I hope that you enjoy looking at pictures and captions. Because I have got an absolute ton of them for you here.
Making pancetta (basically Italian salt-cured bacon) at home is simple. It only takes a little bit of prep time; the rest of the time you are waiting for the meat to cure and then dry. I'm going to run through every one of the steps, if you don't mind.
In case you didn't know, pancetta (just as any bacon) is made from pork belly. You can certainly start out by using just a small slab of belly, but here we are making a big old mess of pancetta. What we have here is a whole belly, with the ribs still attached. It weighed in at about 14 pounds total. (Hey, I have people who have come to expect their allotment of every batch that I make.)
Here is the belly after the ribs have been cut away. You can see by the fold on the left that the skin is on (normally the case when you buy a whole belly), but it needs to be removed.
Once the skin is removed it's time to apply the cure. (Because I am always fiddling with the actual cure, I've decided to reprint the complete recipe and instructions for making pancetta from a reliable source, the book "Charcuterie," by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn; they are at the very end of this post.) This pic shows the cure already spread onto the fat side of one piece of the belly, but the other piece needs it too, as does the meat side of the belly. The reason I've cut the belly in half is because a whole one is too large to roll. If you were not going to roll it, then leaving the belly in one piece would be fine.
After applying the cure all around, place each piece in its own big plastic bag and put into the fridge. They stay in the fridge for at least a week, often longer. And I flip the pieces over once a day. This batch was in the fridge for 11 days.
The next step is to run the belly under cool water and clean off all the cure mixture, then dry it well using paper towels. Once it's clean and dry you put down a good dose of coarse black pepper on the meat side of the belly. Then you roll it nice and tight, the tighter the better actually, to prepare it for tying.
Once it's rolled and tied it's time to hang it in a cool place for at least two weeks.
So that we could also see an example of the slab type of pancetta I didn't roll the other half of the belly. When you do it this way, though, it's good to wrap the belly in cheesecloth before hanging it. The flat, slab-like pancetta hangs in a cool place, just like the rolled, but it's ready quicker.
This one was ready in about 10 days.
Nice, huh? I like this batch a lot. The flavors are both rich and mild at the same time.
Here is the rolled pancetta, ready to be cut down and used. It hung in the garage for about 23 days.
I usually slice rolled pancetta into pieces around an inch thick.
Then I vacuum pack each piece individually. The ones that I don't give away to my demanding family and friends go into the freezer, as the pancetta lasts longer that way.
The only trouble is that I do not get to keep that many of the pieces for myself.
Maybe I should just shut my big mouth the next time a new batch of the stuff is ready.
by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
This is for a 5-pound piece of pork belly, skin removed
This is for a 5-pound piece of pork belly, skin removed
For the dry cure
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons pink salt (see Note below)
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons juniper berries, crushed with the bottom of a small saute pan
4 bay leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 or 5 sprigs fresh thyme
1. Trim the belly so that its edges are neat and square.
2. Combine the garlic, pink salt, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, juniper berries, bay leaves, nutmeg, thyme, and half the black pepper in a bowl and mix thoroughly so that the pink salt is evenly distributed. Rub the mixture all over the belly to give it a uniform coating over the entire surface.
3. Place the belly in a 2-gallon Ziploc bag or in a covered nonreactive container just large enough to hold it. Refrigerate for 7 days. Without removing the belly from the bag, rub the belly to redistribute the seasonings and flip it over every other day (a process called overhauling).
4. After 7 days, check the belly for firmness. If it feels firm at its thickest point, it's cured. If it still feels squishy, refrigerate it on the cure for 1 to 2 more days.
5. Remove the belly from the bag or container, rinse it thoroughly under cold water, and pat it dry. Sprinkle the meat side with the remaining black pepper. Starting from a long side, roll up the pork belly tightly, as you would a thick towel, and tie it very tightly with butcher's string at 1- to 2-inch intervals. It's important that there are no air pockets inside the roll. In other words, it can't be too tightly rolled. Alternately, the pancetta can be left flat, wrapped in cheesecloth, and hung to dry for 5 to 7 days.
6. Using the string to suspend it, hang the rolled pancetta in a cool, humid place to dry for 2 weeks. The ideal conditions are 50°F to 60°F (8°C to 15°C) with 60 percent humidity, but a cool, humid basement works fine, as will most any place that's out of the sun. Humidity is important: If your pancetta begins to get hard, it's drying out and should be wrapped and refrigerated. The pancetta should be firm but pliable, not hard. Because pancetta isn't meant to be eaten raw, the drying isn't as critical a stage as it is for items such as prosciutto or dry-cured sausages. But drying pancetta enhances its texture, intensifies its flavor, and helps it to last longer.
7. After drying, the pancetta can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 3 weeks or more, or frozen for up to 4 months. Freezing makes it easier to slice thin.
Note: Pink salt, a curing salt with nitrite, is called by different names and sold under various brand names, such as tinted cure mix or T.C.M., DQ Curing Salt, and Insta Cure #1. The nitrite in curing salts does a few special things to meat: It changes the flavor, preserves the meat's red color, prevents fats from developing rancid flavors, and prevents many bacteria from growing.