Hot smoking, that is...
This month's Charcutepalooza challenge is hot smoking. Here in Minnesota, it's been a challenge to do anything like using a grill outside for oh, say, the last SIX MONTHS. In fact, when this challenge was posted, our smoker was still hibernating in two feet of snow next to the garage. However, I was determined to finish the challenge even if I had to stand outside in the snow, shivering while I chucked hardwood charcoal into the firebox (and when I say "I", I mean my husband - thanks sweetie!).
Pictured above is extremely tasty smoked Canadian bacon. Homemade Canadian bacon is so superior to the plastic-packaged, plastic-tasting grocery store offering that I now refuse to eat the store bought version. I've been forever spoiled for the sweet, smoky flavor of homemade Canadian bacon. And it's easy - one of the easiest charcuterie items I've made.
Of course, we are using a recipe from Charcuterie by Ruhlman and Polcyn. (Can I just mention that I am super excited about the follow up version of this tome that is set to hit the stores later this year? I can't wait!) This is where I have to show off. (Remember Show and Tell from elementary school? this is like that, only for once I have something worth showing, unlike in grade school. Kids can be brutal, especially to others who don't have the resources to get the "good stuff." Not that I'm carrying a grudge or anything.) Anyhoo, I've had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ruhlman on a few occasions where he demonstrated various cooking techniques and also signed books. He signed a couple of books for me including this one:
But enough about me. Let's talk about Canadian bacon. My love of American bacon knows no bounds, but choosing between it and Canadian bacon would be difficult. Cured, smoked pork belly can only possibly be matched by cured, smoked pork loin. It is denser, leaner, and the counterplay between the smoke and the natural sweetness of the pork is phenomenal.
To make Canadian bacon, you brine pork loin in a solution that contains pink salt, kosher salt and aromatics including thyme and sage. (No parsley or rosemary, though.) After a couple of days, the loin is removed and air dried for a day or two, then hot smoked to an internal temperature of 150 degrees.
I used a pork sirloin instead of the center cut pork because a) it was on sale, and b) it was on sale. What can I say, I'm a cheapskate at heart. What I didn't use was any "enhanced" meat - this was au naturel, high quality locally-raised pork. Pretty much everyone who lives in Minnesota or Iowa eats locally raised pork since it's a huge industry in the area.
I must digress but for a moment. My uncle used to raise pigs, and we would butcher a couple every fall. It's amazing to witness an old-time butchering, where in truth they use "everything but the squeal." The intestines were turned inside out, washed, and turned back to use for sausage casings, the blood was collected (and continually stirred to avoid clotting) to be used in blood sausage, the head was boiled and used in head cheese (natch), and on and on. My only regret is that I was too young to have input on the use of certain pig parts like the jowl. I would love to have had some guanciale from those pigs!
Back to the bacon. Smoking the pork loin isn't as fussy as one would think. My husband built a fire out of lump hardwood charcoal in the firebox and maintained a pretty steady 225 degrees in the big chamber. The same results could be obtained in a kettle style grill by putting the coals to one side and setting the pork on the other. Our preference for a smoking wood is good old-fashioned hickory. It provides a pronounced smokiness that we prefer to some of the more delicate woods like apple or cherry. And of course we don't like regular charcoal because of all the nasty additives which, in addition to probably being quite unhealthy, add an off flavor to the meat. The smoking only took about 3 1/2 hours.
While the "go to" recipe using Canadian bacon is the venerable Eggs Benedict, my husband doesn't like hollandaise sauce (you'll have to forgive me - I married him before I knew that fact), so I decided to make a pizza and use the Canadian bacon as a topping. I used a simple, quick pizza dough because I cannot seem to plan ahead for a more complex (and probably tastier) overnight-ferment dough. I topped the pizza with a homemade tomato sauce heavy on the fennel, Canadian bacon, and thinly-sliced fresh pineapple.
To all the pizza purists crying out in anger, despair and utter frustration, I make no apologies and stand by my decision to add pineapple to pizza. This is considered heresy by many, but darn it, it tastes so good! To paraphrase an old tune, "if loving this is wrong, I don't wanna be right."
Quick Pizza Dough
12 ounces (2 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
4 ounces (1 cup) cake flour
1 1/3 cups warm water (about 105 degrees)
2 1/2 teaspoons instant or active dry yeast
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven with baking stone to 450 degrees F.
Put both flours and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. In a small bowl, stir together the water and yeast and, if using active dry yeast, let sit until bubby (you don't have to let the instant yeast sit).
Stir olive oil into the water/yeast mixture and, while the processor is running, pour all but 2 tablespoons of it over the flour. Process until the dough comes together in a ball, adding reserved water or flour if necessary to get a cohesive, tacky but not sticky dough. Let dough sit in the food processor bowl for about 10 minutes.
Divide dough in half and cover one half with a damp kitchen towel. Roll out the other half onto a piece of baking parchment until it's about 15 inches in diameter and quite thin (go as thin as you like). Using a fork, prick the dough all over.
Slide dough, parchment and all, onto baking stone and par-bake the dough for about 8 minutes or until it just begins to turn brown in a few spots. Poke any large holes that arise with a skewer.
Carefully remove the crust (it should be fairly stiff) and cover with sauce, toppings and cheese. Don't go overboad with the toppings. Return to oven and bake until cheese is bubbly.