridge which contained stacks of curing bacon, which are rotated during the curing process, in order that all of them get time in the liquor, the liquid that is released by the salt coming into the meat.
He also showed us their brine mix for wet curing. He explained that, much as with a sourdough bread, it's good to have a starter for the brine which is kept between each curing. This gives a greater complexity of flavour to the wet cured bacon.
We then headed back to the main room to get down to the business of curing our own bacon. First we each had to claim a metal container, which we then weighed, making a note of the weight for future use. Ed then produced 2 loins of pork which he divided up between the 7 of us that were there that evening.
Each piece of pork was at least a kilo in weight, my own ended up being 1.5 kg and the Beau's piece was 1.3kg. We put the piece of pork into the containers and weighed them again, taking away the empty container weight to get the size of our pork piece.
Next came the complicated maths to work out how many grams of the curing mixture we would need for our piece of meat. The curing mixture was made up of salt, saltpetre and sugar. 34g was needed of this mixture per kilo, so out came the calculator. The curing mixture was weighed out in a seperate container for better accuracy. Then it was poured on to the top of the meat.
After a quick removal of my rings, it was time to rub the cure into the meat, making sure to especially rub it into the rind side and get it into all the little crevices.
After we had thoroughly salted our pork, Ed came around and put each piece of meat into a plastic bag with as much of the salt as we could scrape off our fingers and out of the container. Then we stuck our names onto the bags for easy identification.
Each of the plastic bags was then vacuum packed and Ed gave us the all important instructions on what to do with our bacon once we got home. He also told us that if we had any queries at all to email him (with pictures if we were really worried) and he would help as best he could.
Before we left we picked up our own bags of curing salts to take home, weighing 300g so that we could cure another 10kg of bacon ourselves. We also got a bag of beech wood chips so that we could try smoking our own bacon too.
For €40 per head, this is a very competitively priced evening. You spend 2 - 2.5 hrs learning about curing, you get at least 1kg of bacon, 300g of curing salt and a large bag of wood chips. I would highly reccommend it to anyone who is really interested in food.
Myself and the Beau can hardly wait the 4 - 6 weeks until our bacon is ready to eat.