Home Cured Pancetta
Pancetta or pork belly (aka bacon for us in the West), is the easiest meat that can be cured at home even without the need of a curing chamber. Inspired by Jason Molinari’s Cured Meats blog, I mustered enough courage to get this project running along with the others ones that are still sitting in the curing chamber.
What IS Pancetta?
It is basically pork belly that was cured and air-dried typically with a certain spice rub. That’s it in a nutshell. It is never smoked, as that would turn it into bacon (not as if that’s bad) but it is just not the traditional way of preparing Pancetta. It comes typically in a rolled pinwheel shape but often found (depending on the region) as a flat slab.
Pancetta is generally used as an ingredient in other foods for instance like pastas, sauces, pizza, etc. Makes a great substitute for Guanciale (hard to find but not if you make it yourself!) the main ingredient in pasta alla Carbonara or all’amatriciana.
Your Friend, The Butcher!
Ok, if you are seriously considering making Pancetta, you’ll need to start a relationship with your butcher. Seriously, a butcher who’s your friend will provide the best cuts that are not always available by the counter for everybody. It’s a precious asset!
That’s what happened to me while on my pork belly quest. I had high hopes for finding pork belly in the meat section at my local grocery store but that hope quickly disappeared – pork belly was nowhere to be found! Discouraged, I asked the butcher (convinced that his answer will be NO!) if there’s any chance they’ll get pork belly any time soon. He waived to me to come by the end of the counter and asked “How much you need?” – I said “Maybe 2 Lbs?”. He disappeared and came 5 minutes out with a beautiful piece of pork belly (with the spare ribs on still). Great score! Felt like I am purchasing a contraband item of sort.
So, since then I’ll go to him if I need certain special meat cuts for my charcuterie adventures. I love my butcher! I’ll vote for him anytime!
I took Jason’s Pancetta formula as a reference mainly because he is showing the percentages of ingredients to the 100% of meat and fat. He is calculate all ingredients as a percentage of the meat+fat. For instance 100g meat, 100g fat, 20g salt would be:
meat + fat – 100%
Salt : 20/200 = 10%
This makes it easier to adapt all the ingredients to the weight of pork belly you happen to find.
Next, I prepped my curing mix. I was missing the myrtle berries, Jason is using juniper berries instead, since they are impossible to find in the US. I might need to get them from Europe.
A note on curing salt #2 (aka Prague Powder #2). Let’s put it this way – would you risk eating cured meats with the thought that you might get botulism? I won’t, so that’s the first reason this curing salt #2 is added to the mix. It is a mix of sodium nitrate (3.63%), sodium nitrite (5.67%) and salt (90.7%), and functions mainly as an oxidizing agent making the meat safe of the evil Clostridium botulinum bacteria.
Next step is to literally massage this curing mix onto the pork belly all over so there are no exposed spots of fat, or skin, etc.
Plop it into a zip lock bag, label the date, place it in the fridge (NOT freezer!) and forget about it for 10 days. The cure mix will do its magic and the spices will impregnate the pork belly turning it into this wonderful thing! Also, the salt will pull out some of the moisture from the pork belly – it’s OK! Looks like the water content depends weather or not the meat was previously frozen. Not important – it’s brine anyway. During the 10 days make sure you turn it every now and then to evenly distribute the brine. Mine didn’t have any liquid but I still did the turns.
The cured pork belly which now officially can be called Pancetta emerges gloriously after the curing period ready to be rinsed, rubbed with the traditional Pancetta spice rub and hung in the curing chamber or placed on a cooling rack with a tray underneath in the fridge.
Rinsed and patted dry:
I used butcher twine to make a small loop so the Pancetta can be hanged in the curing chamber:
Next, I prepared the spice rub mix (black pepper, red pepper and crushed bay leaves). Tweak the mix to your tastes, varying the ingredient amounts. I used Jason’s amounts:
- five crushed bay leaves
- 2 Tsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 1/2 Tsp red pepper
I ground and mixed them all up in my trusty granite mortar and pestle. My life would be a complete misery without it.
Ok, if you got this far, it means that you are set for your charcuterie carrier (at least at home) and you’ll never need to buy any cured meats from the store!
Time for another Pork Belly Spa! Massage the spice rub into the dry-patted Pancetta. Again, try to push the rub into the surface so it sticks to it as much as possible.
This is the part where the Pancetta goes into the curing chamber at a steady 55F degrees and 65% RH humidity for at least 2 weeks. Now, if you do not have a curing chamber yet, you can as I mentioned above place the Pancetta on a cookie rack (with a tray underneath to trap any possible drips) and into the fridge it goes for the same amount of time. You want some of those spices to penetrate the Pancetta to get the best flavor!
In the 3rd week I started getting some small moldy spots – I suspect from the MK4 mold that I sprayed the Salame di Brianza with. They were hanging in the same curing chamber with my Pancetta. I removed them with a paper towel dipped in vinegar. Problem solved.
I left mine for one month straight and here is the result:
Honestly I didn’t have high hopes for it but when I cut the first slice, I couldn’t believe my eyes and tastes! It was one of the most wicked sublime Pancetta I ever tasted (not as if I tasted many, mind you but you get my drift). It had a great porky taste with herb-y overtones.
Again thanks for Jason from the Cured Meats Blog – his Pancetta adventures were of huge inspiration to get me started with my Pancetta.
Today I’ll make a genuine home made Pasta Alla Carbonara with it.