Pork Products, Random Thoughts, Spain

Waste not, want not.

Here’s a question that comes up a lot: what happens to all the scraps and trim from all those nicely-plated dishes and tiny little vegetable cuts? Isn’t that a wasteful way to cook?

A little history. When I was a kid in Milwaukee, my mother dispensed most parental wisdom in the form of aphorisms, usually when I was under suspicion of wrongdoing or inefficiency. If she suspected me of lying about coming home at midnight rather than 3 am, she’d prod me that “honesty is the best policy.” If I complained about the unfairness of some punishment or adverse consequence – no doubt justly administered – she would declare, in an ominous tone, that “you reap what you sow.” It was as though the ghost of Ben Franklin had come to inhabit the form of a thirtysomething high school librarian in the Milwaukee suburbs. We’re both older now, but even today, a chat about spending habits and 401(k) plans might end with a raised finger and the admonition that “a penny saved is a penny earned.” I’ve often thought a great idea for a toy would be a doll, modeled after my mother circa 1973, that would utter a different aphorism every time you pulled the string.

Mom and me, summer 1973

Among my mother’s top five tenets was “waste not, want not,” which I usually heard after she found me throwing out a moldy peach or discovering that I hadn’t eaten the chicken sandwich she’d packed me for lunch because I decided to spend my allowance on pizza instead. I made great sport of this back in the day, but she was right. When it comes to food preparation, you should find a way to use everything, and to avoid waste. Trim goes into sauces, pasta, and soup; bones go into stock; fat converted to a frying or poaching medium. Which brings me to the pig. As you know, I went hogging a little while back and picked up various cuts of the raw ibérico de bellota pork product. The hallmark of the ibérico pork is its clean, sweet fat, and the belly was an unbelievable example of this lardiness. Only the day before, at WholeFoods, I’d picked up a couple of pounds of what seemed to me unusually thick Niman Ranch belly, the meat interspersed with layers of creamy fat. At the time, it seemed like a pretty awesome piece of meat (and truthfully, it is a enough nice belly). The meat embedded in the ibérico belly was the same maroon as in jamón, though, and the fat cap twice as thick. When I got home, I put them side by side.

Side by side: Ibérico belly compared to an actually very nice Niman Ranch belly. LOOK AT THE FAT.

Side by side color comparison.

I trimmed the bellies into two squared-off pieces and froze one. The fat from one I expect will make some superb lardo in the near future. I cured the other in the manner of bacon. Sliced and fried until crisp, the ibérico bacon joined some heirloom tomatoes and avocado in the best BLT ever.

Best BLT and chips EVER

The potential for waste in this process was pretty high. Turning pork belly into crispy bacon means leaving behind trim (before cooking) and melted fat (after cooking). In fact, being mostly fat, about 1 1/4 lbs of ibérico bacon yielded about a quart of clear, clean-tasting fat after cooking. Rather than waste the fat, I used it to fry paper-thin slices of russet potato, seasoned with white truffle salt. And rather than tossing out the trim, I diced it and incorporated it into a surprisingly quick yeast bread.

Note: I bought the raw ibérico product at Wagshal’s Market in DC. You can buy via mail order through their Ibérico USA site, or through La Tienda.

Ibérico bacon

Do yourself a favor and use a kitchen scale. I’ve provided approximate dry measurements, but you’re better off weighing everything. Generally, I like to smoke the bacon (or use a smoked salt or pimentón to lend the same smoky taste), but in the case of the ibérico belly, I think it’s best to let the taste of the fat stand on its own.

4 lbs (~2 kg) ibérico pork belly, skin removed (reserve for chicharron or something)
100 g kosher salt (2/3 c)
50 g granulated sugar (1/2 c)
5 g TCM (about 1/2 tbsp)
2 tbsp black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic, crushed
8 sprigs thyme, washed and dried
4 bay leaves, coarsely crumbled

Combine all the dry ingredients thoroughly. Dredge the pork belly to coat on all sides. Press the thyme, peppercorns, garlic, and crumbled bay evenly to coat.

Place in a large (2 gallon) plastic ziploc bag. Double bag. Press as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing. Place the bag in a stainless steel pan (or other large, flat) container and refrigerate for about ten days. Every day, turn the bag over and redistribute the cure evenly over the surfaces of the pork. Touch the pork each day to feel its firmness.

After about ten days, the pork should feel firmer and there should be more liquid in the bag as the salt has penetrated the meat. Once the pork feels fairly firm/rigid, remove the pork from the bag, discard the cure, and rinse thoroughly. More curing time is not better in terms of curing since your belly just gets saltier and saltier. Once it’s firm, take it out.

Preheat an oven to 180F/83C. Place the bacon on a rack over a sheet pan and roast for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours (depending on thickness) until it reaches an internal temperature of 140F. Chill promptly and refrigerate up to three days before use; otherwise, freeze.

Sliced up.

Potato chips

Unless you cook a lot of the bacon at once (say two pounds or more), you’ll need to save it up in the refrigerator or supplement it with a neutral oil, like grapeseed or rice bran oil, for frying. Use something with a high smoke point whose taste won’t compete with the ibérico’s flavor. Fry the potatoes in batches and don’t try to fry too many at once; if the temperature of the oil drops too much, the chips will be greasy.

Don’t be tempted to fry at too high a temperature (over 350F/176C); the oil will break down (rancidify) more quickly, and what’s more, your chips will burn. You can slice potatoes into cold water, soak, and rinse to remove some of the surface starch first, but I’ve never found this a necessary first step. Instead, I slice using a handheld benriner or Japanese mandoline directly into the oil.

one very large russet potato, washed well and dried
2 quarts fat rendered from ibérico bacon, strained (or as much fat as you have, plus enough grapeseed or rice bran oil to supplement)
fine salt, such as popcorn salt

Place a rack over a baking sheet and line with a double thickness of paper towels. Place a deep but not wide pan containing the fat over medium high heat, with a frying thermometer. The oil should not fill the pan more than halfway. Heat to 345F/174C. Slice using a benriner or Japanese mandoline directly into the oil, being sure not to crowd the pan. You should slice about 1/8 of the potato in each batch.

Russets frying in iberico fat.

Adjust the heat upward if necessary to keep the temperature from falling below 285F/140C (and be sure to lower it again if necessary to keep it from rising above 350F/176C). Using a spder-type skimmer, move the potatoes around in the oil to ensure that they remain separate.

Fry until the potato chips are crisp (not soft) and light golden. Remove with the skimmer and drain on the paper towels. Season with salt (I like a white truffle salt). You also can try adding some flavors – I sometimes like combining a fine salt with powdered malt vinegar, for a salt and vinegar potato chip, .

Chips fried in iberico fat.

Ibérico ring bread

The bread dough for this recipe isn’t mine; it comes straight from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Bread Bible. This is her recipe for prosciutto ring bread, substituting diced ibérico bacon for the prosciutto. Amazingly, this bread goes from raw ingredients to finished product in two and a half to three hours, meaning that it’s possible to make it on a weeknight.

Because the diced ibérico bacon is far oilier than prosciutto, you will have to incorporate it by hand rather than using a machine.

I’ve made this using both barley malt powder and barley malt syrup. I highly recommend using the powder. You will not be able to stop eating this bread once it comes out of the oven. After the first day, toast it. There’s no need for butter or any additional fat – the ibérico bacon makes the bread very rich – but if you like, a fig jam would complement the pork perfectly.

340g AP or bread flour
10g barley malt powder
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
3/4 tsp instant yeast (just shy of 1 tsp active dry yeast)
3/4 tsp salt
1 c water, 90F
1/2 lb trimmings from ibérico bacon, about 50% meat/50% fat more or less, diced 1/4″
2 tbsp melted ibérico fat

450F/232C oven, with baking stones or an upturned large cast iron pan.

Whisk together the flour, yeast, pepper, and barley malt. When combined well, whisk in the salt. Add the water and mix, using the dough hook, on a stand mixer, or with a wooden spoon. Knead by hand or in the mixer for about ten minutes on a medium-low setting, until the dough is smooth and springs back slowly when depressed.

Turn out onto a board, stretch out slightly, and spread the diced bacon on the surface. Roll up and form into a ball. Dust with flour and cover the dough with plastic wrap. Rest for about 20 minutes or so.

Roll the dough into a rope about 18″ long. Form into a ring, tucking the ends together. Transfer to a silpat-lined sheet pan. Cover with plastic wrap and rise for about 90 minutes to 2 hours in a warmish room until doubled.

Load the sheet pan onto the baking stones and throw a cup of ice onto the oven floor. Bake for about 20-30 minutes until deep golden brown on the outside. The loaf should be hollow inside when tapped, about 190F.

Cool on a rack.

See how it's studded with bacon


5 thoughts on “Waste not, want not.

  1. Kris Palmer says:

    Cool mom & you pic, Wendy. Fun to see childhood photos of friends you’ve only known since adulthood. (As I looked at the house, I started whistling the Brady Bunch song–which speaks to a pretty good childhood!)

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