Pancetta

This post is part of my ongoing charcuterie project. See my original writeup for further background.

Well it is another 5 pounds of pork belly, and this time for making pancetta. I don’t recall ever actually eating it before, though it isn’t that uncommon so I’m fairly certain it has made its way into a dish I’ve eaten at some point. As the name suggests, this is an Italian take on bacon, with the added caveat that is typically tied up tightly and hung to dry.

My butcher typically cuts their slabs of pork belly into smaller portions earlier in the week, so I had to put in a special request for a single 5 pound slab. As for the rest of the ingredients, pancetta seems to be cured with a lot more spices and seasonings than traditional bacon. It is possible that this is entirely false, but from looking at recipes this seems to be the case. Most of these were pretty easy to come by, with the exception of juniper berries. I called around a bit and finally found a specialty spice shop that carried them. They claimed to be the only place in town that carries them, though I don’t really buy that claim. The rest of the dry cure consisted of black pepper, fresh nutmeg, thyme, bay leaves, brown sugar, kosher salt, and yes, pink salt and their delicious nitrites.

It took about a week to cure. I spent 5 minutes or so watching YouTube trying to figure out how to tie the perfect butcher’s knot, but I got impatient and just hacked the thing up with butchers string. It isn’t my prettiest work, but it got the job done:

 

Drying pancetta enhances the flavor and texture. Ideal conditions for drying are in the low 60’s, with around 60% humidity. I keep my apartment at 72 in the summer, and I have no idea what the humidity is inside. Until I build a curing chamber, which is on my list, I am just going to have to find a dark place, induce a bit of cool airflow, and hope for the best.

The most eligible place happened to be a spare closet, which was in the process of becoming my wife’s closet. I’ve been a bachelor for so long, and the thought honestly didn’t occur to me that my wife may not be thrilled with 5 pounds of pork hanging next to her clothes. We’ve agreed that future meat hanging will occur in a different location.

 Drying it took about 2 weeks until it was firm but not hard. Making this stuff is only half the battle. Sometimes the harder part is trying to figure out what to do with it and how to incorporate it into dishes. For the most part, we have been cutting it up into lardons and sautéing it with various kinds of vegetables which suck up the flavor nicely. We also made a delicious brussels sprout dish per the recommendation of friends who I gave some to.

Apparently people also eat pancetta raw. I tried to slice up some up and eat it raw, but my knife work is still too inconsistent for me to get the translucent slices I was going for, and I often felt like I was just chewing on fat that I had to spit out. Oh well.

As for the pancetta itself, it is cured pork belly so obviously it is good. I found that the black pepper dominates the other spices, which is a bit of a disappointment given how delicious those juniper berries are (they are like chewing on gin). I will probably dial the black pepper back a bit for the next batch. I don’t anticipate that will be anytime soon though. Due to the high fat content, pancetta freezes really well, and my freezer is stocked.

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