I've always wondered on how commercial tocino acquires its taste with apparently just 3 ingredients - salt, sugar, and saltpeter (sodium nitrate). The latter as far as I know, is only required as a preservative. Since tocino has been around for probably more than a century I think our ancestors never used saltpeter and just relied on the preserving properties of salt and sugar. For years, I tried marinating pieces of pork in different proportions of salt, sugar and varying additional ingredients such as anisado wine, pineapple juice, etc. But it still lacked that certain taste common in shop-bought tocino.
Then an email exchange with the Karen, our Kapampangan-cuisine expert food blogger, cleared the haze of mystery - it had something to do with fermentation! She said that in the old days when most people make their own tocinos they keep the salt and sugar cured pork in glass jars and let it ferment for a few days. Crucially, according to Karen, the rule of thumb in curing tocino is 5 days in the fridge or 3 days without refrigeration. Care should be taken here since as you well know there is a fine line or a short period between being fermented and getting rotten! I played around with the curing/storing time in the fridge and my current standard is 5 days minimum and 7 days max. After that the meat really goes off and you don't really want to eat stinking tocino, would you?
It's only now that I realised why people would get shop-bought tocino instead of making one themselves. In this age of TV, fast food, and instant gratification, imagine waiting for almost a week to get your homemade tocino fix! I think I'll make several batches and try to freeze it next time.
See that picture of tocino below? It is naturally reddish after the fermentation so red food colouring prevalent in commercial version is not needed. You would also avoid any artificial ingredients by avoiding the said food colouring. My proportion for the salt and sugar here is still at the tweaking stage so please adjust it to your liking as you see fit. Plus I'll be also experimenting in adding honey or pineapple juice or golden syrup or brown/muscovado sugar. I will surely keep this post updated whenever I make any progress.
1 kilo pork (preferably shoulder)
1 Tbsp fine salt
5 Tbsp granulated sugar
- Slice the meat into about 1/4-inch thick and into serving sizes.
- Mix salt and sugar well in a bowl.
- Add the pork and mix in, making sure that it is well coated.
- Put in a covered glass container and store in the fridge for about 5 days.
- To cook:
- Put tocino in a non-stick pan and add just enough water to cover it.
- Bring to boil then bring heat down and simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender. Add hot water a little at a time if it is drying up too much.
- When the water has nearly evaporated (this should be near the end of 30 minutes), drizzle some oil on it, turn heat to very low and let it fry gently. Stir occassionally and let the meat scrape the sticky residue in the pan. Cook until golden brown.