It's said that more than any other scent, the smell of frying bacon brings vegetarians back into the folds of the carnivorous. You can’t really blame them. When I was a teenager, only the smell of smoked back bacon would raise me from my slumbers on a Sunday morning and force me down to the kitchen table for a huge breakfast of golden-yolked eggs, toast and, of course, thick slices of the beautiful pink, cured pork.
The term “bacon” literally refers to cured meat taken “from a pig’s back,” although now bacon can come from many different parts of the animal. Curing in salt was a natural form of preservative and meant that the meat from slaughtered pigs could be kept well into the depths of winter, where it could be added to nutritious stews to fuel workers for their hard day’s labor.
So prized was bacon in medieval times, that in the 12th century, a priest from the town of Dunmow in the UK county of Essex awarded a side, or a "flitch,” of bacon to a couple who had impressed him with their piety and marital devotion to each other. The tradition continued and still does to this day and is the origin of the well-known phrase “Bringing home the bacon.”
In just about every nation where pork is a major source of protein, you will find some form of bacon or cured meats. Italian pancetta is one of the most famous and is a prerequisite ingredient in one of the most famous pasta dishes of all, the carbonara. In the UK, you can still find large joints of cured pork called gammon, which is soaked overnight to remove the salt from the meat and then simmered in water and spices for a long period before being glazed with honey in the oven.
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Though almost all bacon these days is eaten in slices for breakfast, it makes a great kitchen standby for any serious cook. It adds depth to soups, stews and pasta sauces. It can be layered on top of poultry to keep it moist during cooking or wrapped around dates to make a delicious and unusual party snack. Best of all, bacon can be stuffed between two slices of toasted bread with a little mustard and steak sauce to make the most irresistible sandwich imaginable.
The bacon recipe below is so simple you'll wonder why you never tried to cure your own bacon before.
While I had made my own adaptations to the recipe, full credit must go to the original inspiration, which can be found in Michael Ruhlman’s exceptional book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.
Cured Bacon Recipe
2 lbs Pork Belly
1/4 cup curing salt (available online)
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 juniper berries (crushed)
2 springs fresh thyme
1/4 cup lemon zest
2 bay leaves (crumbled)
4 garlic cloves (flattened with a knife)
1- Trim the pork belly to a neat rectangle.
2- Rinse the pork and pat dry with kitchen towels.
3- Combine all the curing ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
4- Place the pork in the bowl and massage the curing mix well into the meat.
5- Place the pork and the curing mix into a large Ziploc bag and shake well.
6- Place the Ziploc bag in the fridge and leave for five to seven days, turning once every day to make sure it cures evenly. The pork will produce quite a lot of liquid, but this is quite normal.
7- After five to seven days, remove the pork from the bag, rinse off the curing ingredients and pat dry with kitchen towels.
(Note: If you have a smoker, you can perform the next part of the operation -- smoking the bacon -- with whatever wood you choose. But you can still get very good results just using your oven, as directed below.)
8- Place the pork on a wire rack and cook in a 200 degree oven until the internal temperature of the meat comes to 150 degrees (this should take between 90-120 minutes, but use a meat thermometer to be certain).
9- Remove the pork from the oven and allow to cool.
10-The bacon is now ready to be sliced. Use an electric machine, if you have one, or a very sharp knife.
You can freeze the bacon, which makes it easier to slice. It will also keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but I guarantee you that the end result is so delicious, it won’t last long.