|Homemade peameal (sans meal), ready for frying
So this post has nothing at all to do with brewing, or even movies from the 1990’s, but rather has to do with…bacon. Specifically, the making of the king of all bacons – peameal bacon (aka Canadian bacon, aka back bacon). My Canadian readers, depending on exactly where in Canada they live, will be well aware of this wondrous meat by at least one of three names – in the west it typically goes by the name of “back bacon”, although some stores sell it as “Canadian bacon”. Out east it is most often sold under the name peameal bacon – so-named as it was historically sold rolled in white bean meal (today corn meal is the norm). Regardless of which name you call it by, it is a wonderful thing – its the bacon you pull out for special events like Mothers Day brunch, or Christmas breakfast, or because you feel like spoiling yourself.
My international readers probably have no idea what I’m talking about – this isn’t your classical salted and smoked pork-belly bacon, nor is it the product sold in some US states as “Canadian bacon” – this is a much more refined piece of cured meat; a cross between a corned beef, ham, and classical bacon. It is a brined pork loin, which after brining is typically rolled in either corn meal or white pea meal before cooking. You can slice it thin and serve it with breakfast, or smoke it to make a great sandwich meat, or even slice it thick and fry (or BBQ) it and eat it on a bun. And as with beer, it is easy to make at home, and when “home brewed”, yields a product superior to that sold in most stores.
Recipe and all that other fun stuff below the fold…
Peameal is made from the loin – otherwise known as the side of the pig opposite regular bacon (regular bacon is made from pig belly; the loin runs along the back). To prepare your loin, trim away as much fat as you can, and remove all of the silver skin. Then break it down into 1 kg (~2 lb) pieces. The brine recipe, below, is sufficient for 2 kg (i.e. 2 x 1 kg) loin segments, which conveniently, is roughly the size of most pork loins.
Like any cured meat, a good peameal starts with a good brine. There are hundreds of brine recipes out there, most of them excellent, but this is my preferred recipe as it tastes great whether served normally or smoked. The most important part of this is the pink salt – you need to make sure you are buying a pink salt meant for cooked cured meats, not for dry-cured meats. This is often sold as prague powder #1 or instacure #1 – the key is that it must be 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% table salt. If it contains differing mixes of these salts, or contains sodium nitrate, it is the wrong salt. You can find these in speciality grocery stores, or on-line (Amazon has it).
- 2.5 L of water
- 210 g of non-iodized salt (kosher salt, sea salt, pickling salt, etc)
- 25 g prague powder #1
- 150 g white sugar
- 54 g brown sugar
- 45 ml honey or maple syrup
- 1 tbsp pickling spice (homemade or store bought)
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- Place half of the water in the freezer to cool*
- Take the other half of the water and add the salts, white sugar and garlic.
- Bring this to a boil and simmer gently until all of the salt and sugar are dissolved.
- Remove from heat and mix in the pickling spice, brown sugar and honey/syrup. As soon as these are dissolved, mix in the cooled half of the water – by minimally heating the honey/syrup and spices you’ll retain more of the aromatics.
- Return the brine to the fridge until cooled completely.
*You can use all the water for making the brine, but do not cool with ice-cubes; this will dilute the brine and can lead to spoilage of the meat. Using all the water for the brine speed dissolving of the salt, but then requires an extensive cooling period prior to adding it to the meat.
Place the prepared pork loin into a non-reactive container or a large zipper-sealed plastic bag (“freezer-sized” ziploc bags work well). Make sure the container/bag is large enough to hold the loin(s) and all the brine. Add the loin and brine – if using a container, it may be necessary to weigh-down the loin with a plate to keep it immersed, if using a bag simply push out all the air prior to sealing. Place the loin(s) in your refrigerator for 3.5 to 5 days.
To test for done-ness, cut off a bit from one end of the loin; it should be pink to the centre (see the picture at the top of the post for an example). Fry this piece to see if it is the desired saltiness. If not pink to the centre, or if not salty enough, place the loin back in the brine and return it to the fridge…
…or you can be lazy, which is what I do. Brine for a full five days, and then soak the loin for 1 hour in cold water to desalt slightly. Fry a test piece, and if still to salty, repeat the water soak for another hour. This method ensures the brine reaches the centre, and I find a single water-soak ensures an appropriate salt level.
Once cured it is tradition (and tastes pretty good) to roll the loin in corn meal, or even more traditionally, meal made from ground white beans. If you are planning on smoking the loin skip this step – the meal will burn.
So now what (AKA how to cook and eat it)
|Peameal sandwich and homebrew on a
sunny spring evening
The options here are many-fold. Meal-rolled (or non-mealed) bacons can be frozen in ziploc bags for future use – they will last a long time in the freezer without appreciable changes in their flavour or texture. But eventually you’ll need to cook this bad-boy. A few of my favourite ways:
Peameal Sandwich (left):
Cut the peameal into thick slices – 1 cm/0.5″ or thicker. Fry or BBQ until the edges are browned, but and the centre is medium-rare. Serve on a chewy bun (ciabatta works well) with a spicy mustard. Other fixings (i.e. lettuce) are discouraged. Serving alongside homebrew is highly recommended.
Smoked peameal is fantastic. To start, remove any meal from the meat (assuming you added it) and pat-dry the loin. Peameal does well with milder woods – fruit woods like apple or cherry, as well as some hardwoods like oak and maple. Avoid strong flavoured woods like mesquite. Smoke at 120C/250F for ~3 hours – you are aiming for an internal temperature of 70C/160F. Monitor the internal temperature closely – 70C will give you a juicy, tasty bacon. If you let it get to 75C it’ll start to get chewy. If you drank a few too many hot scotchies on brewday, while trying to simultaneously smoke meat (true story), the temp may get to 80C – at which point you’ll need to slice it with your chop-saw and use it for hockey pucks.
If you slice a still-hot smoked loin nice and thick it makes for a great sandwich – prepare as above, being sure to serve alongside a glass of good homebrew. Or you can let it cool and slice it thin – this creates a great sandwich meat that can be used in lieu of ham or pastrami. I’d recommend a ruben-style sandwich: sauerkraut, smoked peameal and swiss cheese – toasted and served with a hefty glass of homebrew. Or you can slice it thin and re-fry it to get something similar to bacon; serve in the morning alongside pancakes and eggs…probably goes good with homebrew too…just be careful as re-frying can make it quite tough.
It is bacon…
Tradition, of course, is to cut the peameal medium-thick (a little more than 0.5 cm, 1/4″) and fry it until the meal is crispy and the centre is medium-rare to medium. Serve with whatever else is for breakfast, preferably dosed heavily with maple syrup. And if you’re like my wife, who loves breakfast for dinner, this too goes well with homebrew…
…as does most things in life.