If you ever want to get in charcuterie making at home, then pancetta is the perfect beginners project. Not only is pancetta extremely simple to make, but probably one of my favourite types of charcuterie to eat. Pancetta is a close relative to bacon, having many similarities such as salty, rich pork flavours but is generally made without smoke and can be eaten raw. I wanted to add the smoked salt that I made in the previous post, hoping that the smokiness from the salt would pass onto the pancetta.
To get the most flavour in your pancetta it’s important to start with a good base – the pork belly. When buying pork belly try to get free range, organic pork where possible. The free range pork has a lot more flavour than the commercial pork, which can be quite bland. I like to go to my local farmers’ market when I can. Talking directly to the farmers means I can talk to them about what I want and make sure I get the cut that will suit whatever I am doing at them time. If they don’t have a suitable piece with them at the time they are happy to take orders. The pork should have deep red flesh and pale pink skin. You should also try to get it as fresh as possible, so ask about butchering and delivery dates.
To make pancetta you need a whole, thick piece of pork belly, ideally around 1.5-2kgs, with the skin left on and not scored, and the bone taken out. Leaving the skin on provides a natural casing and prevents the meat from drying out too quickly – which also helps the flavours to better develop. I always ask for a fattier piece of pork belly as I find it also helps the drying process and flavour development.
2kg pork belly (100%)
55g smoked course salt (2.75%)
35g brown sugar (1.75%)
10g chili flakes (0.5%)
44g Tasmanian pepper berries, coarsely ground (2.2%)
6g Tasmanian pepper leaves, crumpled (0.3%)
6g dried rosemary (0.3%)
12g juniper berries, crushed (0.6%)
4g nutmeg, freshly grated (0.2%)
4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
2-3 tbsp. brandy or red wine
Note – If you don’t have smoked salt, you can substitute with regular salt, Tasmanian pepper berries, with black pepper and pepper berry leaves with bay leaves.
As with any charcuterie, as the products are uncooked, make sure you are working in a really clean area. There is not heat treatment to kill of any potential nasties. Crush the ingredients using a mortar and pestle, or grind them using a spice grinder with the exception of the nutmeg. Carefully grate the nutmeg on a microplane.
Set aside about 2-3 tsp of the cure mixture for later. Gently massage the remaining cure into both sides of the belly, making sure not to miss the crevices.
Place the belly inside a large ziplock bag, vacuum sealed bag or glass/ceramic (non-reactive) baking dish and into the fridge for 10-14 days depending on size and also thickness of the belly. Flip the belly every 2-3 days and re-distribute the cure mix every time. After the fridge time is up, gently wash away the cure under cold water without soaking the meat; its okay if some of the spice mix is still left on the belly. Pat dry with paper towels and leave on top of a wire rack on the kitchen bench for 2-3 hours at room temperature, until it is soft and malleable.
I like to rub brandy into all sides of the belly but you can also use red wine, it’s just a matter of preference. Apply the reserved cure mix to the meat side of the belly.
On a clean bench or chopping board, place the belly skin side down and roll up tightly. Try to get this part as tight as you can so there are no air pockets in the centre of the roll. This is a critical step as any air pockets can lead bacteria growth and rot, leading to spoilage of the belly. Secure the rolled belly with kitchen twine. If you find you don’t have enough hands, or are not very experienced (it can take a bit of practice) you might need to ask for a little bit of help trussing up the belly.
Once the belly is tied up, it is ready to hang. Weigh the belly and record the weight and date, this will help determine when the belly is ready. I like to wrap the belly in cheesecloth as an extra control measure, but it’s completely optional. Hang the belly in a well ventilated area, away from any direct sunlight as light can make the fat turn yellow and rancid. The hanging time varies depending on location, humidity, temperature and the fattiness of the belly; this one took 5-6 weeks.
When the pancetta has lost at least 20% of its pre-hanging weight it is ready. Slice it up and serve!