Portuguese bacon a la Benito
Nov. 29, 2017
by Steve Krut
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Benito Plasschaert, known by his black-banded straw hat, says Portuguese bacon is a nice product that isn't difficult to make.
He operated a small butcher shop in Ghent, Belgium, for many years and through his creativity and many awards from across Europe, he became one of the most recognized people on the world-wide meat stage.
Benito Plasschaert was almost instantly recognized by his black-banded straw hat, once the trademark symbol of the butchery world. He and his wife Nadya lived in a small apartment above the shop before some health issues limited their ability to run a full-time retail store. He became a consultant to the highest ranked chefs in Asia and even lived for a few years in Thailand.
Now, in a semi-retired posture in Portugal, he eagerly responded to a request for information on Portuguese bacon and how to make it.
Benito describes it as a nice product, not difficult to make, a bit different than traditional American bacon, but with good color.
“Over here they call it paio de York, which translates to bread from York,” he explains. "It is also known as paio de forma, which means bread box or like the shape of a VW hippie bus.
“It is made from the pork loin most often used for Canadian bacon, but with belly meat left on. It is pumped with a brine consisting of room temperature warm water with 10 percent curing salt and 5 percent brown sugar. It is pumped as you normally would any bacon. After pumping, you mix the following spices: 60 percent sweet paprika powder, 10 percent spicy paprika powder (a smoked paprika powder), 10 percent cumin powder and 10 percent garlic powder.
Benito says this spice mixture is rolled and sprinkled over the pork until it achieves a red color and then is vacuum packaged and put into the cooler for at least one week. Most customers buy it that way but some who do not like it fresh prefer it air dried for three or four days to get an enhanced flavor and improved exterior color.
“Now the Portuguese do not eat it as much for breakfast as for other meals,” he notes. “It can be thinly sliced and baked and served with a warm tomato and fried egg. But most Portuguese like it sliced thick, about the size of a thin hamburger, and roasted on the barbecue. The thicker sliced bacon was also a big hit at the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong when it was oven baked as a luncheon meal. In Seoul, South Korea, diners at the Grand Hyatt Hotel liked to have some Kimchi (Kimchee), which is a spicy Korean dish of pickled cabbage, peppers and garlic, rolled into the slice. It is then put into a baking pan with some white béchamel sauce and sprinkled with cheddar cheese and then baked. When barbecuing the thicker sliced bacon, I suggest not overcooking to retain internal moisture and waiting for a light brown finished color, but not too dark.”
He advises that if the traditional Portuguese bacon isn’t selling, you can cut the bacon into pieces the size of an egg and save about 20 percent of it for the mixer to make a ham emulsion. It is then put into a ham form to create a jellied ham loaf and baked. In Europe, cooking this product is based on weight, typically one hour at 78° C for one kilo of meat. It should achieve a 68 ° C internal temperature and is always eaten in thin slices and served cold.
Benito describes the taste of Portuguese bacon as having more of a ham flavor with a kind of Spanish chorizo aftertaste like spicy and sweet paprika. It is usually fried in olive oil at medium temperature until it becomes a crispy brown.
He acknowledges that the customers in Portugal love the product, a belief he verified by looking at their ears: “You have to see if one ear is longer than the other. If they like your food, they always pull on one ear as a way of telling you that it was good!”