That is my favorite food place to be – nestled between Italian slow food and deep Southern soul food. This cured belly was an attempt at a way to cure something country ham-like in a shorter period and it was not until I told someone about it did I realize that I had essentially made pancetta, only smoking it and using a modified cure. It was somewhere between country ham and pancetta with a smidge of lardo.
The idea came from watching a short film from the Southern Foodways Alliance about Allen Benton. He talked about his method of curing his country hams and within the time talking about ham, he splashed his method for bacon. He bacon is unrivaled, to me, and I thought that I might try and cross country ham and bacon. With that I split a belly, cured half for bacon and with the other half used the same method as I have used for country ham. After a longer period of time curing the belly, I cold smoked it for days and then hung it up in my parents’ basement for six months.
After cutting the belly down, I wondered if 6 months is too short of a time to hang. A year is short for hams, but this was a belly and I did not want it to become over-dried. When I sliced into the belly, a deep red streak emerged from the layers of cured white fat. It was firm, but maintained a level of richness that you associate more with belly than the leaner leg. The fat is copious – even by belly standards the fat approaches absurdity. I think that you could let the belly age for another six months to year to develop that characteristic depth and/or funk, but it would be hard to say that this country ham belly is missing something.
An idea sparked by a great video by Joe York turned into the development of a slab of cured meat that straddles two worlds. With the fat-laden Crawford Sweet belly that I started with, the patience, with which I struggle mightily, paid off in droves.
Country Ham Belly
- 1800 grams pork belly (skin-off)
- 105 grams kosher salt
- 24 grams brown sugar
- 10.5 grams freshly ground black pepper
- 2.4 grams crushed red pepper
- 5 grams Curing Salt #2
Step one: Mix cure ingredients and rub over pork. Cure for 10-12 days.
Step two: Cold smoke belly between 48 and 72 hours. I smoked the belly for 72 hours.
Step three: Poke two holes along one side of the belly and run butcher twine through. Hang the belly in a cool dry place.
Step four: Do nothing for approximately 6 months.
Step five: Wrap belly in cling-wrap and chill for 24 hours. Slice and consume.