European butcher Benito Plasschaert, now a resident of Portugal, talks about a Cuban-style bacon product he conjured up while instructing at the Four Seasons Resort in the Maldives in late 2017. It was for a Cuban-themed weekend featuring the music and the foods of the Caribbean nation.
Benito had tasted the rum drink that inspired this bacon product in a park in Havana some 30 years ago and decided to resurrect it for this themed weekend.
“Nowadays it is fashionable to drink mojito, or a gin tonic,” he explains. “It made me think that I could infuse the taste of mojito into a cold cut. What is mojito? It is a rum, brown sugar, lemon juice and mint leaves. So, with that in mind Nadya (his wife) and I started creating a few things, but the bacon was the favorite. It was not so difficult to make so it might be a nice product to try and introduce to your customers.
“We first have to make a brine, which is more or less the same recipe you make for your normal breakfast bacon.”
He uses 10 liters (3 gallons) of lukewarm water which he mixes with 0.5 liters (1 pint) of lemon juice which he buys in boxes. It not the pure lemon juice, but contains some water. To this he adds 1 kilo (2.204 lbs.) of curing nitrite salt, 1 kilo of dark brown cane sugar, and 15 ml (1 tablespoon) of rum. Here he uses the small rum bottles which they use to add in cakes.
“Now we stir this brine until we see the water is clear, which means the salt and sugar is dissolved,” he adds. “This should take about 3 to 5 minutes.
“This brine is then pumped into the pork belly to a 10 percent level. It is then covered lightly with fresh green mint leaves...and for a contrast in color, we also add yellow lemon skin. You will see that it looks great, has a nice aroma and is different.”
Benito suggests putting it into a vacuum bag and drawing a much vacuum as possible. He says to put it in the cooler for about 10 days and the color will still pop. When removed from the cooler, the bacon is taken from the bag and placed on drip trays in a drying room until it is nicely dried.
He notes that the time in the drying room can vary. In Europe, consumers do not like the product too fresh, so he advises about two days of drying before it is ready to sell.
“Now this is not an every-day bacon, but more of a Sunday bacon,” he says. “It is like a burger, which you eat every day, but on Sunday, same beef but you eat it like a steak, and that is the same here.
“In the Maldives, we baked the slices very lightly and not too crispy. The meat goes inside an unsweetened croissant, and over the bacon a simple scrambled egg is added. Well my friends, this is something different you might want to try and your customers will buy it. Sell it in slices in a vacuum bag and add some additional mint leaves and lemon skin. It is something your customers likely have never seen before.
“If they don’t, let me know and I'll probably eat my straw hat. Try new things and be proud of our profession. It is still the best there is.”