How deep does you bacon allegiance run? Are you ready to take it to the next level and learn how to cure your own at home? Cathy Barrow makes it all too easy with her recipe for Maple-Bourbon Bacon from her newest cookbook, Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry. Your dreams of all-bacon everything are about to become a reality.
makes: 11/2 pounds
active time: 30 minutes
curing time: 7 days plus 2 hours
cooking time: 1 hour
When I first made bacon, the taste of good pork was the first flavor I encountered—not salt. And there were no nagging concerns about how the pork was raised, because I had purchased the pork belly from a farmer I knew. There are a million reasons to make bacon at home but you need to know only one: it will be better than any bacon you have ever eaten.
I regularly make two styles of bacon. This one, cured with maple syrup, bourbon and coffee, has a dash of the sweet and smoky booze as an undertone. I think the bourbon makes it sing Hallelujah, but omit it if you are not a fan. The other version is cured with plenty of black pepper, rosemary and garlic and then smoked. I store both in the freezer in vacuum-sealed 4-ounce packets, sliced the way I like it, thick and ready to line up on top of the sliced tomato in a BLT or to serve with sunny-side up eggs for breakfast. I cut up any pieces that can’t slice into pretty rashers and store them in 2-ounce packets, to be crisped and scattered on top of soup or salad.
And that’s just the beginning of why bacon should always be part of your practical pantry. Use it to garnish deviled eggs, pan-roasted fish or chicken. Candy it (see page 296). Add it to baked goods like muffins or scones. Be weekend or brunch-ready.
1. Wearing gloves, mix the salts in a small bowl. Rub the salt cure all over the pork belly and place it in a 1 gallon zip-lock bag in a single layer (cut the meat into 2 large pieces if necessary). Stir together the coffee, maple syrup and liquor in a small bowl and add to the bag. Seal the bag and smoosh the liquid around. Open the bag slightly and press out the excess air, then zip it closed and lay it flat on a middle shelf in the refrigerator.
2. Let the bacon cure for 7 days. Every day, turn the bag over to redistribute the cure, and rub the belly through the bag, introducing all those nice flavors. Over the course of the week, the meat will exude juice and the cure will move through the cells of the meat; turning the bag ensures an even cure. Count the days and imagine the bacon.
3. After 7 days, remove the pork belly from the bag. It will be firmer than it was a week ago, a sign the cure has worked. Rinse the meat thoroughly and dry with paper towels. (Discard the cure.) Place the soon-to-be bacon on a rack set over a baking sheet and place it, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 2 hours. This resting period helps move the cure through the meat and equalize the salt and flavors.
4. Preheat the oven to the lowest setting, usually around 200°F.
5. Place the bacon, still on the rack on the baking sheet, in the center of the oven and cook for about 1 hour, until the internal temperature measures 150°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the bacon from the oven and let cool, then wrap well in butcher’s paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.
6. Once the bacon has chilled, slice it thick or thin, as you like it. Stack the slices on butcher’s paper or parchment, then vacuum-seal or place in zip-lock bags in portion sizes to suit your household. Bacon is always cooked before eating.
The bacon will keep for up to 10 days in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.
Both lamb and goat belly make terrific, deeply flavored bacon. Sometimes this cut is called breast—the current fondness for pork belly has some people renaming parts. The cut is thinner, with less fat, so it requires only 4 days in the salt and spices before cooking or smoking.
TIP: Salty Like the (Dead) Sea
Oops? Did you cure your meat or fish longer than you should have? Put it in a bowl, cover with cool water, soak it for about 8 hours, changing the water two or three times. Drain and dry well, then roast or smoke as directed. That should fix it.
A publication date has finally been set for the authorized sequel to the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. Journalist Mikael Blomqvist and hacker Lisbeth Salander return in That Which Does Not Kill, to be released in at least 35 countries on August 27, 2015, the Guardian reports.
First announced in 2013, the 500-page volume was completed in November by Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz.
It will be published by Knopf in North America under a different title. We're guessing it will continue with The Girl ________ format consistent with all the English titles, and the publisher promises it will "have at least one four-letter word." (Which, based on some BookPage readers' responses to the title of Jens Lapidus' 2013 thriller, will cause NO PROBLEMS AT ALL.) The cover will be designed by Peter Mendelsund.
At the time of the author's death of a heart attack in 2004, Larsson left behind an uncompleted manuscript for a fifth volume in a conceived 10-book series. This new book will introduce "some new characters, including several high profile Americans (one a security manager from the NSA) and a Swedish professor of computer science from Silicon Valley."
Speaking for the Stieg Larsson estate, Joakim and Erland Larsson (Stieg's brother and father) commented:
"By letting David Lagercrantz write his own Millennium novel we keep the characters and the universe Stieg Larsson created alive. This new work hews closely to the first three Millennium novels and is faithful to those characters; it is wholly new and contemporary—the perfect way for readers to resume their acquaintance with Lisbeth and Mikael."
The series has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide and seen multiple film adaptations. As for this new book, Swedish publisher Nordstedts expects a "global splash" to rival The Da Vinci Code.
A novel about female wrestlers in the 1950s? Sign this jaded fiction editor up—that's not a summary I read every day. In Angelina Mirabella's winning (ha) debut novel, 17-year-old Leonie is stuck in Philly, waiting tables and caring for her aging father. But then a wrestling promoter walks into her diner and her life is changed forever—she's off to Florida to train at Joe Pospisil's School for Lady Grappling.
Mirabella tells her story in the second person, allowing the reader to fully step into Leonie's shoes, like a choose-your-own-adventure. Here's Leonie in the ring for the first time, with a fellow trainee and friend, Peggy.
"I'm sorry. What do you want us to do?" [Peggy] ventures.
"What do you mean, what do I want you to do?" Joe asks, his hands extended in front of him. "This is a match. You are opponents. So wrestle, damn it."
"Oh," you say, blinking back at Peggy. The two of you stare at each other for a while, each waiting for the other to begin, to offer up some clue as to how this might go. Thankfully, Peggy steps forward and takes you by the soulders, granting you permission to do the same. It is a strange sensation, to be locked in ref's position with her—not just another woman, but a buddy. It is a decidedly tentative press, and it makes you tentative, too. How real should this be? What are the boundaries? And what is she to you, exactly? Is she your colleague, or your rival?
"Well, this is boring," says Joe. "Would either of you care to do anything that might keep a paying customer from walking out?"
"Like this?" says Peggy, and she drops down and grabs your legs out from under you.
What are you reading this week?
In his debut novel, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, Christopher Scotton follows teenager Kevin Gillooly as he spends the summer in a small, impoverished Appalachia mining town. Our reviewer writes, "This affecting coming-of-age story faithfully portrays environmental concerns alongside rich family histories." (Read the review here.)
We asked Scotton to tell us about three books he's been reading lately, and he graciously agreed to share.
The only time I have for pleasure reading these days is about five minutes in the evening before bed. Novels can take months to unspool for me in that limited time of quiet, so I’ve turned to short story collections for my night reading. Short stories allow me to wade in and out quickly but still take some meaning and satisfaction from the best of them. Here are three that seem to have attached themselves to a permanent place on my bedside.
Sure, it’s a great “on ramp” to reading and understanding Joyce—a not-too-taxing wend around middle class, turn-of-the-century Dublin—providing a necessary set-up for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man then Ulysses (read in that order if you can). But in my mind, Dubliners stands on its own as one of the best short story collections in the English language, primarily on the shoulders of “The Dead,” the final piece in the work.
“The Dead” is perhaps the most perfect short story I’ve ever read—flawlessly constructed, subtly rendered to devastating effect. When asked by young writers for advice on how to develop compelling characters, I send them sprinting to “The Dead” and to Joyce’s delicate unwrapping of Gabriel Conroy.
While others in the collection don’t achieve the rare air of “The Dead,” “The Sisters,” “Araby” and “Eveline” will certainly leave you breathless.
Goodness . . . where to begin with this one. Unlike The Dubliners, which is a bit top heavy with the outsized magnificence of “The Dead,” every story in Flannery O’Connor’s collection Everything That Rises Must Converge is note-perfect, stunningly original and just flat-out great.
While the stories are dark Southern Gothic, the characters are so acutely drawn that they transcend setting. We all have encountered the self-absorbed idiot intellectual Julian of the title story—perhaps we even were him for a while when the ink was still wet on our Masters. How many smug, self-righteous Mrs. May’s, gored by a bull in “Greenleaf,” have populated our neighborhoods? Then there’s the moral outrage of Thomas in “The Comforts of Home” combusting with the smoldering sexuality of Star Drake.
Although O’Connor’s novels were, for me, clumsy affairs, when reading her short stories you’ll know you’re in the deft hands of a virtuoso. These stories will amuse, astound and stun you sleepless.
If Joyce invented the short story, Saunders reinvented it with Tenth of December. Strike that—He didn’t just reinvent it, he blew it up, shook it down and reassembled the smithereens into something so completely unique and compelling and dazzling I was nearly left in thrombosis. Okay, not an actual thrombosis but maybe a state of joyful apoplexy.
Seriously, people, is there a better, more topical, more heart-rending story in this cannon of ours than the “Semplica Girl Diaries”? I don’t think so . . . except maybe “Tenth of December” or “Victory Lap.”
So much has been written about the genius of George Saunders that I don’t need to add to the blather—just read the damn thing. Or read it again if you already have. It’s the shit.
Thanks, Christopher! See a personal favorite or anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo by Lee Kriel)
The National Book Critics Circle has chosen the finalists for their annual awards, which will be announced on March 12 in New York City (if you're local, you can watch for yourself—the ceremony is open to the public). Check out the fiction and nonfiction finalists below, and visit their site for the full list.
Paula Hawkins has something to smile about. Her novel, The Girl on the Train, will top this week's New York Times bestseller list. That's quite a feat for any author, let alone an unknown: This is the first time that a debut novel* has made the #1 spot in its first week on sale since Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian was published in 2005. According to the publishers, Riverhead, more than 300,000 copies are in print, and the book is being sold at unconventional retail outlets, including Urban Outfitters.
We weren't surprised to hear that the unexpected twists and turns of The Girl on the Train got readers buzzing—they definitely had our editors intrigued. In her BookPage interview, Hawkins talked about the difficulty of surprising readers with twists that still manage to function as an "ah-ha" moment.
“It’s all about feeding tiny pieces of information, but hopefully keeping them slightly ambivalent. You have to have different people see different things in different ways, and hold back particular pieces of information,” she explains.
Hawkins is hard at work on another book, although it is quite likely that touring for The Girl on the Train will be keeping her busy for the next several weeks—she'll be appearing at Nashville's own Parnassus Books on February 8.
Have you picked up The Girl on the Train yet?
*Hawkins has published other novels under a pseudonym—we're betting they are on the way to the printers as we speak.
Looking for a hearty, soul-warming staple to get you through the final weeks of winter? Then try this Italian-inspired recipe for Hunter's Chicken Stew from our January Top Pick in Cookbooks, The Pollan Family Table.
Hunter’s Chicken Stew with Tomatoes and Mushrooms
FROM THE MARKET
FROM THE PANTRY
Our hunter's stew is an Italian take on the classic Polish dish, with chicken as a stand-in for pork. The tender morsels of chicken are smothered in a luscious gravy, making this a dish that the family loves.
1 whole chicken (3½ to 4 pounds), giblets and backbone removed, cut into 8 serving pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced
8 cremini or baby bella mushroom caps, thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
1 bay leaf
Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper.
In a Dutch oven or a large ovenproof pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add 4 of the chicken pieces, skin side down. Cook undisturbed until the skin is golden, about 7 minutes. Flip the chicken pieces and cook until brown, about 4 minutes more. Transfer to a platter and repeat with the remaining pieces of chicken. Set aside.
Wipe the Dutch oven clean with paper towels and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion, mushrooms and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and fragrant, about 8 minutes.
Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour is thoroughly mixed with the onion and mushrooms, about 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high and stir in the wine, scraping up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken broth, tomatoes and their juice, thyme, sage, the bay leaf, 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and ⅛ teaspoon of pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the browned chicken and any accumulated juices, submerging the pieces into the liquid. Cover and place the pot in the oven.
Bake until the chicken is tender, about 30 minutes. Take off the lid and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Remove the pot from the oven and, using tongs, transfer the chicken to a platter. Return the pot to the burner, turn the heat to high, and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 4 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Spoon the mushrooms and sauce over the chicken and serve.
Get your library cards ready! Librarians around the country voted, and LibraryReads has put together a list of the upcoming February titles that librarians are most excited about putting on their shelves.
Topping the list is the incomparable Anne Tyler's family saga, A Spool of Blue Thread. Other books included on the list are M.O. Walsh's heartbreaking and suspenseful My Sunshine Away and Ariana Franklin's latest historical novel, The Siege Winter. Check out the full LibraryReads list here!