Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
I'm not one of those people who think everything tastes better with bacon. I believe there are exceptions - most desserts, for instance. But I do love bacon, be it pancetta, the super-intense Chinese dried meat called laap yuk, lean back bacon or the very fatty type made from pork belly, and usually have at least three types in my freezer.
This recipe is adapted from one in Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook.
I keep the skin on the potatoes but you can peel them if you like.
1kg small- to medium-sized new potatoes
30ml cooking oil
1 medium-sized onion, halved, then thinly sliced
225 grams slab bacon, either home-made (recipe below) or purchased (skin removed)
170ml white wine
450 grams Reblochon cheese, very thinly sliced
Fine sea salt and freshly ground
Scrub the potatoes but don't peel them. Slice them about 5mm thick. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the potato then simmer until it's barely tender; do not overcook. Drain, rinse the slices with cold water and drain again.
Dice the bacon. Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the onion. Cook over a medium-high flame for several minutes, or until the onion is soft and golden. Stir in the bacon and cook until lightly browned, then add the potatoes and wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then cook, stirring often, until the wine is absorbed.
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Spread half the potato mixture into a heatproof dish then top with half the Reblochon. Repeat the layering then bake at 175 degrees for 20 minutes, or until brown and bubbling. Serve immediately.
Grilled oysters with bacon and onion
12 medium-sized fresh oysters, in the shell
45 grams unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
150 grams slab bacon, either home-made or purchased (skin removed)
Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the bacon into small dice. Melt the butter in a skillet then add the onion and bacon. Cook over a low flame, stirring often, until the onion is soft and translucent. Put the mixture in a bowl and leave to cool.
Shuck the oysters and cut the muscle that attaches the meat to the shell. Rinse the bottom shells and dry them well. Put the oysters back in the bottom shell. Spread a layer of coarse salt in a baking dish and put the oysters on top (the salt keeps the oyster shells stable so they don't tip over). Divide the onion and bacon mixture (including the buttery juices) between the oysters.
Turn the grill setting of the oven to high. Put the baking tray under the grill, as close to the heat as possible, and cook for just a few minutes, or until the bacon is sizzling and lightly browned. Put the oysters on plates and serve with crusty bread, to sop up the juices.
I was taught to make bacon by my friend Dave, who says his method is more of a guideline than a recipe. Use this as a starting point, then adapt it to suit your own tastes: use honey or molasses instead of maple syrup (or you can leave out the sweeteners altogether); change the type of sugar; or add different seasonings (but the sugar and salt are essential). Dave adds curing salt, which helps to preserve the meat, by inhibiting the growth of bacteria, while keeping the meat pink. I don't use it (and this recipe doesn't call for it, because it's hard to find in Hong Kong), but it means you should be especially vigilant about sanitation, keeping the meat cool, cooking it sufficiently and storing it properly.
Buy a nice, well-layered piece of bacon that's as evenly thick as possible. Have the butcher remove the skin.
When making bacon, you need to be flexible; it takes about a week to cure in the fridge, but might need more or less time, depending on the thickness of the meat.
A 2kg piece of pork belly, skin removed
90 grams fine sea salt
90 grams light muscovado sugar
2 tsp liquid smoke (use Wright's, which is sold at City'super)
Maple syrup, as needed
Thoroughly combine the salt, sugar and liquid smoke. Use a pastry brush to paint a thin layer of maple syrup over the entire surface of the pork belly. Spread half the salt/sugar mixture evenly over one side of the pork belly then place it in a large ziplock bag. Flip it over then spread the remaining salt/sugar mixture over the other side of the pork belly. Press the air out of the bag and seal it tightly, then refrigerate for about a week, turning it over every day, until it's firm when you press on it. Test it by pressing several spots; there shouldn't be soft parts. When you try to bend the pork belly, it should feel stiff.
Rinse the meat thoroughly to rid the surface of the sugar/salt mixture. Pat it dry with paper towels then put it fat-side up on a rack in the fridge and leave it to air-dry for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 95 degrees. Put the pork belly fat-side up on a rack and cook at 95 degrees until it reaches an internal temperature of 66 degrees (test it with a probe thermometer inserted into the middle of the belly). Cool it to room temperature then refrigerate it until firm. Slice it when the meat is cold. If you're not planning to use it within a few days, wrap it tightly in cling-film and freeze it.