The Home Cure – Mission Pancetta

It’s about time for me to do another round of bacon again. I’ve got a third of the last five-pound slab in the freezer, that was done in a maple syrup and cracked pepper brine and apple smoked. We’ll likely use that up this month. I haven’t touched the skins from the last batch yet, which I use in the kitchen the same way a ham hock is used – to flavor soup. But January is my favorite month for soup, so that won’t last long either. I’ve got a 15 bean mix in the pantry that is just dying for some porky goodness.

The major question for me when doing bacon is whether I should try something new in the cure, or stick with my maple and pepper original. It’s just so good. But juniper sounds good too – I still haven’t used any of the berries I picked up at Spice House before Thanksgiving. A juniper brine, hickory smoked perhaps? I’m certainly thinking about it.

I’m also thinking about pancetta. I have a minor love affair with pork belly, and another minor love affair with Italian food. What combines these two wonderful things more readily than pancetta? My bolognese is the absolute favorite thing that I make at home – it’s my ultimate comfort food. If I’ve had a long day at work, I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and spend and hour and a half in the kitchen just cooking. Nothing soothes the soul better than prep – the methodical deconstruction of basic vegetables with a good, sharp knife. But I digress – it’s the pancetta, after all, that is the point here. The pancetta they sell in the market comes in little plastic packets from Italy (or, if I can find it and afford to pay more than what I’ll pay for even the imported stuff, La Quercia American-made pancetta from Norwalk, IA). Both options are very good pancetta, don’t get me wrong. But they’re very thinly sliced, as though they were slivers of proscuitto to be served with melon wedges. I like a little more heft in my bolognese, slices just a few shades thicker than paper-thin. I want the luscious, silky fat to ever-so-slightly render out with the mirepoix and garlic, so it perfumes the base of my sauce with porcine goodness.

Of course, I’ve convinced myself that the only way to achieve this dream-like state of affairs in my next bolognese is to make the pancetta myself. Doesn’t it always seem like I can convince myself of these dire necessities all too easily? But alas, a good bolognese cannot be burdened any longer by store-bought pancetta. I’m an old hand with bacon now – I’ll even be sharing my skills with the Food for Thought ladies as soon as we can arrange a suitable date. But pancetta is new territory for me.

To get inspired (as though the quest for still-better bolognese isn’t enough of a motivator) I decided to find out what my fellow culinarians were up to when it came to the magical transformation of raw pork belly into irresistable pancetta –

– I found a ridiculously gorgeous couple of photos in the LTH thread Cure Meat Everyday. It was produced from Polcyn’s and Ruhlman’s recipe in Charcuterie (which is the one I’ll likely use).

– I also stumbled across an old 2009 post about DIY pancetta at Cured Meats, as well as an even earlier post. They’re so enthusiastic and informative, I know I’m on the right track doing some of my own.

– Because it just popped into my head that pancetta-wrapped quail would also be a delicious use of home made pancetta, I searched out this recipe from La Cucina Italia.

So, February is to be the month of cured pork!