One of the great advantages to curing your own pork is that it’s a great way to develop zen like levels of patience. The actual hands on effort of making your bacon or whatever is minimal and the only investment is in waiting time.
The sweetcure bacon that I made recently was cured for two weeks which resulted in a delicious, firm rasher that tasted amazing. However, I wanted to try making a bacon with a longer cure time that had an even more intense flavour. Italian stlye pancetta seemed like the ideal candidate as it had both toothsomeness from the longer cure and an intensity of flavour from the herbs used to season the cure.
While I was in Nottingham recently, visiting relatives, I managed to pick up some really good pork belly in Gonalston farm shop. Gonalston is somewhere between a traditional farm shop and a branch of Whole Foods marooned in the Nottinghamshire countryside and they take real care to ensure that their meat is both ethically and locally sourced.
With a really good bit of pork as a starting point, the next step was to devise the cure. This was based very loosely on the basic bacon recipe in Charcuterie with aditional salt and of course the selection of herbs and spices that elevate the dish far beyond ordinary bacon.
The recipe follows:
850g Belly pork (trimmed weight)
5g Celery salt
4g Fennel seed
3g Red pepper flakes
3g Fresh thyme leaves
3g Black pepper
3g Garlic powder
3g Prague powder #1
3 small bay leaves – crumbled
The first step in making your pancetta is to skin your pork and cut the meat away from the ribs. Cut the ribs away from the belly and set aside for another meal. Pork ribs, smoked, marinated, or just plain make a great dinner for one and are a perfect accompaniment to beer and televised sport.
Once you meat is deboned, trim it so it’s roughly square (again, set aside the trimmings and use next time you make sausages) and set aside whilst you make your cure.
Roughly crush the fennel seeds and combine with all of the other ingredients (except the pork – yet!) in a bowl. Mix thoroughly to ensure that all of the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the cure.
Take the trimmed pork and place it in a bowl large enough to accommodate it comfortably. Next take your cure and spread it evenly across the meat, being sure to work it into all of the meat, using your hands if necessary.
When your meat is fully covered place it in a plastic bag along with any excess cure and place it in the fridge for five days to a week, turning every couple of days and massaging the meat through the bag to really help the cure penetrate the meat. After a week or so, take your pancetta and place on a rack in the fridge. Some people like to wrap the meat in muslin at this stage but I didn’t bother.
Set aside the pancetta for anything up to four weeks. Anything longer than this and you probably want to use Prague powder number #2 as this is better for longer cures.
After this time your pancetta is basically ready. By now, the meat should have got much darker and be very firm to the touch. Compare the photo below to the raw meat above.
Before you slice the meat, it’s worth thinking about how you’re going to use it. Pancetta is great in a posh bacon sarnie or for wrapping meat but it’s equally good cubed and stirred through pasta or even sliced very thinly and eaten raw. I decided to cut half of my bacon into thin rashers using the meat slicer and half into one centimetre cubes using the slicer and a knife.
The pancetta is absolutely fabulous. Gently fried or grilled, it gives a really herbal fragrant bacon with a distinct but not overpowering tang of fennel that provides a wonderful base for a variety of dishes. Raw, it’s just as good, with a taste like Parma ham and the complexity of flavours from the Italian herb blend. Try it!