From the hills of Italy to the Spanish plains, dry-cured pork has been an essential (and delicious) food source for many cultures. In Dry-Curing Pork (The Countryman Press, 2014), Hector Kent explains the techniques and traditions of dry-curing in clear and accessible language. This recipe for Pancetta, which is dry-cured pork belly, is from the Section, "Teaching Recipes."
Pancetta is dry-cured pork belly, which is the same cut that bacon is made from. Pancetta is a perfect beginner’s recipe. It’s also aesthetically pleasing and adds great flavor to anything you’re cooking, from pasta, to pizza, to a big pot of soup. By far the trickiest part of making pancetta is finding a piece of belly. I’ve included the volume measurements just to give you a sense of proportions, but remember that any Cure should be measured by weight. Don’t use the optional Cure #1 here if you’re not using a scale.
What This Pancetta Recipe Teaches
Pancetta is another example of true dry-curing. The meat is first salted and then dried, resulting in a product that is shelf-stable.
This recipe uses the technique of salting by weight, and requires some basic math skills and a scale. Every dry-cured recipe from this point on uses the salting-by-weight method.
Salting by weight gives you precise control of the salt concentration in your dry-curing. By measuring salt as a percent of the meat’s weight (2.6 to 3.5 percent of it), and allowing enough time for all of the salt to be absorbed and evenly distributed, you remove any risk of over- or undersalting.
This recipe also introduces the need to add curing salt, called Cure #1 (or pink salt), in order to prevent any threat of botulism, but only if you choose to roll your pancetta into the traditional spiral shape. The interior of a rolled pancetta will be an oxygen-free space, and the bacteria that cause botulism produce their toxin only in oxygen-free spaces. Fortunately, curing salts are 100 percent effective in preventing botulism.
Curing salts contain nitrites, and nitrites scare people. This fear is unfounded. It pertains to compounds that form if you burn your meat. Cook the pancetta slowly and you can avoid the issue. More detail on curing salts can be found in The Basics of Satling and Preserving Meat. Do not use products such as Morton Sugar Cure in place of curing salt.
• 5 lbs (2,268 grams) Pork belly
The Following Ingredients Vary Depending on Weight
• About 4.5 Tablespoons (62 grams) Salt, or 2.75 percent
• 5.6 grams, or 0.25 percent Cure #1 (optional)
• About 2 Tablespoons (11.3 grams), Black Pepper (toasted and ground), or 0.5 percent
• About 1 Tablespoon (5.6 grams) White Pepper, or 0.25 percent
• About 1 Tablespoon (5.6 grams) Juniper Berries, or 0.25 percent
• About 1 Tablespoon (5.6 grams) Garlic Powder, or 0.25 percent
• About 1 Tablespoon (5.6 grams) Rosemary, or 0.25 percent
• 3 Bay Leaves, crumbled
1. Trim the edges of the belly to create a uniform rectangle. You can either remove the skin now, or remove it before eating; I prefer to do it now.
2. Weigh the belly, and calculate the quantities of ingredients you’ll need using the above percentages.
3. Mix the seasonings, and pack them around the belly. If you plan to roll the belly, be sure to add the optional Cure #1. Place the belly into a plastic bag, and put this into the fridge.
4. Let the belly cure in the fridge for at least a week. During this time, flip the bag occasionally, and make sure the cure is evenly distributed.
5. After at least a week, remove the belly from the bag, rinse, and dry.
6. After salting, but before drying, you can either roll the belly up into a spiral shape, or leave it flat. If you’re rolling, cut the skin off and compress the belly into the tightest roll possible. Ideally with someone helping you, tie butcher’s twine around the roll to hold its shape. It’s important to have no air pockets inside the rolled belly. Tie a loop of butcher’s twine to hang the whole roll from.
7. If you’re leaving the belly flat, poke two holes in each corner and string butcher’s twine through them. Tie each of these into a loop that you can hang the belly from.
8. Hang the belly to dry. You can start cooking with it immediately, but giving it a couple of weeks to dry will concentrate the flavors. I’ve cured whole flat pieces of belly, carving off slices over an entire year—by the end of a year the flavors had developed into a rich and pungent combination. Pancetta is safe to eat without cooking.
9. Pancetta is often cut into matchstick-sized pieces called lardons and used in a wide variety of dishes. When cooking, brown the pieces over low heat, add any onion or garlic you’re using, and proceed with your recipe as usual.