This was something of an experiment. I like salt pork, but you seldom see it on sale in the UK, so instead I end up using bacon in recipes that call for it. However, I decided to try making my own, so I could cook that French classic salt pork and lentil dish petit salé. Clearly, belly pork is the right cut for this dish, so I bought a nice piece from the butcher and then got down to work.
The first stage is salting the meat. I used coarse grey sea salt (which I always buy bags of when I go to France) and several crumbled up dried bay leaves. I could also have used some crushed juniper berries and black peppercorns but I wanted to keep things basic for this first attempt.
I put a layer of salt into a plastic food box and then added in the piece of pork. I scored the rind of the meat so that the salt would be able to get in through the skin and fat layer too. Then I packed in more salt so that the meat was surrounded by a thin layer of sea salt. Once the lid was on, this went into the fridge for 24 hours.
A day later, there was a lot of liquid that the salt had drawn out of the meat. This was poured away and the pork put back in the fridge. I repeated this for five days.
Next, I took the meat out of the salt and washed it thoroughly and dried it off. This was left uncovered on a plate in the fridge for a further five or six days. The first picture shows exactly what it looked like.
The picture below shows how it looked inside once I’d cut it in half. The rind was pretty tough, so I used a Stanley knife to cut through it. I keep one in a kitchen drawer because they are pretty much the best knives for scoring pork rind for crackling.
So, on to the cooking.
I decided to use all the pork for my petit salé.
First I cut it into four long strips, which I put it into a casserole on the hob with enough water to cover the meat. To this I added fresh bay leaves, a sprig of rosemary, a stick of celery, some peppercorns and a couple of roughly cut up carrots. This was brought to the boil and simmered on the hob for about an hour and a half.
Then, I tasted the meat. It was pretty salty, which was hardly a surprise and it had lost its pink colour. Maybe I need to look at using saltpetre in my salt mix next time.
I drained off the cooking liquor, which was also salty and saved some for cooking the lentils.
I sautéed a mirepoix of finely-chopped onion, celery and carrots in olive oil, then stirred in a cupful of Puy lentils. Once these were coated in the oil, I added in some of the cooking liquor and ordinary water, brought this to a boil and simmered it for about 30 minutes, until the lentils were almost cooked. There was still some liquid left, but the saltiness was now pretty much under control, which was a relief.
At this point, I added the pork back into the pan, together with some smoked sausages. Once these were heated through, I removed them and stirred a bunch of chopped parsley through the lentils.
The meats were served on top of the lentils, with a pot of Dijon mustard on the side.
All things considered, not a bad first attempt. Next time, I will salt the pork for a shorter period, used juniper and black pepper in addition to the bay leaves, add saltpetre to the salt and, before cooking, soak the salt pork for a few hours before cooking it.
I am thinking now that my next home salting venture will involve some cod.