Sunday, October 30, 2011

How to make pancetta

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.

From “Charcuterie”
by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
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.


Jeannie said...

I would love to see how you cook your pancetta:) Looks really wonderful!

Fred said...

Meatball Man! You are bonkers! You MAKE pancetta? I thought that is what God did. Or at least, the Italian one. The only equivalent I can conjure is if I bred my own bait for fishing. Not likely. Airmail me a couple of those vacuum packages, will ya?

S. said...

Sexy Pancetta, man...

Thomas Henry Strenk said...

As one of the lucky recipients of your generosity, I can vouch for the sheer deliciousness of this artisan pancetta. Seeing the process on your blog makes me realize just what a huge undertaking it is. I'd be flummoxed just trying to remove the ribs from the pork belly. Good for you, Mr. M!

Malcolm said...

Absolutely gorgeous; a real labor of love. Very nicely done.

bilge said...

And what, pray tell, became of the ribs?

Claudia said...

You are so tempting me. I don't live in a world where I can cure meats - but this may be possible. Of course... I apparently have mice in my basement.

Mister Meatball said...

Thanks all. Now, go ahead and make your own!!!

The ribs? They're for Sunday gravy, of course.

Thomas Henry Strenk said...

I know it's premium quality and a labor of love and all, but how much do you figure this housemade pancetta costs you per pound: the meat, curing salt, spices?

Mister Meatball said...

Cost? And I thought you were a romantic, Tommy.

Okay, well, the whole belly w/ ribs (which were plenty) was sumthin like $3.30/lb., so that's like $45 total, less if you just count the belly. The spices are all things in the house, and so I dunno how to figure that out. Hell, even if it added a buck a pound, which it can't possibly, we're talkin cheap money here, no?

Stop asking questions, why don't you, and get to work!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I am in awe. How fantastic is that pancetta? I've never seen any that looked that good in any stores. yea for Mister Meatball.

Velva said...

I really enjoy using pancetta in fall and winter soups. It adds amazing flavor without the fat of traditional bacon. This italian style is way better.

If I knew you better, lived closer, I can promise you that I would be groveling for an allotment of your pancetta.


Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

WOW! What I would do for some freshly made pancetta!

Owen said...

I found this site cause I was curious why a local sandwich joint served up their pancetta so few and far between.....question answered. And Mr Meatball; not only was your description specific and detailed, but you make it sound like anyone can do it. Bravo! Without guys like you; the Internet would be a catastrophic failure ;-)

Mister Meatball said...

Thank you, Owen!

Infinite Typing Monkeys said...

Not your recipe, but killing off the last of my buddy Art's homemade on a pizza this evening. BRILLIANT!

Unknown said...

Hi Mister Meatball. Have been curing the pancetta for about 10 days and when rolling, noticed that I missed that you need to remove the skin. Can i remove it now and reapply the cure? Is removing the skin crucial?

Mister Meatball said...

Let's see.

First off, removing the skin is crucial, if you roll the pancetta. See, the skin is very hard, and would ruin the product if rolled.

My suggestion would be to leave the skin on but NOT roll it. Then, after it's hung and ready to use, take the skin off, either all at once or, more likely, as you use the pancetta.

That make sense?

Mister Meatball said...

Any other questions, email is:

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! I have the book, but your lovely photos has inspired me!!!! Gonna give it a go!!! Please hold thumbs!!!

Anonymous said...

The problem with Pink Salt or nitrites, is that these can be exceedingly bad for you - blood pressure problems and long term cancer risk. Real traditional methods do not use pink salt.

Anonymous said...

"Real traditional methods do not use pink salt", Of course it is true, did Adamio and Eva have access to pink salt? No! Pink salt is an improvement in commercial preparation of large quantities of preserved product. Just like hybrid seeds and crops improved commercial food sales. All this comes at a cost however. American blogs and website all follow blindly the FDA recommendations on food safety. The rest of the outside world uses unconstrained traditional ways to do things. Pancetta can be cured in normal table salt. (sodium chloride) as long as your technique is thorough and you exclude the seven requirements for bacterial growth you will be fine.

Caine Mutiny said...

The pancetta that I buy in the store at the local Italian shop (Nicastro's) is sliced paper thin -- the same as prosciutto. Yours is sliced awfully thick.

Anonymous said...

Was the recipe quantity that was listed for the cure for one slab or both

acforeis said...

I, love the article and I am thinking of making one myself. I have a couple of questions if you don't mind:
1-Would a old refrigerator (not working anymore) be a suitable place to store the rolled pork slab after curing the in refrigerator for the 3-4 weeks of air drying ?
2 - I have some trouble finding the juniper berries - would that alter the taste a lot ?

Mister Meatball said...

As long as the temperature is on the cool side (50 or so) I don't see why the fridge wouldn't be fine. I'd leave it on the wire shelves so that the air circulates all over.

As for the berries, I never use them anymore. In fact, don't worry about exact seasonings. Nowadays I find myself going the very simple route of garlic and fresh herbs. And never use a recipe.

acforeis said...

Meatball Man,

Thanks for the info. I am sure I will give it a try this winter.

Mister Meatball said...

This recipe is for a 5-lb. piece of belly said...

Mr. Meatball, my 2 pancettas have been hanging for 16 days now in a constant 60 degree atmosphere & 55 percent humidity. They look beautiful & give off a flavorful aroma. However the ends are hard & the middle is soft. Something wrong ? Any ideas ? Whats the next step ?

Mister Meatball said...

Hard ends are normal, so don't worry, just trim them up later. All that's left to do now is to take them down and cut them up when you think they're ready. Good luck!

Bobby BBQ said...

This sounds terrific , the one question I have is when Hang for the pachetta you say a cool place. Can you give a temperate range, I live in the northeast and temperature very greatly

Mister Meatball said...

I live in Maine and so I make pancetta in the fall or very early spring. Ideal temperature is in the 50ish range. I hang mine in the garage, which is insulated but not heated. Good luck.