I’ve mentioned, before, my intention to make my own version of Spanish Panceta, because the commercial version I’ve been buying is about 80% fat – I want something meatier. After all, it’s supposed to be streaky bacon, in the same way as the Italian version, Pancetta, is – more or less equal layers of meat and fat.
So, having bought a very nice piece of pork belly from Tesco – yes, seriously – it’s game on.
NB: This is a provisional recipe, based on information gleaned from the Web. It’s a learning process for me, so it might change, though not by much, and probably just the timings – making bacon, from which this differs only slightly, is something I’ve been looking at doing for years, but never found any belly pork worth bothering with until now.
I have everything I need which, to be honest, isn’t much, in stock. To cure my piece of meat which weighs 635g I need:-
For stage one:-
200g 100g Coarse sea salt
For stage 2:-
130g 100g fine sea salt 1 1.5 tablespoons Sweet paprika** (you can used smoked if you like it, I don’t), plus more for the final rub
**I use Hungarian sweet paprika rather than Spanish, which is hard to find in quantity, given their preference for the smoked variety. This has a little more heat than the Spanish version – not a lot, but it’s there. I find the Spanish version a tad too subtle – could this be why they smoke it?
Obviously, if you have a bigger piece of meat, just scale up accordingly.
I could add herbs to the mix – I have some fresh rosemary, or maybe garlic salt – but I don’t think it’s necessary – basically I just need to remove the water and infuse the meat with paprika.
If making traditional bacon, Demerara sugar, honey, or even molasses can be added, but this isn’t used when making panceta
This step is not traditional – it reflects my experience with over-wet supermarket meat and will remove the almost inevitable excess water. The idea of coarse salt, sometimes called kosher, or koshering, salt, is that it will draw out moisture, rather than just dissolving and being absorbed by the meat, which we want in the next step, but not here.
In a glass or ceramic container, put a layer of salt. Lay the meat on the salt skin side down, and cover with the rest, pressing it into the sides so it sticks (you might not need it all).
Put in the fridge for 3 hours.
Remove from the fridge and then, wearing disposable vinyl gloves, wash off all the salt under the cold tap, and dry the belly pork with a clean (as in washed and unused), tea-towel – don’t use kitchen towel, you’ll be picking bits of paper off the meat forever.
Mix the salt and paprika together, then rub well into the meat, making sure all sides, and any nooks and crannies, are covered equally, including the skin.
Seal in a plastic bag, along with any leftover cure, and put in the fridge for about
10 days 7 days, turning it over every day** – the bag will soon have quite a bit of water in it, don’t pour it away, as it contains the dissolved cure. If it makes you unhappy, you can pour it away, but you’ll need to repeat the cure rub. Best to just leave it.
**Turn the meat over within the bag, don’t just flip the bag or it might leak.
After 7 days, remove from the bag and wash well under the cold tap, and dry as before.
Scrub the wire fridge shelf, and lay the meat on it,** flesh side down. Put a dish on the shelf below to catch any drips. Once it’s stopped dripping, you’re done, but let it sit a while longer to dry the surface. **Ideally, you should hang it somewhere cool – I don’t have the room.
OK then, first revision. The fridge won’t work, apparently – too damp. I think my fridge might, as it desiccates vegetables with great enthusiasm, but I’ve had think I and can probably rig something up in the bedroom, which is cold and dry, with paper on the floor to catch any drips. With such a small piece, hanging for a couple of days should be ample. Poking a hole through one corner, and hanging it on a loop of butchers’ string should get it done. If you have flies – unlikely at this time of year – hang the meat in a bag made from a piece of muslin.
Once it’s dry, rub it again with just paprika, wrap tightly in clingfilm and let it sit in the fridge for another day or three to absorb the flavour. It’s clear from its appearance that commercial panceta goes through a similar stage, as it’s well coated with paprika.
Remove the clingfilm, and cut into thickish slices (4-6mm – so it’s easy to cut into lardons later).** Wrap in portions, say one or two slices to a portion, depending on how big they are, in clingfilm, bag them all, and freeze.
**This is the point at which to remove the skin, which is much easier than when it’s in the piece. You can use the skin in cooking, too, to add flavour and a little body, then toss it out.
Don’t forget the date and description. It should keep for about 6 months, but it’s such a versatile ingredient (especially when it has meat as well as fat!), it’ll be gone long before then.
NB: There is no need to use nitrites (found in “curing salt”), at all. They mostly extend the shelf life (as well as colouring the meat the traditional pink, and killing off the botulism bugs), and have been linked to cancer. As this is intended to go straight into the freezer once finished I see no point in using something potentially toxic, no matter how slight the risk. I don’t use it in my sausages either, and they’re absolutely fine.
I’ve found some seriously strange information online. One popular view is that the curing process isn’t finished until it’s been smoked, which is arrant nonsense, especially as bacon is, or at least should be (but most seem to smoke it on a barbie, which will also cook it – weird, as I said), cold smoked. Another says that, after curing you should roast the meat in the oven to finish the curing process. Again, it’s rubbish.
Finally, when using panceta as an ingredient, whether your own or bought, remember that it’s quite/very salty, and allow for that in your seasoning.
Note: The sea salt needs to be free from additives (you’d think that would be a given, but it’s not), otherwise you might as well use table salt, and the paprika I used is available from here. Disregard the comparison with chilli powder on the website – there’s not the slightest resemblance. It has a very slight degree of heat, perceptible but not intrusive. If you want to stick with tradition and used the smoked version, they have that too . Don’t be tempted by the 400g size – that’s an absurd amount – the stuff is very light. I generally buy 3 x 50g bags at a time (of the sweet, unsmoked), which is ample for normal use.
If you want to use smoked, my advice would be to add a little to the unsmoked, as it’s remarkably assertive.