You don’t have to go out of your way to convince me that pork is the King of Meats. Chops, loins, tenderloins, ribs, spare ribs, St. Louis Ribs, Columbus Ribs (you didn’t know about those? Go ask Blues’ Creek at the North Market), shoulders, hocks, trotters and bellies, oh my. And bacon. And bacon.
The versatility of the pig as foodstuff is well documented, and, especially in my home, much appreciated. Pig=King. Me=convinced. With that disclaimer in mind, please allow me to suggest that from time to time, on rare occasions, it’s nice to change it up a little bit. Sometimes what you crave is a knosh (Yiddish irony intentional) that smells like bacon, and cooks like bacon, and even eats like bacon, but that tastes a touch more like, well, lamb. My friends, I give you Lacon.
Do not fear. This is not some crazy Frankensteined meat conglomeration (though that could make a good article…). I’m going to give you all the info you need to make this tasty treat yourself using (mostly) stuff that you can find in your own home (seriously, I’ve checked; I know what you have) and a special cut from your local butcher called the ‘Lamb Breast.’ First, let’s chat about salt.
Sometimes what you crave is a knosh (Yiddish irony intentional) that smells like bacon, and cooks like bacon, and even eats like bacon, but that tastes a touch more like, well, lamb.
As much better writers than me have written much more about the topic than I could ever hope to, I’ll keep this brief: salt is delicious, makes everything around it taste better, and kills bacteria that can hurt you. Your only special ingredient in this process is a product known as pink salt or curing salt. Do not confuse this with the Himalayan salt that my wife buys at Trader Joe’s and keeps on the counter to match the rest of our pink kitchen. Curing salts contain sodium nitrite (usually 6.25%) to inhibit the growth of Clostridium Botulinum and prevent botulism. We should always prevent botulism. I’ve never looked for the stuff locally, but it can be readily found online by searching for “curing salt #1,” or “Prague Powder #1.” Don’t go for the #2; that contains nitrates, which would make this conversation (and your curing time) much longer. A 1 pound bag should cost you no more than $10. It’s more than enough to last most people many years. Go order your pink salt and come back. Do it now.
Done? Alright. We’re adapting a basic recipe for homemade bacon from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s book, Charcuterie. Once your pink salts have arrived measure out two ounces and combine in a zipper bag with one pound of kosher salt and eight ounces of sugar. Zip and shake. This will keep forever (or until you use it all up) and can also be used to cure pork belly into bacon. You’re only going to need a small portion of this for your lacon. Because of the size of a lamb breast, that usually comes out to around 4-6 tablespoons. Coat all sides of the lacon in your basic cure and shake off any extra. Drop the lacon into a gallon size zipper bag so that it will lay flat. Zip it up and pop it in the fridge for five to seven days. Every day you’ll want to flip it over. You’ll notice the cure drawing moisture out of the meat and dissolving in those released juices. Flipping the bag allows both sides of the meat to get evenly ‘brined.’
You’ll know you’re done when your meat is firmed up. Stop giggling. This is serious work. Now’s a good time to taste test. Carve off a slice (or three) and drop it in a pan as you would bacon. If what you have is entirely too salty, never fear. Just blanch that sheep slab in warm water for a minute or two to draw out the excess salt. What, you don’t remember those incredible equilibrium experiments from high school science class? Problem solved.
Now to finish it off, and help it keep a bit longer, we need to heat the whole thing up and hold it at an internal temp of 150 degrees. With bacon, this is most often done with smoking. If you have a smoker give it a shot. Alternatively, you can grill it, slow roast it or (my preferred method) sous vide it. I do the sous vide, and then set up my Weber with a few hot coals in the bottom and a pan of soaked applewood or cherrywood chips on top. I slow smoke it like this for a few hours, trying to keep the temp right around 150°F so the fat doesn’t render, but I get a nice, dark shine to the outside. That’s lacon lacquer, for you noobs out there. Once you’ve cooked it, your lacon will keep in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks, or store frozen in the freezer for a couple of months. Of course, if your house is like my house it would have a pink kitchen where this this stuff wouldn’t last a couple of months. Especially if you’ve got a lot of friends who—for one reason or another—don’t dig on swine. Congratulations. Your house just became their new after-school hang.