Wet-curing is mostly commonly used for pork that is going to be used for making hams, but it does also make pretty good bacon. It involves immersing the raw meat in a brine solution for a number of days at a low temperature. The end product doesn't differ a huge amount from dry curing and the process is as simple, if requiring a bit more equipment.
Basic wet cure brine ingredients
- 2 kilograms of salt
- 20 litres of water
- 50 grams of saltpetre (optional)
- Flavourings such as black peppercorns, sugar, beer, etc
These quantities are approximately what you'll need to wet-cure a whole belly from a pig at pork/bacon weight. Just make up more or less brine using the same proportions if you need to.
To make the brine put all of the ingredients together in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil hard for 10 minutes, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Once cooled transfer to the receptacle you're going to use for the curing process. This can be made of glass, plastic or earthenware, but must not be metallic - the brine solution will attack and erode the metal and could cause serious poisoning.
We use a big plastic cool box, much like this one, made of food-grade plastic.
The brine needs to be cooled to between 2 and 4° centrigrade before adding the meat. Under this temperature the curing action will cease, above it the chances of the meat spoiling become high. We use freezer blocks to reduce and maintain the temperature, keeping the cool box in our unheated garage. If you have access to a very large or even walk-in refrigerator then you're on easy street.
Once the brine is cool, add the meat. This should also be chilled to the right temperature, and must remain completely immersed in the brine solution for the duration of the curing. You can use non-metallic weights to achieve this - we use old, heavy crockery.
Duration of curing
The length of time you need to cure depends on two factors - the size of the cuts of meat you're curing, and your storage requirements, i.e. how long you want to keep the bacon for and where. As a guide a 2 kilo cut cured for 24 hours will keep well in a refrigerator for up to 2 weeks - add 12 hours for each additional kilo. Smoking the same cut will extend that by another 2 weeks, and freezing up to 3 months. Basically the longer you cure your bacon, up to 4 days, the longer it will keep but the saltier it will be.
Once the curing period is completed, remove the bacon from the brine and squeeze as much liquid from it as you can. Some books will tell you to soak the meat at this stage to reduce the saltiness - there's conflicting advice about whether this reduces the keeping qualities of the bacon, but if it's a small quantity and you intend to eat it within a week or so it can be a good idea.
Then hang each piece to dry in a cool well-ventilated place for 24 hours (again we use a cool out-building and butcher's hooks).
At this stage you have green bacon, and if you don't want to smoke it, it's ready to eat and store.
Le Charcutier Anglais: Tales & Recipes of a Gamekeeper Turned Charcutier Berry Marc-Frederic
The Sausage Book Paul Peacock
Maynard: Secrets of a Bacon Curer Maynard Davies