This is my recipe for homemade pancetta. It is extremely easy to do, but the ingredients, how you prep them, how long you cure them and where you cure them matters. Repeat, it matters. So please don’t make the recipe and substitute several ingredients (as many are tempted to or do) and then blame me for the odd results. It’s sort of like my Sister’s vaunted fruitcake recipe which folks always ask for, then replace specified dried fruit with things like dried pineapple and papaya then they have the nerve to bitch that it doesn’t taste the same as the original, duhhh. So you are forewarned. Once you have made a recipe or two and are confident about the results, feel free to alter ingredients to your own preferences, I do that from time to time for slight variations on the theme…
First start with 7.5-8.0 kilos of skin-on boneless belly (I buy in large slabs, you can do that from any decent grocery butcher). If you are anal, trim the slabs so that they are a uniform size and relatively uniform thickness. You will then have to remove the skin, so if you have a particularly good relationship with your butcher, ask him to remove the skin for you if possible. That will save you significant stress and grief as skinning the pork is not one of my favorite chores. I am assuming you will then have a cleaned slab or two of pork with a total cleaned weight of 7 kilos, give or take a few grams. Cut these into say 3-4 pieces of roughly 1.5-1.7 kilos each.
Next prepare your rub. Into a bowl, add 400-450 grams of kosher salt (available in good groceries, you can use other sea salt (NO IODINE PLEASE) but I am not responsible for translating weights due to different salts and moisture levels, it may rise or fall by as much as 25% depending on the type of salt you use… I know that sounds illogical, but that just seems to be the case for me); for the easy answer, buy kosher salt for your first attempt. Measure using a scale.
To the salt, add the following:
350 grams white granulated sugar
100 grams of dark muscovado sugar
130 grams of pink salt or curing salt
80 grams of peeled and smashed or roughly chopped garlic
several sprigs of fresh rosemary roughly chopped up
and mix this up well. Then into a frying pan, toast the following spices over medium high heat for a minute or two until fragrant but NOT burned.
20 grams of white peppercorns
20 grams of black peppercorns (or if you don’t have white peppercorns you can use all black peppercorns)
25 grams of dried juniper berries
40 grams of coriander seeds
Crush all of the spices above in a large mortar and pestle until roughly smashed up. Add to the salt/sugar mixture. Then add the following:
30 grams of dried bay leaves, crushed and broken up.
25 grams of dried thyme (or some fresh thyme chopped up, if you have it).
Dry your pieces of pork belly with paper towels. Then take your dry rub and coat all of the pieces well. Rubbing mixture onto all surfaces of the meat, including the sides, etc. I then place these in food pans and cover with plastic wrap and let them sit out on the kitchen counter for say 45 minutes or so to get the rub starting to dissolve. Then I place all the food pans in a fridge to marinate or cure for between 4.5-6.0 days. If the pieces of pork are quite thin, you will find that 4.5 days is enough; but if you have extra thick slabs of pork, you may need 6.0 days or so. The texture of the pork is what will give you the right cues. It should not be soft and squishy like the day you bought it; it should be firmer and harder, though not hard. Does that confuse you? :)
Flip the slabs of pork DAILY until you ascertain that they have cured long enough. If you let them go too long, they become very, very salty. If you don’t let them cure enough, they may lack salt and worse, may start to rot during the drying process. You may notice that you lose some liquid in this stage and that is good. Some slabs of pork lose more liquid that others.
Once you are happy with the degree of curing, then rinse the pieces of pork quickly and dry well with paper towels. At this stage, I just lay them on cookie racks on top of a cookie sheet and let them dry out uncovered in a clean fridge (I use one dedicated pre-cleaned fridge to cure 15 kilos of pancetta at a time) for say 6-8 days until quite firm. They are now ready for use. They will last several days in the fridge, wrapped up, or several months in the freezer, properly wrapped up. If you live in places where you might have a garage with a temperature of 50F or so at the moment, and no critters or bugs, then traditional recipes suggest you can just hang your slabs of pork to dry for 5-7 days until done. While I wish I could tell you I have tried this, I have not. Maybe if I had a cellar or mud room in New England just about now, I would. Most folks roll up pancetta before drying, but I find it a bother, it increases the risk of bacteria thriving, and in the end, it is just easier to cut flattish pancetta… so that’s up to you. I can only advise that if you roll it up, use some cracked black peppercorns inside the roll and do it so tightly that there is a minimum of air in there. It helps keep the cooties at bay. I kid you not. :)
My favorite use for the homemade pancetta? Bucatini or spaghetti a la Matriciana. Or you can use it in a clams and pancetta recipe. Cut it thinly and fry like bacon for sandwiches or to top salads. Use it as a base flavoring agent for minestrone. Top your pizzas with it. Saute cabbage and pancetta for a quick vegetable dish… Once you master this pancetta recipe, you won’t be tempted to buy pancetta from fancy purveyors for upwards of PHP1,200-1,500 a kilo. And it’s so much more satisfying to think you made it yourself. Enjoy!