After hearing about this place from a friend over lunch a few weeks ago, I took my first trip down to Saugatuck Craft Butchery (575 Riverside Ave, Westport CT) to see what their shop was like. In their words, it’s “an old-fashioned butcher shop with modern ideals.” The shop opened last fall, and they’ve gotten a lot of great press. It had been tough to find some of this stuff locally outside of individual contacts through farmers markets and special orders through small grocers (leaf lard, fresh pork belly, pig’s ears, etc.). That old-school return to real pasture-raised and organic livestock, combined with the attention and expertise that comes from butchers trained at Fleisher’s makes for a terrific fit.
I went in with the idea of asking about lamb, to see if they had any bellies on hand for curing, or to see if I’d need to order them in advance of Easter brunch. I figured it’d be a good conversation starter even if they didn’t have them. As good a sign as any, owner Ryan Fibiger was breaking down a lamb on the cutting table as I walked in. Of course he has lamb bellies. I could have also bought the head, for a nice roast lamb head for-two, but that’ll have to be for another weekend. We talked briefly about curing; the different characteristics of fat from lamb, pork, and beef; beef bellies and how to cure those; pig heads, and headcheese (for a project later this spring). I was impressed with the selection of fresh cuts and sausages, plus the odds and ends (duck stock, sweetbreads, etc.) in the freezer section. This is a cool place: light, open, friendly, and I’ll definitely be back. Anything from nose-to-tail that you need, these guys have it, or can order it, and they’re excited for you to use it. As Ryan rang up my order, he smiled and said, “I approve of this purchase.” Excellent.
So here’s how the bellies went:
I opted to keep the ribs on, and I’ll remove them after smoking (a nice little cook’s treat for myself, I think). A lamb belly isn’t so thick, so I’m planning on a shorter cure than I’d do for pig; 2 or 3 days I think. Each side above is about a pound and a half.
You can get a sense of where the bacon is, just under the ribs in the picture above.
I used a basic dry cure (ratios from Ruhlman/Polcyn’s Charcuterie) of 2 parts sea salt : 1 part sugar. I dredged the bellies on either side with the salt and sugar, then added ground fresh black pepper, a few sprigs of thyme, and a 1/4 cup of smoked maple syrup, then all into ziploc bags in the fridge. I’m planing to smoke the bellies after the cure with the goal of having them as breakfast bacon, so I thought a simple cure here would be best. I’ve been happy with maple syrup as part of my pork belly cure, so the smoked maple syrup was the next logical step. It’s a terrific taste.
After a 2 day cure, I rinsed the bellies and put them on a cooling rack, uncovered, in the fridge overnight to develop a pellicle, which helps the smoke to stick. Alton explains a bit about the water soluble proteins and the importance of the pellicle, from Good Eats S4E1P2: Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fish.
I hot-smoked them for an hour and a half, indirect heat with hickory chips. In retrospect I think they could have used more smoke but less heat. I might cold-smoke them next time and finish the roasting in the oven. But even if they’re a bit more cooked than I’d like, a few slices that I fried up to taste were great: in the same way that Peter Barrett (of cookblog) said of his lamb bacon, the first flavor is bacon and smoke, followed by a nice lamby flavor in the fat. In my case it was more savory than sweet overall. It’s bacony without being porky, if that makes any sense.
I can see using this in a number of ways. Straight up as breakfast slices with eggs, thicker cut and grilled for a L.B.L.T. (slow-cook a whole slab and slice very thick before grilling, like the pork belly from Ruhlman’s BLT from scratch), or in any place (like a chowder) where you’re looking for that smoky background note with lamb in place of pork. A potato soup with lamb bacon and leeks? Lots of options. Try it out.
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The lamb from the shop came from Josef Meiller’s farm in Pine Plains, NY.
For more reading on pastured and organic meats, see Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book, and The River Cottage Cookbook; and Joshua and Jessica Applestone’s Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat. For a big picture understanding of agriculture and human diet related to pastured vs grain-fed livestock (the move “from leaves to seeds”), read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, or his article on health and “the Western Diet” from the NY Times Magazine, Unhappy Meals (Jan 28, 2007); and Marion Nestle‘s What to Eat. For all things related to bacon and curing, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon is a fascinating read (check out my post on the book from last February).
Lots of people out there are making and writing about lamb bacon. These posts and articles were helpful:
- Peter Barrett’s cookblog: Lamb Bacon
- From Belly To Bacon: Lamb Bacon, Take Two
- Punk Domestics’ page of all things tagged “lamb” – many different curing, grinding, and pickling projects here. Always a great resource.