Homemade Pancetta

Pancetta is an Italian bacon and a delicious ingredient used in many of that country’s dishes. Like fresh bacon, it’s simply pork belly cured with salt and seasonings, which is then rolled into a log and hung to dry for a couple weeks. It’s typically thinly sliced or diced and sauteed, then combined with sauteed vegetables. Countless recipes begin with the gentle sauteing of onions and other aromatic vegetables; precede this step by sauteing diced pancetta, and you’ll add a layer of great complexity to the dish. The classic Roman dish spaghetti alla carbonara is made with sauteed pancetta and eggs. Chunks of pancetta can be added to stews, beans, and soups. Cabbage and Brussels sprouts are superb when sauteed with pancetta.

Marcella Hazan, in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, notes that pancettas “savory-sweet unsmoked flavor has no wholly satisfactory substitute.” She suggests rolling it up in veal scaloppine, then sauteing the rolls in butter and serving them with a tomato sauce, or sauteing it with spring peas (a traditional preparation), or braising Boston lettuce with it.

The traditional process of curing and drying pancetta takes about three weeks, but variations here are a matter of taste. You can reduce the drying time to two or three days, or eliminate it altogether (the pancetta will still taste delicious when cooked). You could also choose not to roll it and use it as is, treating it as you would fresh bacon.–Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

Homemade Pancetta Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 21 D
  • Makes 4 pounds

Ingredients

  • One 5-pound slab pork belly, skin removed
  • For the dry cure
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons (14 grams) pink salt (see Note)
  • 1/4 cup ( 50 grams) Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons (26 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (40 grams) coarsely ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 tablespoons (10 grams) juniper berries, crushed with the bottom of a small saute pan
  • 4 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon (4 grams) freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 or 5 sprigs fresh thyme

Directions

  • 1. Trim the belly so that its edges are neat and square.
  • 2. Combine the garlic, pink salt, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, juniper berries, bay leaves, nutmeg, thyme, and half the black pepper in a bowl and mix thoroughly so that the pink salt is evenly distributed. Rub the mixture all over the belly to give it a uniform coating over the entire surface.
  • 3. Place the belly in a 2-gallon Ziploc bag or in a covered nonreactive container just large enough to hold it. Refrigerate for 7 days. Without removing the belly from the bag, rub the belly to redistribute the seasonings and flip it over every other day — a process called overhauling.
  • 4. After 7 days, check the belly for firmness. If it feels firm at its thickest point, it’s cured. If it still feels squishy, refrigerate it on the cure for 1 to 2 more days.
  • 5. Remove the belly from the bag or container, rinse it thoroughly under cold water, and pat it dry. Sprinkle the meat side with the remaining black pepper. Starting from a long side, roll up the pork belly tightly, as you would a thick towel, and tie it very tightly with butcher’s string at 1- to 2-inch intervals. It’s important that there are no air pockets inside the roll. In other words, it can’t be too tightly rolled. Alternately, the pancetta can be left flat, wrapped in cheesecloth, and hung to dry for 5 to 7 days.
  • 6. Using the string to suspend it, hang the rolled pancetta in a cool, humid place to dry for 2 weeks. The ideal conditions are 50°F to 60°F (8°C to 15°C) with 60 percent humidity, but a cool, humid basement works fine, as will most any place that’s out of the sun. (I often hang mine in our kitchen next to the hanging pans on either side of the stove.) Humidity is important: If your pancetta begins to get hard, it’s drying out and should be wrapped and refrigerated. The pancetta should be firm but pliable, not hard. Because pancetta isn’t meant to be eaten raw, the drying isn’t as critical a stage as it is for items such as prosciutto or dry-cured sausages. But drying pancetta enhances its texture, intensifies its flavor, and helps it to last longer.
  • 7. After drying, the pancetta can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 3 weeks or more, or frozen for up to 4 months. Freezing makes it easier to slice thin.

    Note: Pink salt, a curing salt with nitrite, is called by different names and sold under various brand names, such as tinted cure mix or T.C.M., DQ Curing Salt, and Insta Cure #1. The nitrite in curing salts does a few special things to meat: It changes the flavor, preserves the meat’s red color, prevents fats from developing rancid flavors, and prevents many bacteria from growing.
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Comments
Comments
  1. Strongandhoppy says:

    if you are air drying for longer than 1 week, I would use Cure #2, which is meant for longer hang times. It contains nitrite and nitrate, which will release slower than only nitrite, for longer aging.

  2. Ria Salabit says:

    I live in a tropical country where ambient temperature is at 26 to 34 celcius. Has anyone tried hanging in these temps?

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      I’m far from the food safety police, Ria, seeing as I myself tempt fate now and then with a few questionable food safety practices, but my instinct is that’s just too darn hot and humid to safely cure meat. Anyone else care to chime in? Just in case others have a tricky time doing mental math, that’s 78 to 93 degrees F.

  3. Tursiops says:

    No. you cannot air dry above 18 ºC, a lot of spores will develop, ruining the meat and threatening your life. Do it inside your refrigerator (in the vegetable drawer); it will take longer to dry but at the end, when it lost 20% weight, the results will be similar.

  4. Risa says:

    Yup, got it. It’s sitting in the bottom of my ref, hung from a hook on an upper rack. Any advise on change of drying time?

  5. Risa says:

    I’m surprised that this recipe didn’t grow in comments since the last time I commented. It’s a wonderful recipe! I wasn’t able to check the actual weight lost hanging in the ref, but the outside was suitably dry, very firm and shrunken from the butcher’s twine when I took it out.

    One change I will make is to increase my salt. In retrospect, I remember using rock sea salt which has bigger granules than kosher salt. A pain to find juniper berries in the Philippines, but totally worth it.

    • David Leite David Leite says:

      Risa, perhaps you will be the lucky charm to make the comment thread grow! I, too, love this recipe. The same volume of rock salt versus kosher salt will weigh less. I need to covert those amounts to weight.

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