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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…)

Curing Salts Found

Natural hog casings and Readycure curing salts from Highland Farms

Natural hog casings and Readycure curing salts from Highland Farms

Many of the posts on Food With Legs over the past month have focused on preserving vegetables.  Now that the vegetable gardening season is finished and the weather is getting cooler I feel like it’s time for me to return to my meaty ways and do some posts on the delicious art of curing pork.  I have some bacon just finishing it’s curing process that I intend to smoke tomorrow but like the first round of home cured bacon from this one I also omitted the curing salts that the recipe calls for.

As I mentioned in that first bacon post there is a lot of chatter on chowhound about how difficult finding curing salts in Toronto can be.  Websites like will ship it but the cost of shipping can often be as much as the salt itself and in my review the waiting time for home cured pork is already long enough without waiting on Canada Post.  Three alternatives of searching asian markets for a sketchy product labelled sodium nitre (very confusing because both sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are used in curing), having a Rexall phramacist order potassium nitrite and doing the complex conversions, or driving to Woodbridge to visit a company called Canada Compound were all the retail options available.  At least until I read a further chowhound post that mentions that Highland Farms carries Canada Compound’s Readycure product.  I found what I was looking for in the salt section. Jackpot.  I’m now set up with a kilogram of curing salts and only need to decide how I am going to use it.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that a grocery store with the balls to have a stack of containers full of natural hog casings on top of the meat counter would have curing salt.  The Highland Farms at Finch and Dufferin really is a bizarre grocery shopping experience.  On the one hand there is the garish plastic and artificial green decor that screams of suburbia but on the other  we have the rosy-cheeked (it is getting chilly but I suspect the work of an early apperitivo) older gentleman quietly serenading his checkout line in Italian.