The 12th month in the Chinese lunar calendar is the pig-butchered season in China. Even for the Chinese New year, only a small portion is consumed. How do people preserve the rest large amount of pork? One answer is: to make Chinese bacon. We call it la rou (腊肉). In many places of South China, at this time, on the balcony or in the yard, a row of long slabs of bacon hang fully on a rope and are bathed in the winter sunshine. Once the breeze blows, they sway gently and their peculiar aroma emanates, which is beckoning the upcoming Spring Festival. It is the aroma of home and Chinese New Year.
There is no standard formula for making bacon. Firstly, pasture-raised pork is required, with at least 20% fat. The two basic and indispensable spices are usually salt and Chinese liquor (baijiu, 白酒), for a very simple version of bacon. A lot of people in Hubei, Jiangxi, and Anhui make their bacon in this way. If you want it more flavorful, feel free to add more sauces, like soy sauce, star anise, peppercorns, sugar, Chinese Cinnamon, fennel seeds, bay leaves according to your preference. After pork is marinated with spices for about ten days, hung it in ventilation areas and let them almost dry naturally for another one week. If pork’s slab size is bigger or thicker, it will take longer time. How do you tell the bacon is ready? The answer is when you see fat oil starts to ooze out, the tantalizing luster radiates from the bacon. Cantonese people prefer sweeter bacon, adding more sugar. Zhejiang and Shanghai people might like adding more soy sauce. Sichuan and Hunan people might have one more final step—smoking bacon over perfumed wood (such as pine wood, cypress woods) fire.
That is to say, making Chinese bacon is very easy. My experience is that it’s hard to fail as long as salt and Chinese liquor (You can substitute with Shaoxing cooking wine) are enough. There are generally two steps: marinating and drying. Smoking is optional. If you want to, you can buy pine woods or even use the orange skins to finish this step in your oven in US
How do Chinese cook bacon? I will show in the future posts.
Here is my version of Chinese bacon
- 1.75 kilos pasture-raised pork, 30% fat and 70% lean
- 50 grams sea salt
- 2 tablespoons of Chinese liquor
- A cup of LEE KUM KEE premium dark soy sauce
- A cup of SUPER SPECIAL KIMLAN Soy sauce
- A tablespoon of sugar
- Three star anises
- 50 Sichuan peppercorns
- Enough cotton threads
- A knife
- A pair of scissors
- Slice the pork into four long slabs.
- In a big bowl, combine pork and all the spices evenly and cover with a lid
- Let them marinated for ten days and stir all once every day.
- Use a sharp knife to dig a hole from the top for every slab.
- Use the scissors to to cut four 10-inch-length cotton threads. Put every thread through every hole to tie a dead-knot. Hang them in ventilation areas for seven days.
- Refrigerate the bacon.