If, like me, you like to flirt with the flavours of Spain, rather than the actual recipes (many traditional Spanish recipes are peasant dishes, and cry out, in my view, for a little plumping-up of their basic austerity), you might have bought some panceta.
This is the Spanish take on Italian pancetta – a block of cured streaky bacon – but in my experience, panceta turns out to be mostly fat,** and almost unusable (it does taste good, though as it’s from Serrano pigs), while pancetta is more meaty; more, in fact, like what we know as streaky bacon in this country, while panceta , well, isn’t. It’s a kissing cousin to Lardo (cured back fat), with a little meat running through it.
**When I bought the ingredients for Fabada Asturiana (a paprika-flavoured stew of white beans, chorizo, belly pork and morcilla), from a different supplier, the belly pork in that was also a slab of fat with very little meat! As it was in Rick Stein’s TV series “Spain” so I assume it’s the norm. Few things are more repellent to eat than hot, boiled fat in my view. Cold, as on ham, it’s fine.
For that reason I’ve had a couple of pounds of panceta languishing in the freezer while I tried to figure out how best to use a product that was around 80% fat.
Fact is, I couldn’t, so right now I’m doing the sensible thing and rendering it down into lard which, due to the paprika with which the panceta is cured, is a fetching shade of orangey-pink. I remembered, too late, that I’d planned to use it in home-made chorizo, but since there’s no telling when I might be well enough for that to happen, this is probably best.
A 1lb piece cut into 6mm slices will cover the bottom of my roasting pan in a single layer. It’s probably best to avoid cutting it too thin, as it might burn. Roasted at 150C, it will yield up its lard nicely. Drain it off after an hour, through a sieve (steel mesh, not nylon!), into a pan, to cool, and return to the oven for another hour. Drain, and tip the slices of roasted fat and meat into the sieve to drain, and cool to a more humane temperature.
When cool enough to handle (the fat crisps up as it cools – when removed from the roasting tin it’s quite soft), remove the pieces that are almost all fat, salt generously, and eat – the best cook’s perks ever!** (Careful of the bits of meat, they’re very hard). Once cold, bag the rest and toss back in the freezer. The slices still have a lot of flavour, as well as a little remaining fat, and broken up and put in an appropriate stew or soup or a pot of sausages and beans, will flavour it nicely, and if cooked long enough, the meat will also soften.
**Pork scratchings started life as a by-product of the lard industry (lard being rendered down pig fat – traditionally, anyway – god knows what goes into it these days, now pigs are bred with so little fat. Probably fat is imported from countries with dubious husbandry practices, like Scandinavia, or China
But it’s the lard we’re really here for. You don’t get a hell of a lot, but what you do get is pure spicy, salty, piggy, flavour and, once cooled enough, it should be poured into a jar and tightly capped. At room temperature the lard is liquid but, stored in the fridge, it’ll set well enough.
The next thing I want to do, if I can find some decent belly pork, is to make my own panceta (the principle is fine, it’s the execution I find crappy), cured in a mixture of sea salt and paprika (I have a how-to-make-bacon guide somewhere, which can be adapted), avoiding nitrates if possible (it should be – the stuff is going straight into the freezer after curing). The DIY version will give me a far better ratio of meat to fat.
Anyhow, kiddies, if it goes according to plan, I’ll post the details here. As for the meat itself, Ocado/Waitrose is looking good right now.
And now I have another pound of mostly fat to render down,** a plan somewhat hindered by the fact that, after a bad night I feel like shit, am massively depressed, and can’t stand for more than a couple of minutes or I’m in dreadful pain – the second point being not unrelated to the other two! Still, the buggerdly stuff is in the oven and I can sit down again.
The sooner I can get the set-up described in this post established, the less such buggeration will matter.
I’ve bought a new “diamond” coated (actually, zirconium oxide), sharpening steel,** and the edge it puts on my chefs’ knife is very strange. It doesn’t feel sharp to the touch, but it slips through the meat as easily as if it were bread, so it’s clearly very sharp indeed. Odd, that.
**The previous diamond steel has worn almost smooth, useless for sharpening, but ideal for finish-honing an already sharp blade to even greater sharpness. And no, boys and girls, this is NOT an unhealthy interest in sharp things – a sharp knife is a safe knife. A blunt one is more likely to slip and cut you.
Of course, that does depend on you having the sense, in both cases, to keep your fingers away from the edge. Treat knives with respect and they’ll repay you with efficiency; treat them carelessly, and they’ll bite. Doubtless, many people have seen Rick Stein on TV, pontificating about careless sods cutting their fingers on a mandoline, milliseconds before lopping off the tip of his own finger through inattention!