Sunday, September 20, 2015

Beef Navel Bacon

To say that I have been wanting to do this for a while is a huge understatement. I live in the Northwest and sourcing Beef Navel/Belly has been quite challenging. To give you an analogy consider this. I contend that acquiring White Truffles would be less problematic than Beef Navel. If this doesn't paint a picture I don't know what else will. I am being serious about this too. If I was on the east coast of course sourcing this would be easy. 

Back in the day when I first attempted to make what I thought would be Meat Nirvana I purchased what I believed was Beef Navel and to my dismay received full on plate. At the time of course I didn't know any different. I am no butcher so of course I left this to the professionals. I even went to an old fashion Butcher where they break down primal parts right in front of you. If anyone knew what I was talking about it had to be these guys right? I asked for Beef Navel and he said oh... you mean the plate. So I brought home what he gave me and made beef bacon from it. Not the best bacon I ever made nor even a close took 6th in my bacon contest; 6 th being the worse. The plate was hard and was hard to cook. 

"Anyhow I guess all Navels come from the plate but not all plates are Navels." LC

When you walk up to the counter and ask if they could special order Beef Navel/Belly (called plate too) you either get this blank stare or they say "Do you mean Brisket" After the third or fourth time you want to yell "Hell No I don't mean Brisket". I went to QFC, Safeway, Albertsons, several Butcher chops, and had some contact with local butchers online and to my disappointment everyone came up short. The only place that was able to help me was Haggens. About 6 months ago Haggens took over the safeway store thank goodness. Not a fan of safeway. The Haggens employees in the meat department were extremely friendly and helpful.

I have been dreaming of using this meat meat for over three years and now that I have five of them I am going to town. There are several things I will be doing with this cut of meat. And alas this opening paragraph will accompany several posts. I plan on making Sous-Vide BBQ Beef, Pastrami, Corned-Beef and Bacon. 

Before Brisket there was the Navel. Would it surprise you to know that Navel dominated all forms of BBQ and Cured meats such as Pastrami and Corned Beef. Pastrami is Jewish BBQ with Chutzpah!! Corned-Beef of course is just cured beef without going through the transformation that makes it Pastrami. You cannot have Pastrami without Corned-beef. I have a passion for cured meats such as Pastrami, Corned-Beef and of course Bacon. I have posts dedicated to them. But none of them were ever made with Beef Navel until now. Anyhow you get my point Navel was King and it was cheaper than Brisket. In fact where I live Brisket sell for $7.99lb and the Navel cost $2.49lb. I might want to keep this a secret because if it becomes popular it might drive the cost up a bit. 

Childhood memories brings me back to my first real deli food experience which was none other than Katz Deli in New York City EST 1888. I won't go into a long story but suffice it to say they served Navel everything. You know that famous movie When Harry Met Sally?  The famous scene was filmed at Katz's enough said!!

Oy Gevalt enough with the prologue let's get to the Bacon. Yea yea I know I have an obsession with Beef Navel so just be patient while I rant just a tad more. When you cure anything with Beef Navel you end up with something that is Heavenly. That's right Heavenly sent from G-d Himself. Yes; you read the previous sentence correctly I equated G-d with Bacon. Most people when they think of Bacon they think of Pork Bacon but being Jewish this is a No No. So when you get a chance and you find a Beef version you hold it close and enjoy it like no tomorrow. It's certainly a treat for anyone that is Jewish (or Gentiles that follow the Torah) and does not succumb to the pork version. Heavenly Yes; most certainly.  

Finally on to the Bacon. I am using my Maple Bacon Recipe found Here . It's a great go to recipe that never fails. If you want you can make it savory by adding other stuff to it like garlic, bay leaf peppercorns etc. 

Of course I started out with a big hunk of Navel that nearly weighed 11.5 lbs.

Here's my "Mise En Place" Which means in french "putting in place" as in to set up. Used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and assembling the ingredients or components of the dish. Makes things so much easier when you're compiling a huge list of ingredients for a particular dish. 

I placed the now unsheathed Navel in a large vessel to capture all the salt, cures and other ingredients. 

One technique that is unique to my process is the way I apply the dry-rub and cure. Some people combine the salt/cure, herbs and spices together first then apply to meat. I like to first combine the Salt, cure then apply to meat making sure I get it into every nook and cranny. When you apply everything at once some of the rub is going to run off the meat and you never know how much cure actually got on the meat. It's imperative that the right amount of salt and cure makes its way on to the meat.

 Now the simple part. Combine the rest of the ingredients and pack them on to the meat. There will be excess rub that will fall to the side but don't worry about this. Make sure to coat every inch of the piece of meat. No rub will go to waste because the excess rub will be tossed in bag. It gets very sloppy and sticky so my suggestion is to use latex gloves for everything.

Carefully place your meat into a vacuum seal bag making sure not to scrape off too much rub. Make sure all salt and rub gets into that bag. Refrigerate and flip every day for 21 days. If this was a smaller piece of meat it would only need about 14 days. I am using a precise equilibrium cure so I am not worried about over curing because that can't happen. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention my Vacuum sealer. This baby is from Food Saver called Game Saver. It holds 15 inch bags and will hold obviously very large pieces of meat. It's a must for large hunks like these. 

All Rinsed off and ready for the cold-smoke!!! 

 "Before cured foods are smoked, they should be allowed to air-dry long enough to form a tacky skin, known as a pellicle. The pellicle plays a key role in producing excellent smoked items. It acts as a kind of protective barrier for the food, and also plays an important role in capturing the smoke’s flavor and color." 

Cold-smoked for 8 hours using the A-Maze-N-Smoker.  

All DONE!!! 8 hours of Cold-Smoke. Ok..this is important to point out so listen up. On the web you will find lots of recipes for bacon. Whether it's Pork or Beef it doesn't make a difference. You don't want to cook the bacon during the smoke. No Hot Smoke. A lot of recipes instruct you to cook the bacon until it reaches an internal temp of 150˚ƒ. Don't do this because too much fat will render. This bacon has been cured with Salt and Cure #1 and it's not necessary. Please don't do this. Slice it up and fry or bake it but please do not cook during the smoke!!!!!  

Now for the Gratuitous pictures and review. 

Review- The bacon came great!! The flavors and everything you would expect from bacon were wonderful. 

My base recipe for maple bacon is fabulous but I need to experiment with adding some other flavors.....I.E garlic, bay leaf and pepper. 

How does it compare to Brisket Bacon? Less chewier and textually more like pig bacon. How about my short rib bacon? Almost the same as long as the short rib has plenty of fat to render down. Navel bacon as you can see by the pictures has plenty of fat. 

One thing that I had to work through was how thin to slice the bacon. I have a professional slicer and I found that the setting 2 was to thin. The bacon sliced at 2 was to delicate and hard to handle. It fried up very nicely though. At 3 1/2 it was to thick and textually a little chewier although not bad at all. Packing this stuff up to give away and for long term storage can be challenging if not sliced to an adequate thickness. I settled in on 2 1/2. I used deli paper to separate the slices and then vacuumed sealed it all up.  

Note 1: now that I have made this about 6 times now I have changed my position ever so slightly. I now prefer my Berkel setting 2. As long as the bacon is very cold, you cook on a very low flame it renders out perfectly. 

Note 1: If you can get a well marbled Brisket Deckle (point) I prefer this cut for bacon. The beefiness is wonderful. 


More Pictures below