Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pancetta...PurePorkPerfection

The pig gets no respect...let's just admit that straight up. We see it as a solid second class animal, if that. Case in point, American pork producers have bred pigs these days to be leaner so that their fellow country men might eat them. What a joke. Never forget this...FAT = FLAVOR. I think that might have to go on my tombstone. Animal fat is not a bad thing.

That junk that comes in a tub, is pale yellow, and tastes just like butter is a disgusting fat.

The hyper modified fats (so they can stay stable at room temperatures in your hand...yum!) in the Snickers bars you secretly eat while huddled in the corner at work so no one can see you is disgusting fat.

This is sheer beauty:



God knew what he was doing...go figure.

This is pancetta, my personal favorite thing to do with a pork belly. This is the same cut that bacon comes from as well as samgyeopsal (Korean), rullepolse (Dutch), and some others.

Just in case it has been a while since you were in butchering class, here is a diagram to help you understand. I know the concept of "belly" should be obvious, but lets be serious, this is an age in which people have a hard time remembering even a few lines of The Pledge of Allegiance (think I'm joking?!? try it). Anyways, here is today's lesson:



So there it is. Shoot, its even in French for the vast multitude of you that speak it! Man I am helpful.

Making pancetta is actually crazy simple. The biggest thing here is to get good meat. Why waste your time on inferior product? It is only going to cost at most a dollar more a pound for really good stuff, but it will be well worth your while. Get to know your local butcher and get some good meat. Hey, that would make a rad tee-shirt.

So here is the basic recipe:

- 1 (5-1/2-pound) piece of fresh, skin-on pork belly (1/2 of a whole belly slab), or 1 (11-pound) whole belly

For the cure:

- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns, plus 1 tablespoon for after curing
- 2 tablespoons whole juniper berries
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons curing salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 fresh or 5 dry bay leaves, torn into small pieces
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves

1. - This cure mix above is for a half belly (5 1/2 lbs). Double it for a whole one.

2. - Make sure everything is REALLY clean. Meat curing is no joke. You can get people sick if you are not careful.

3. - Square up the belly making it relatively even. This is not an exact science so don't get out the ruler, but get close...it aids in drying time.

4. - Rinse the pork belly and pat it dry. Place it on a cutting board, skin side up. To remove the skin, use a sharp knife (boning f you have one). NOTE: Make sure your knife is sharp. Dull knives inflict major damage, especially when doing something difficult like this. Starting at the bottom left corner, slice in horizontally just under the skin but above the fat layer. Pull the flap of skin toward your body, holding it taut as you loosen it from the fat with a series of small horizontal cuts. Be careful not to remove too much fat or cut too deeply. (Pulling the skin toward you as you cut helps prevent this.)

5. - Crush the black pepper and juniper berries and then add all the other parts of the cure in a bowl.

6. - Rub the cure all over the pork belly surfaces, making sure to coat both the fat and lean sides, and all the edges and corners. Carefully place the belly in a large (2- to 2-1/2-gallon) sealable bag. Get out as much air as possible.

7. - Refrigerate the weighted belly for 7 days, flipping it over every day. After 7 days, remove the belly from the refrigerator and press down on it to check the firmness. It should feel uniformly firm throughout, as if you’re pressing down on a soccer ball. If the belly is still squishy like raw meat, return it to the refrigerator for up to 3 more days.

8. - Remove the pork belly from the refrigerator and rinse off the curing mixture under cool running water. You are not going to get off all the pepper and that is fine, just make sure to get off as much as you can.

9. - Pat dry and cover the flesh side with the remaining crushed pepper.

10. - Roll the pork belly very, very tightly into a cylindrical shape, starting at whichever end makes the roll most uniform. Make sure there are no air pockets inside the pancetta. Tie it very tightly with butcher’s twine at 1- to 1-1/2-inch intervals. Be sure to leave enough extra twine to hang the pancetta with.

11. - While most recipes tell you to hang your pancetta outside, I have found that your normal fridge works great. Cheese cloth is necessary to aid in slower drying times, but taste-wise the refrigerator piece that cures for ten days is just as good as the one that goes outside (in a cool dark place) for three weeks.

Here is my picture of my refrigerator piece:



It wont drip or anything if you have done it right. It wont even stink up the fridge!

Here is what it looks like whole, aged and unwrapped:



It keeps about three weeks in the fridge and four months in the freezer. But let's be honest, it wont last a week.

Pancetta forever.

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