This homemade pancetta–unsmoked bacon (pork belly)–is cured with salt, sugar, pepper, juniper berries, bay leaves, nutmeg, and thyme. It’s an ingredient in many Italian pasta dishes such as carbonara and as a substitute for guanciale in all’Amatriciana, which can be hard to find.
Pancetta is sorta like Italian bacon. It’s pork belly cured with salt and seasonings which is then rolled into a log and hung to dry for a couple weeks rather than being smoked. It’s typically thinly sliced or diced and then sautéed to add complexity to other dishes. The traditional process of curing and drying pancetta takes about 3 weeks but the timing varies depending on whom you ask. You could also choose not to roll it and use it as is, treating it as you would fresh bacon. We’ve got ample tricks and techniques to share by folks who’ve made their own pancetta, both on the making of it and the using of it, in the comments beneath this recipe. Go on and take a look before embarking on making your own pancetta. And don’t forget to let us know how it goes. Originally published May 8, 2005.–Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
What To Do With Pancetta
Marcella Hazan, in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, notes that pancetta’s “savory-sweet unsmoked flavor has no wholly satisfactory substitute.” Chunks of pancetta can be added to stews, beans, and soups. The classic Roman dish spaghetti alla carbonara is made with sauteed pancetta and eggs. Cabbage and Brussels sprouts are superb when sautéed with pancetta. Hazan suggests sautéing it with spring peas (a traditional preparation) or braising Boston lettuce with it.
- Quick Glance
- 30 M
- 21 D
- Makes 4 pounds
IngredientsEmail Grocery List
- For the dry cure
*What You Need To Know About Pink Curing Salt
- 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. It is NOT the same as pink Himalayan salt.
Recipe Testers Reviews
This was the best pancetta I have ever tasted, superior to anything you can buy at the store. Floral notes from the thyme and juniper as well as a little bit of funk from the hanging cure, permeated the meat.
The week I cured the belly was the ideal climate here in Seattle. I rolled the pork and hung it in my fruit cellar, where the average daily temperature was 63°F and the average humidity was 59, according to the little gizmo I keep in the cellar. I let the belly hang for 9 days, after which it looked and smelled so good I couldn’t wait to try it. The belly was medium firm and just a little dry on the ends. The outside fat had a smooth dry quality to it. It looked ready to eat!
How did I use my pancetta? First, I trimmed off the dried ends and added them to some soup I was making. I sliced in between the strings, dividing the log into about 5 manageable sections.
The next night I cut some thick slices for lardons and used them in place of croutons in my Caesar salad. And again the next night in a Cobb salad for dinner. Carbonara is next up in the dinner plan! The remaining sections are now frozen, waiting for use. This was so easy to do, I imagine when I’m down to the last chunk of pancetta I’ll be heading out to the market for more pork belly and get my cure on!
The only deviation I made from the recipe was that I used a pork belly half the size, so I adjusted the recipe accordingly. The skin was already removed. I cured the pancetta in the fridge for 7 days, and hung the rolled belly to dry in the fruit cellar for 9 days.
One of the things that makes cooking so fun and exciting for me is trying something new. And like in other areas of life, I often find it helpful to push myself out of my comfort zone. For a long time, I never baked, but one day I decided to give it a shot and have never looked back. Turns out kneading bread is a go-to therapy when I'm stressed out. So it was with this homemade pancetta recipe. At first I thought, "No way." But that morphed into "Why not?" So I gave it a shot.
The recipe was fairly straightforward. Since we're talking about curing meat, I kept it in the fridge for an extra week. My fat cap was a little thick in a few places, so perhaps some guidance on that would be helpful as well. I refrigerated the pork belly for 14 days. Then I rolled the pancetta and hung it in the basement for 2 weeks. So start to finish, it took 4 weeks to get to the final product and I don't know why, but I was surprised (happily, to be sure) to see that my pancetta looked pretty much like the picture. But of course the real key is the taste.
Our first use was chopped up and sautéed and then mixed in with some scrambled eggs and cheese. Pretty standard fare. But I figured it would be a good platform for the flavor, which was really good. You could taste pretty much all the spice flavors from the cure. It was a little on the salty side but that was to be expected.