You have heard me before talking about the merits of curing, fermenting, and preparing a pantry, and ultimately a life on your own while leaning less on the big stores and more on tried-and-true, multi-generational recipes based on a combination of flavor and survival.
I have made “American-style” bacon, pastrami, guanciale, corned beef, jerky, and a few other items that now fill our freezer. In most cases I have found that you can definitely save money by doing it yourself, but it certainly takes time and effort.
In addition to the cost, and the obvious challenge (which I like), doing it yourself also allows you to choose your own base ingredients, meaning, you now get a say in the source of the meat, spice, etc.! I think this is VERY IMPORTANT especially now that we have enough data out there about how some of our food is manufactured.
Lastly, I think the reason this is important is quite simply the knowledge of knowing how your food got here. The girls gross out when they see meat bones, or blood in an animal but they love to eat the finished product! For some reason, they can’t get their heads around the fact that the meat they like came from a living creature and as humans we have been cooking these creatures for millennia providing us with a lot of the nutrients we need to survive!
All of this preachiness brings me to one of my absolutely favorites, pancetta. Pancetta is an “Italian-style” bacon that is cured both in salt and spice, but also by drying out. It takes a while but is definitely worth it. Anyone who has ever had a simple pasta dish with pancetta over “American-style” bacon, knows what I am talking about. Richer, porkier, salter and even somehow sweeter.
It took me awhile to get it down, but the journey of learning was worth it. Give it a go and let me know what you think!
(Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing (Revised and Updated) by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn)
5 lb pork belly
4 cloves garlic
2 t pink (curing) salt
1/4 c. Kosher salt
2 T brown sugar
4 T pepper
2 T juniper berries
4 bay leaves, crumbled
1 t nutmeg
4 sprigs thyme
Trim the pork belly to make as even a rectangle or square as you can (save the trimmings for salt pork). Place garlic, both salts, brown sugar, pepper, juniper, bay, nutmeg and thyme in a mortar and pestle or something so that you can smash it all together. Place belly in a big ziplock bag and add the rest of the ingredients, seal and evenly incorporate all so that the entire belly, both sides, are fully covered. Place in fridge for 7 days, moving the mixture around every other day.
After 7 days, remove from bag and thoroughly rinse belly. Pat dry with paper towels and sprinkle more ground black pepper over the “meat” side.
Now the little more difficult part.
Roll the belly tightly (pepper inside) and then tie with butcher twine like you would a roast. Make it as tight as possible. You may need someone to help you with this. Weigh it and record it. Hang in a place that has a fairly consistent temperature of not more than 72 degrees or so. I hang it in a corner in my pantry. Check after 2 weeks it is done “curing” when your pancetta weighs 33% less.
I like to cut it 3-4 sections and use a food saver to keep for a long time in the freezer as you will probably not use this much pancetta quickly.
Chop some up for your carbonara or virtually any pasta dish, salad or soup that you want some additional salty-sweet porky flavor.