It’s almost a ritual in Toronto. You get up early on Saturday morning and head down to St. Lawrence Market, the best food market in the world according to National Geographic. After about an hour of merry-go-rounding the hood, searching for any place under ten bucks to park, you enter this temple of all things edible.
You look at your partner and say one word: “Carousel?” Your partner then looks back at you, nods their head and replies: “Carousel.” You walk to the middle of the market, to the Portuguese bakery called Carousel, and join a three-deep crowd (that has included Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain and Bobby Flay) in an attempt to order two of their legendary peameal bacon sandwiches.
Cut now to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I spend the other six months of my life. I look at Don Day’s Wife, and say the word “Carousel”.
“Yes, I miss it too”, she replies, “but you know we could always make our own”.
“We could? Our own peameal? Really? Then let’s do it.”
Peameal bacon. Also known as Canadian bacon. Also known as lean bacon. Also known as back bacon. Because instead of being made from the belly of a pig, it’s made from the loin. Also known as difficult to find in most of the U.S. and impossible to find in the middle of Mexico.
“You pick up a whole loin at the butcher. You find me some roughly ground cornmeal. I’ll turn it into something maybe as good as Carousel’s”, said Don Day’s Wife.
“Why cornmeal? Why not peameal?”, I asked.
“Because nobody uses peameal, they haven’t for decades”, I was told. “Because you won’t be able to find peameal.”
Off I went to see Alberto, my butcher at La Nueva Aurora. I asked him for a lomo de cerdo entero and to trim any silver skin off the meat and trim the outer layer of fat down to about an 1/8 inch.
Next stop, Bonanza in Centro, the shop that, in 2,000 square feet has more than some supermarkets have in 20,000. Then to the back of the shop where the see-through bins and the ladies with the scoops are. My Spanish is adequate when it comes to asking for harina de maíz, not so adequate when I have to explain that I don’t want molido fino, it’s not to make masa for tortillas. I walk out (humming the theme from the old Bonanza TV show) with a kilo of polenta which I think will work but costs almost as much as the two and a half kilos of pork.
I think it will work but Don Day’s Wife thinks it’s too fine (expect polenta cakes not pasta the next time you come for an Italian dinner). She is on her way to Luna de Queso for some gyoza wrappers and bets that they’ll have some “more appropriate” cornmeal there. They do, Bob’s Red Mill Coarse Ground Cornmeal.
Unlike side or belly bacon that is almost always smoked, back bacon is simply brined. Don Day’s Wife is a veteran briner (her cottage roll recipe is the most-read blog post I’ve ever published: http://dondayinsma.com/2014/11/15/only-in-canada-you-say-not-any-more-now-you-can-make-it-in-mexico/) and with a couple of additions and deletions and a little more of this, a little less of that, she developed this recipe.
DON DAY’S WIFE’S PEAMEAL BACON
One boneless pork loin (about 2.5 kilos)
2.5 litres water
200 grams kosher salt
150 grams white sugar
50 grams brown sugar
25 grams pink curing salt (brought down each year from Canada but available now in a large bag from Amazon)
1 tablespoon pickling spice
50 millilitres honey
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon allspice berries
1 tablespoon juniper berries
100 grams course ground cornmeal
Place everything but the loin and cornmeal in a large (but not so large it won’t fit in the fridge) pot. You can cut the loin into two or three pieces to make it easier. Bring the pot to a boil then turn off the heat and let it come back to room temperature.
Place the pork loin in the brine, making sure it is completely submerged (Don Day’s Wife put a bowl on top to keep it down). Cover the pot and place it in the refrigerator for five days.
Remove the loin from the pot and strain the solid spices from the brine. Return the spices to the pot and almost fill with cold water. Place the loin in the water and return it to the refrigerator for three hours (this is done to remove some of the saltiness from the outer layer of the meat.).
Remove the loin from the water, and dry it very well. Roll it in the cornmeal, coating it as completely as possible. Wrap the loin in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it. It will keep in the fridge for five days or you can freeze what you’re not going to use by then.
Carousel Bakery serves their peameal bacon on a bun that resembles a soft kaiser. In San Miguel de Allende, I used the mini-baguettes from Marulier bakery or the mini-size soft rolls from El Maple.
Slice the bacon about six to the inch thick and, for every sandwich, fry about five or six slices for about three minutes on each side (because it is so much leaner than side bacon, you will need some vegetable oil). It should be a little crispy on the edges but still pink in the middle. It can be difficult to slice so you may want to put the part you’re going to use in the freezer for a few hours to make it easier.
I add a sweet mustard (Koslik’s Canadian is available at Luna de Queso) to my sandwich. Don Day’s Wife adds sliced cherry tomatoes. A few people add ketchup. Most people eat the bacon on a bun straight up, with no condiments.
And I should mention that there are lots of other ways we enjoy the peameal bacon that we now make at home. For instance, it has become an essential part of what I think is the best eggs benedict anywhere.
A footnote for healthy types: There are a lot of people who don’t usually eat bacon because it contains nitrates, particularly since it was declared carcinogenic by the World Health Organization. Don Day’s Wife’s recipe solves that problem (though the pink salt is a nitrite).