Republican or Democrat, Atheist or Believer, Jew or Foodie. Most agree that the first two comparisons are well known as groups with opposing ideas, but few think of the third comparison as opposing groups. How can a Jew be a foodie or even think of being a chef in America? Chefdom in America is associated with a few ubiquitous characteristics; clever cooking related tattoos, closet full of pork inspired graphic t’s that proclaim “will work for lardo,” and a publicly displayed sense of pride in pursuing a promiscuous and risky lifestyle. Ultimately, the modern image of a chef is not someone bubby would want at her Shabbat table. Herein resided my struggle, where do I, a nice Jewish boy from Orange County, fit into the world of young American chefs. I don’t have tattoos, I don’t have shirts with pigs on them, and my life as a newly married man is far from risqué. The fact is I don’t fit in, and I am proud of it.
My name is Michael Israel and I was born to be a cook. Ever since I could say blintz, I have been in the kitchen, cooking. Growing up, I tried to do the right thing. I got good grades, did my best to go to a good college, considered the usual paths a good Jew should follow (doctor, lawyer, accountant). After graduating from college, I realized that my love of food and cooking went well beyond being a hobbyist. My path was clearly marked, and I knew I wanted to be a chef. I enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America to study cuisine and realize my dream of being a professional cook.
I have been lucky to live in many great American cities, and also spent a year living in Europe. In my brief time on this planet I have had the chance to work for some of the best chefs and restaurateurs alive today. My path to owning my own kosher food truck has been exciting, challenging and arduous. I love food, I love great ingredients, and I love impeccable technique. I am a cook, but more importantly I am a Jew. So how then, can these two things exist and flourish together? The cure to this disease is Kosher Bacon.
Being Jewish is not easy. Our major holidays revolve around fasting or remembering how awful our existence once was. Many of the rules and regulations of Judaism can seem limiting and stifling, especially the laws of kashrut. As a chef, I have always wrestled with kashrut and the business of kosher food. There are many things about the kosher world I question, but ultimately, I am in awe of the fact that life is so good for modern Jews that we can carry out such debates. I am not interested in complaining about the fact that I can’t utilize traif in my cooking. My pursuit is to use my culinary knowledge and skills to make delicious food that celebrates Jewish life.
Typically, when other chefs find out that I am kosher they ask, “You don’t eat pork but do you eat bacon?” From New England Clam Chowder to Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast, it is hard to be an American and not eat bacon. The key components to its deliciousenss are the cure, smooth fat, and proper smoking. Pork fat and young animal fat, like veal and lamb, are smooth. When an animal ages the fat becomes course, as though there is sand in the fat. The next time you are throwing a mixed grill, squish the fat of a piece of lamb, beef and veal and take note of the differences in texture and spreadability.
Ultimately the goal of this blog is to teach and inspire the reader to celebrate Judaism and Jewish life through cooking. The recipes are geared to teach the reader to become a more confident and able cook. If there is something in the recipe that you cannot replicate, use common logic and try to adjust the recipe so that it works in your kitchen. Never fear failure in the kitchen, just know that any challenges or shortcomings will only make you better prepared for the next recipe.
Yields: 1.5 pounds
2 pounds Veal Shoulder
.25oz Tinted Curing Mix, aka Pink Salt
1oz Brown Sugar
- Remove excess fat and silver skin from the veal shoulder. Pat dry.
- Combine the salt, brown sugar and pink salt to create the curing mix.
- Rub entire curing mix over the meat, be sure to coat the entire piece of meat.
- Put veal shoulder in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 4-6 days. Be sure to flip the meat every other day.
- After curing for the allotted time, soak shoulder in water for 1 hour.
- Remove from the water, pat dry, and let air dry in the refrigerator uncovered for another 18 hours.
- Hot smoke at 225 degrees for 1.5 hours until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees.
- Let the meat rest for 30 minutes. Wrap and store in the refrigerator.
- Prepare the finished product in the same way as traditional bacon for breakfast, or as a component in another recipe.
- A charcoal or gas grill works great for smoking. The key is low and slow by using indirect heat and wood chips. On a charcoal grill, arrange the coals in a ring around the edge of the kettle so that the center of the grill does not provide direct heat. Place a pouch of wood chips (I used mesquite), in the center of the kettle below the spot on the grill where the meat will rest. On a gas grill, simply ignite one half of the grill. Place the pouch of wood chips below the grate on the other half of the grill, beneath where the meat will be placed. In both situations, monitor both the temperature of the BBQ and the internal temperature of the veal to ensure delicious results.
- I used veal shoulder for this recipe; however fattier cuts could work even better. Try this same recipe with beef brisket, lamb belly or veal breast.
- Begin this process Sunday afternoon to have fresh bacon for Shabbat.
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