Gauguin’s painting The Ham has hung on our refrigerator for years. Seven years, 6 months, and 10 days to be precise, as it was a souvenir from our honeymoon sojourn to the great master’s studio on a hill overlooking Aix-en-Provence.
Aix’s noble lineage is clear as one walks its shade- and cafe-lined streets; stylish and chic, yet casual and relaxed all at once. After a leisurely lunch at one of those cafes, the specifics of our meal sadly now forgotten – but certainly consisting, at least in part, of a glass of rosé – JR and I began the walk to Gaguin’s studio. A fabulous idea if the new bride isn’t wearing borrowed flip flops (borrowed from JR’s niece, so no need to “ewwww”, but borrowed nonetheless).
The walk is a bit of a challenge for the flip-flop clad, as it is entirely uphill. At least, this is the borrowed flip-flop wearing bride’s memory of the trek seven years, six months, and 10-plus days later.
That summer, 2003, was the summer of the deadly European heatwave, discouraging all but a dozen or so tourists from visiting Gauguin’s studio that afternoon. His studio, the brochure informed us, was just as he had left it. His easel, the furnishings, his palette and brushes, even a cape and a hat – as though he had just vacated the premises.
The oranges used for his many still life paintings also appeared to be just as he had left them, as their skins were quite shriveled, and alas (or thankfully) there was no ham, 100-plus years old or otherwise.
Thanks to the dearth of visitors that June day, JR and I were able to spend a quiet 15 minutes in Gauguin’s atelier, imagining the artist setting up the then plump fruit, rearranging, until finally, it was just right, then settling in to paint.
I wonder if Gauguin loved fruit, or if it was simply the practice of painting the sphere that led him to paint it so frequently.
Today, while shooting bacon and pancetta for this post, JR called out from the living room, “You don’t need to shoot every nuance of the bacon, you know.” There was a pause and then, “No bacon is safe around you.”
It was true, no slab, no slice, no crisped bit of bacon was spared a look through the lens. Not one.
The bacon-making process is, just as the duck prosciutto process was, as simple as simple can be. Once we received our pink salt from sausagemaker.com, we spent 15 or so minutes making the cure for both pork bellies – one to become bacon and one to become pancetta – sealed each of them up in their own gallon storage bags, and each night, JR flipped them to distribute the cure.
Wednesday morning before work, I rinsed and patted dry the soon-to-be-bacon slab o’ pork, then placed it back in the refrigerator in a clean storage bag. We had 3 days before which we had to roast the bacon (it can be done immediately upon rinsing if you have the time, or have properly scheduled your Charcutepalooza activities. If not, you have a 3-day grace period. For which I was quite thankful.), so on Saturday morning, I arose, set the oven to 200, placed the pork belly into the oven on a roasting rack set on a sheet pan, and let it slowly roast for 2 hours.
As Michael Ruhlman instructs in Charcuterie, the pig skin was sliced off while the bacon was still warm. I sliced a bit of the warm bacon to taste test (as Mr. Ruhlman also instructs. I am so very by-the-letter, I am), then left the bacon slab alone (as in, did not eat any additional warm slab bacon) to cool.
Late Saturday afternoon, once the cooling was complete, I fried four slices. Four slices of the best bacon I have ever had.
The fat from those four afternoon bacon slices was upcycled (yep. I think that’s a pretty appropriate use of “upcycled”) to roast our potatoes and carrots for dinner. Then, not content with rendered bacon fat alone, we diced four more slices of bacon to add to the potato-carrot mix.
When the last bit of crisp bacon was gone (oh, and the potatoes and carrots, too. They were a part of the dish after all), I began planning Sunday breakfast. Bacon and egg sandwiches on wheat. And when the breakfast sandwiches had been devoured, I plotted out the fennel, potato, and bacon pizza we’d have for dinner.
The two pounds of bacon we made is unlikely to last very long at this rate, so pork belly is back on the grocery list. And perhaps the obsessive photography sessions will eventually lose their luster. Odds are against it, though. I sure do love me some bacon.
(Oh, and I’d be on the lookout for obsessively photographed pancetta in the near future, too. Just sayin’.)