Pancetta is Italian cured pork belly. I had looked into making it myself before, but the recipes I found required a curing chamber. A curing chamber is a cabinet with controlled temperature and humidity. Even for me it seems over the top to own one. But then I realised that pancetta was originally invented to preserve pork belly when refrigerators had not yet been invented (let alone curing chambers), so I figured that a cellar should do the trick as well. We don’t have a cellar, but in winter our garage comes pretty close with a temperature around 16ºC/60ºF. So I compared many recipes I found online on Italian blogs, on American blogs, and in the end based my first homemade pancetta upon a Dutch blog called missFromage (I bet Shanna likes that name!).
Making your own pancetta is quite easy and not a lot of work, it just requires a bit of patience. The result was great! My first homemade pancetta has a more elegant and detailed flavor than store-bought pancetta available around here. As an added bonus it is cheaper as well. Thanks missFromage for making it look as easy as it actually is! I will definitely make this again.
The start is always a nice piece of pork belly. The first step is to salt the pork belly and refrigerate it for 7-10 days. There are many variations on the spices that are added to the salt for this process, and many variations on how to do this including putting the pancetta on an inclined surface so the juice flows down, using a ziploc bag and turning and massaging the pork belly on a daily basis, and putting a weight on top of the pork belly like when making gravlax. I decided to keep it simple and vacuum seal the pork belly with the salt and spice mix. Another decision to take here is whether to add nitrates at this point. Nitrite or nitrate (curing salt, pink salt, or saltpeter) are used to protect against botulism. Americans will probably decide to use it. The risk of botulism in an intact muscle like pork belly is very low, and in Europe it is not traditional to use it. Nitrates/nitrites change the color and the flavor of the pancetta.
The second step is to rinse off the salt and cure the pancetta by hanging it up to dry for at least a week. Some recipes wash the pancetta with white wine. You can decide to roll up your pancetta, or keep it flat (pancetta tesa in Italian). It is a good idea to protect the pancetta from bugs and other outside influences while it is curing. If you don’t have a curing chamber, you can build a cage with a mosquito net around it, or wrap the pancetta in cloth. You will need a place where air can flow freely and the temperature is below 20ºC/68ºF or so. My garage did a fine job. A final decision is how long to cure the pancetta. I was too curious what is what like after two weeks, but I’ll probably leave it for another week or so next time as it had not yet reached a weight reduction of 1/3, which is indicated for pancetta. Here’s what I did…
1500 grams (3.3 lbs) pork belly, without rind
45 grams (3%) salt, about 2 Tbsp
22.5 grams (1.5%) freshly ground black pepper, about 3 Tbsp
22.5 grams (1.5%) sugar, about 1 1/2 Tbsp
4.5 grams (0.3%) freshly grated nutmeg, about 1 1/2 Tbsp
7.5 grams (0.5%) fennel seeds, about 1 Tbsp
7.5 grams (0.5%) dried thyme, about 2 Tbsp
3 cloves garlic, minced
more freshly ground black pepper
neutral white wine
string and cloth
Wrap the pancetta in plastic and store in the refrigerator (for a few weeks) or freezer (for several months). It is best to eat it cooked, but according to some sources it can be eaten without cooking if it has been cured to a weight loss of at least 33%.
Two years ago I blogged about classic Dutch pea soup (erwtensoep or snert). Very tasty and very suitable for a cold winter day!