If you love all things salty, tangy and meaty, you’ll love pancetta. This deliciously cured meat is a staple in Italian cuisine, and it’s often compared to bacon (there are quite a few key differences, though, which we’ll go over later).
If you have a bit of time on your hands, you can try making pancetta yourself! Although you’ll have to wait a few weeks for it to cure, the process is relatively straightforward, and trust us; the results are worth it.
Before we discuss the ins and outs of curing pancetta, let’s start with the basics: what is it, what does it taste like, and how can you use it? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Pancetta?
Pancetta, pronounced pan-chet-ah, is an italian-style bacon that’s salt-cured, but not smoked. You can pancetta cooked or uncooked, and you’ll find it sold in slices or cubes.
Pancetta is a common addition to antipasto boards, sandwiches, and plenty of other delicious recipes. Hungry? You should be!
In Italy, pancetta is usually used in pasta and soup to add extra depth and flavor. A pork belly side is usually seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper, curled into a roll, and wrapped in a casing to keep the shape.
Although bacon can be used as a substitute for pancetta, ask any Italian – it’s just NOT the same.
What Does Pancetta Taste Like?
Picture this: bacon without the smoky flavor. That’s essentially what pancetta tastes like. Pancetta is made from a pork belly side and has a distinctly porky flavor.
It’s slightly fatty, but not in an overbearing way, and its flavors are deep, salty, and pronounced. Don’t worry; our mouths are drooling already, too.
How Do You Make Pancetta?
Want to have a go at making pancetta yourself? Well, even if you’re not an experienced cook, you’ll be able to rustle up pancetta yourself. Pancetta is simple to make.
However, you’ll need to be prepared to take your time in the kitchen. Let’s take a look at a popular pancetta recipe below.
*Although pancetta is usually seasoned with salt and pepper, other seasonings are thrown on according to taste. In this recipe, we’ll be adding a generous helping of sugar, bay leaves, thyme, nutmeg, and juniper berries, and feel free to add or omit seasonings according to taste.
A word of warning: pancetta’s traditional curing and drying process takes approximately three weeks, but timings will vary according to taste.
If you don’t want to roll it, you can season your pancetta and use it as it is, just as you would with fresh bacon.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for your homemade pancetta:
- One large, five-pound slab of pork belly with the skin removed
- Four minced garlic cloves
- ¼ cup of kosher salt
- One teaspoon of pink curing salt
- Two tablespoons of juniper berries, crushed
- Four tablespoons of ground black pepper
- One teaspoon of grated nutmeg
- Four bay leaves
- Four or five sprigs of fresh thyme
- Two tablespoons of brown sugar
Start by trimming your pork belly so the edges are square and neat.
Now, mix up the pink salt, kosher salt, brown sugar, bay leaves, thyme, nutmeg, juniper berries, garlic, and black pepper in a bowl.
Combine thoroughly, and ensure the pink salt is evenly distributed.
Then, rub your combined mixture over the pork belly. Finally, make sure you cover the entire surface with your mixture.
Once coated, put your pork belly in a large, resealable plastic bag or in a container that’s large enough to hold it. Keep it in the refrigerator for around seven days.
Then, without removing your belly from the bag or container, rub the belly every two days to keep the seasonings distributed. This process is also called overhauling.
After a week, check how firm your pork belly is. If it feels tight and thick, it’s completely cured. If parts of the belly still feel squishy or jelly-like, keep it refrigerated with your cure for another one to two days.
Then, remove the pork belly from the bag or container and wash it thoroughly with cold water. Pat it dry, then cover the meat side with your leftover black pepper.
Now, get your pork belly ready and start from the long side. Roll your belly up tightly and tie it up neatly with a string at roughly one to two-inch intervals.
When rolling up your belly, ensure there are no air pockets in the roll, and don’t roll it too tightly. You could also leave your pancetta flat on a surface and wrap it tightly in a cheesecloth.
It can then be hung to dry for five to seven days.
Use the string to hang your pancetta up, and hang it in a humid and dry place for around two weeks.
Ideally, you should store your pancetta between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit with approximately 60 percent humidity.
Once your pancetta has been dried, it can be wrapped in a plastic bag and kept in the fridge for three weeks or longer.
You can even freeze your pancetta for around four months! Freezing your pancetta will also make it easier to slice.
How To Use Pancetta
Now you’ve made your pancetta, you’ll probably need some inspiration.
Pancetta can be used with various meals, including meat and seafood-based dishes. Feel free to add your pancetta into a soup, as a cold cut (If you’re interested in cold cuts, you might want to check out an article about Pastrami here) on a sandwich, pasta, salads, and more!
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re craving a sandwich, a hearty pasta dish, or a warming soup, pancetta may just be the meaty, salty addition you’ve been looking for.
If you love meats like bacon and prosciutto, we promise you that a healthy dose of pancetta in your next meal is just what you need.
If you don’t want to go through the effort of curing your own pancetta, take a trip to your local deli, and see what you can find.
Most Italian delis will sell pancetta as a whole or as slices, so you can find a variety to suit almost any meal!