Guanciale

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As far as cured meats and charcuterie goes, this is one of the easiest to master. It’s great for beginners! The hardest part about making guanciale is waiting  for it to air dry.  Guanciale is a whole pork jowl that has been rubbed with salt, herbs and spices then air dried. It is also an economic project as the jowls are a fairly cheap cut and the ingredients are very simple. In my opinion it’s far tastier than bacon and even pancetta. It has a texture and consistency much like bacon but the depth of the flavour is much greater. It is similar to pancetta and can either be eaten raw if sliced thinly or cut thick and pan fried to add flavour to many dishes.

Ingredients:

1kg pork jowl/cheek, skin on, all hair removed with a sharp razor or blowtorch (100%)
70g Himalayan salt (7%)
70g raw sugar (7%)
20g mixed peppercorns (20%)
8 juniper berries
3 garlic gloves
3 bay leaves
fresh thyme

(Note – The ingredients used are shown as a percentage of the starting weight of the meat. I’ve noted the percentage next to each, so you can adjust what you will need based on the weight of your meat. Having said that, this recipe is quite forgiving due to the fact that no nitrate/nitrite’s are used).

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Make sure you have a clean work bench to prep your guanciale. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and tidy up the pork cheeks by removing any glands and veins from the meat. The glands will look like small off-white bumps that are reasonably hard and not like the meat or fat. Look carefully as you may find some hiding under some fat. Once the glands are removed, then trim up the odd bits and pieces so you have a tidy cheek.

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Collect all the remaining ingredients for the cure. Grind up the mixed peppercorns and juniper berries in a spice grinder. Roughly chop up the garlic, bay leaves and thyme.

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Place all the cure ingredients into a bowl and give everything a good mix to combine.

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Gently massage the ingredients into the meat and fat, making sure to completely cover the cheek – this may take a couple of minutes.

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Place the cheek in a zip-lock  or vacuum seal bag making sure to completely squeeze out all the air. Place the meat into fridge for 7 days to begin the curing process. Every second day flip the cheek over to redistribute the cure (the cheek will expel liquid and make its own brine) and place back into the fridge.

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After a week curing in the fridge the cheek should feel firmer to touch. Under cold running water quickly gently rinse of the excess cure, making sure not to soak the cheek. If some of the herbs and spices stick to the cheek that’s fine. Pat dry the cheek with paper towel

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Place the cheeks on a wire rack for 2-3 hours away to dry out and firm up, making sure to keep away from direct sunlight as exposure to light can make the fat rancid.

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Once the cheek has dried out a little, using a sharp object like a metal skewer make a hole at the top of the cheek , but not to close to the edge as the cheek will shrink. Using butchers twine tie a loop through the hole. Hang the cheek in a cool dry ventilated area for a month or two (depending on your temperature and humidity); mine usually take around 3-4 weeks, some people like to dry it even longer for a more robust flavour. You need the cheeks to lose about 30% of their weight to ensure they are properly cured.

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I usually don’t weigh the cheeks as I make guanciale quite frequently, so I go by touch. Check on the cheeks periodically to see if the drying process is going ok, it’s not unusual to get a light mold on the meat. White/chalky molds are fine, if you get any other colour then you should wash it off using white wine vinegar, dry the meat and rehang. You need to be sensible here, if the mold persists and the meat starts to smell bad then be cautious and dispose of it.

The guanciale is ready when it is firm to touch. The fat will feel softer than the meat. which is fine.

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