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Homemade Pancetta II

Home cured pancetta portioned and ready for use.

I know you have all been waiting with palpable anticipation for this, the conclusion to my pancetta adventure.  After eight days in the refrigerator covered in salt and spices, on March 6, I rinsed the cure from my pancetta-to-be and considered the biggest variable of homemade pancetta: to roll or not to roll?

As pancetta post number one discussed the cured pork belly that is rolled into the familiar jelly roll shape is called pancetta arrotolata in Italian and if it is left as a flat slab it is called pancetta stesa.

Predictably, I think this is an ideal situation for a pros-and-cons, pancetta showdown.

Rolled pros: When finished drying and sliced the slices have the familiar and attractive swirl-of-pork-fat pattern; a lower ratio of surface area to volume means that the belly takes longer to dry so may develop more intense flavour;  vaguely more authentic in that the grandmothers in more Italian villages would roll their pancetta but it is by no means unanimous; the pepper goes on the surface that is rolled into centre so it is more likely to stay with the meat.

Rolled cons: It is difficult to roll the belly tightly enough to prevent air pockets that can host dangerous microbes that thrive in a dark, moist, meaty environment; the belly needs to be trimmed more closely so that when rolled the meat cylinder has a relatively flat top and bottom–this causes waste; the pancetta should stay rolled throughout the process so it is difficult to observe how the centre of the roll is progressing.

Slab pros: More lean meat is exposed to the air (and observation) so it is easier to judge progress by colour; easier to thread twine (or a hook) through on corner of a slab than it is to carefully tie a roll; more easily divided for freezing.

Slab cons: Because it is supported by twine at only one corner stretches to become thinner and diamond-shaped; more surface area is exposed to microbes that can live with more light and air (like mold). (more…)

Homemade Pancetta

Five pounds of fresh pork belly

Remember the sitcom episodes when the trouble-making, bad ass cousin would come to visit?  All the formulaic sitcoms from my childhood in the eighties had one.  Well, pancetta is bacon’s Italian cousin.  Pancetta does have the salt and pork of bacon but instead of being smoked it is air dried and therefore acquires the slightly funky taste unique to fermented sausage.  Yes, I see that the analogy is turned inside out because one of the usual foibles of the out-of-town cousin was that he DID smoke but luckily this is a blog about food not Full House.

As Marcella Hazan notes in the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, “pancetta, from pancia, the Italian for belly, is the distinctive Italian version of bacon.” Hazan goes on to note the differences between pancetta arrotolata which is dried rolled in a log shape and pancetta stesa which is hung in a flat slab to dry.  I have cured (cinnamon version) and smoked my own bacon before but now it’s time to try pancetta.  I haven’t decided whether I’ll roll mine or leave it flat.

Pork belly is becoming a much easier ingredient to find but when it shows up in supermarket butcher cases it is usually pre-sliced at the thickness of thick-cut bacon or in roughly pound-size chunks appropriate for roasting or braising.  If you want to roll your pancetta (as I think I might) you need a larger piece of belly in the four to six pound range.  At the No Frills where I often find esoteric pork parts Friday seems to be cutting day so the best to ask for a large chunk of belly. (more…)

Ham, Glorious Ham

My ham came from this locally-raised pig at Sanagan's

During the Christmas and Easter holiday seasons those giant waist-level refrigerated bins at grocery stores fill with hams of all shapes and sizes.  Over the past several years the selection has improved, in my opinion at least, away from those re-constituted, mechanically-formed miniature satellites towards a lot more options that have a bone and look like they may once have belonged to an animal.  But finding a fresh (uncured, unsmoked) leg of pork is still a tall order here in Toronto.

Being a good citizen of the 21st century I turned to Twitter and asked the first three purveyors I could find: Sanagan’s Meat Locker, Olliffe Butcher Shop, and Fiesta Farms.  On top of the amazing mental picture of a butcher in a heavy-duty, blood-spattered apron replying to my questions (with his vacuum packed iPhone, of course) I also received prompt answers from all three.  Fiesta is considering carrying fresh pork legs in the future but don’t now, and luckily the other two had what I needed.  Wanting to support the new guy on the block (of Baldwin, a street I lived on in the not-so-distant past) I made my way down to Sanagan’s.

The characteristic that impresses me most about this butcher shop is how efficiently they use a small space.  There’s meat everywhere and definitely no sauce and spice rub aisle in which the timid customer could hide.  To underline this point the large, free-standing butcher block to the right of the door displayed an entire pig, split into three primal sections (head and forequarter, rib and loin, and hind legs).  As you can tell from the picture at the top of the post this pig looked much more like Babe than like the 250-pound behemoths we might usually think of as slaughter size. (more…)

Duck Breast Prosciutto

The finished product--spiced version on the left, plain on the right

The finished product--spiced version on the left, plain on the right

In this second part of my series of blog posts about duck I am going to go over my duck prosciutto-making project.  This is a somewhat exact process that involves hanging uncooked poultry for more than a week so bear with me if veer towards the technical.

The starting point

The starting point

This preparation really is about process.  The first step (after the duck breasts are removed from the body as discussed in my earlier post) is to fill a non-metal container with a bed of kosher or coarse salt.  Lay the breasts on the salt, arranged so that they aren’t touching and cover with more salt.  The container–covered with plastic wrap goes into the fridge for twenty-four hours of curing. (more…)

Cinnamon Dessert Bacon

Finished dessert bacon ready for the oven

Finished dessert bacon ready for the oven

Last weekend I entered a charity bake off and my Bacon Blondies did quite well.  This wouldn’t have been a proper Food With Legs project if I hadn’t cured and smoked the pork belly to make my own homemade bacon.  I will post the full recipe for the blondies in a separate post but today I’m going to focus on the bacon.

Making homemade bacon is a process more than a recipe.  I have posted before about how this process starts by searching for ingredients.  Fresh pork belly is not in every grocery store but I have found a reliable source at my local No Frills (Carlo’s at Yonge and Steeles) and curing salts are even more difficult to find.  This was my first time using Canada Compound’s ReadyCure product and because it contains only  one percent sodium nitrite (versus the six and a quarter in pink salt, Prague Powder, etc.) I needed to do some math to adapt the recipe.