Do you own a wine fridge? Does it happen to be one of those two sided jobs like the one we were gifted from our friends, Dev and Diana? I know - we're truly blessed. Well not only does this gem of electrical ingenuity store some good and not so good wine when the resident wine drinker isn't making a pig of herself, but it also holds some great pig in the form of home cured pancetta.
You see, in case you haven't noticed, we're really serious about making our own cured pork products but one of the many problems with living in the desert is that 60 percent humidity and fairly constant temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees are darn near unheard of and unfortunately both are required when making pancetta. Thus the wine fridge comes into play.
Pancetta is a salt cured Italian bacon used widely as a flavoring agent in Italian cooking. We love the stuff and buy it in little 4 ounce packages at our local Trader Joes. There's absolutely nothing quite like its savory sweet smoky flavor and other than a few spices, it only takes time and patience to create.
If you recall when we were making porchetta for Easter several weeks ago (here's the link), we needed some skin side pieces of pork belly to surround our rolled roast. The big guy very wisely sliced some bellies horizontally and we got full use of our hog by making the rest of it into pancetta. Yup - not much goes to waste in this household..at least not that waste.
To make a long story short - pork belly with the skin removed is coated in a mixture of salt and spices, wrapped in a zip bag and cured in the refrigerator for a week or so until it's firm to the touch. Then rinsed under cold water and dried, it's rolled tightly like a jelly roll and hung to dry at optimum temperatures - and therein comes the wine fridge.
Made humid with a pan of water and set at 50 degrees, it was the perfect piece of equipment for making pancetta. Our rolls of pure gold hung in there for two weeks and yesterday the Big Guy sliced up the goods. It is an absolutely beautiful thing! Now you just wait and see what's coming at ya' next!
Home Cured Pancetta (adapted from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing)
2 slabs pork belly –5 pounds total
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons Morton Quick Cure
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons juniper berries, crushed
4 bay leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
4 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper (divided)
Remove skin from bellies and trim edges of belly so it’s neat and square. Combine dry rub ingredients together including only 2 tablespoons of black pepper. Rub mixture evenly on all sides of bellies. Place in large zip bag and remove as much air from it as possible, and place in a well sealed plastic container. Refrigerate for at least 1 week, checking belly after 7 days. If it is firm at the thickest point, it is cured. If it’s squishy, cure in refrigerator for another few days.
Remove from zip bag and rinse well under cold water. Pat dry. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper. Roll up very tightly from long side and tightly with butchers twine in 1 to 2 inch intervals.
Hang rolled pancetta in a cool humid place (50 to 60 degrees, 60 percent humidity) for 1 to 2 weeks. Keep checking the pancetta and if it gets too hard, wrap well and refrigerate. Slice and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks, or freeze for up to 4 months. Note – pancetta is not to be eaten raw. It must be well cooked before eating or you'll get mighty sicky. Capiche?