Pork Belly is Back
Among the mainstream, pork belly has risen from an obscure reference in a movie to the top dog in many kitchens - both commercial and home. Its availability and ease in preparation with excellent results make it a great “starter” meat for those wanting to learn about curing meat at home.
I took this recipe from Dry-Curing Pork by Hector Kent . It is an excellent book that starts with several short chapters explaining the process, then moves to recipes with increasing levels of difficulty and a “lesson” to be learned with each new one.
My two takeaways from this experience: start using metric units for charcuterie, because it makes the math and measurement easier; and second, my spare refrigerator may not be the right equipment to use for dry curing. I’ll explain later.
I chose to try pancetta because I have become interested in spaghetti carbonara — a dish that I have never eaten but was fascinated by the concept of a sauce made from egg, cheese and cured meat. The recipes call for a cured meat such as guanciale, pancetta or bacon. Because pork belly is far easier to find than pork jowls used for guanciale, I took the path of least resistance, used the belly and made pancetta. Since this was a test run, I used a small piece of pork belly that did not allow me to roll the meat for drying in the traditional Italian style.
The Metric System Will Not Hurt You!
When dry curing, the percentages or ratios become very important, especially when it comes to adding the salt. Too much and it is too salty and dry, too little and it will not cure properly and may be dangerous. These additions are based on a percentage of the starting weight of the meat — therefore, it is important to use measurements of weight such as grams, ounces and pounds. Do not use units of volume such as cups, tablespoons and teaspoons.
Using the metric system makes all of the calculations easier, and most scales that you are using for your home charcuterie efforts should have both Imperial and Metric units. Take the leap now and convert to metric — it will make things easier in the long run.
Here is the recipe and process.
Homemade Pancetta (Italian Bacon) Recipe
- Pork Belly, 1060 gm (approx. 2lbs, 5oz)
- Dry Cure Ingredients
- Salt, 29.15 gm (2.75% of 1060 gm)
- Black Pepper, 5.3 gm, lightly toasted (0.5% of 1060 gm)
- White Pepper, 2.65 gm, lightly toasted (0.25% of 1060 gm)
- Garlic Powder, 2.65 gm (0.25% of 1060 gm)
- Rosemary, 2.65 gm (0.25% of 1060 gm)
- Cure #1, 2.65 gm (0.25% of 1060 gm)
- 2 Bay Leaves, crumbled
- Juniper Berries were included in the recipe, but I did not have any at the time. If you want to add some, add 2.65 gm.
- Mix together dry cure ingredients.
- Cover all surfaces of pork belly in cure.
- Place in a 1-gallon zip-lock plastic bag.
- Refrigerate one week, flipping daily.
- Remove from the bag, rinse with water and dry
- I did not roll mine. Instead, I put two holes in opposite corners and hung it to dry in my refrigerator with a bowl of salted water to add some humidity.
- After about 6 weeks, I started tasting the pancetta. You can start “testing” it at about 4 weeks. Use part or all of it when you think it is ready. It is safe to eat without cooking.
This is still a work in progress as about a pound and a half of my pancetta is still hanging in the refrigerator. The flavors are supposed to intensify and meld with time. I plan to use some with mashed potatoes or mac and cheese at Thanksgiving.
I did use about 8 ounces to make Spaghetti Carbonara and liked using it. The pancetta was tasty but a little dry. I do not think it was the salting process but more from the lack of humidity in the refrigerator. I expected this to be a problem and need to examine ways of increasing humidity without causing a mold problem. I also think I need to start with a thicker piece of pork belly. Maybe I’ll try to track down a belly from a heritage breed.
Any advice from you folks would be greatly appreciated.
I want to thank everyone that wrote me or commented on my last post about figs. Who knew figs had such a devoted following? I’m pretty sure Mary talked me out of moving the fig tree and Beth’s suggestion of pickling the figs totally piqued my interest. The tree/bush has put on a second batch of figs that I hope I can harvest before it gets too cold.
The holidays are just around the corner. Does anybody have a really great, significant or sentimental recipe that they want to share? It looks like we are hosting around 25 people for Thanksgiving this year, and I was thinking about trying something new this year. Let me know and maybe I can post a few.
Hector Kent. Dry-Curing Pork: Make Your Own Prosciutto, Salami, Pancetta, Bacon, and More! (Woodstock, VT, United States: Countryman Press, 2014), 59–61.
Ed Hudson is a biochemist for NASA in Houston. His free time is filled with gardening and an ongoing list of Food Preservation Projects with his lovely wife, Jennifer. You can read more MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts from Ed here and contact him via email at email@example.com. He is always looking for comments, new ideas and suggestions.
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