This is the final version of the previous post on this subject. There are some changes, so use this, rather than the original.
I’ve mentioned, in passing, 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.
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:-
150g fine sea salt
2 tablespoons Sweet paprika** (you can used smoked if you like it, I don’t)
Obviously, if you have a bigger piece of meat, just scale up.
**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?
Mix the salt and paprika together, then rub well into the meat, making sure all sides, and nooks and crannies, are covered equally, including the skin.
Seal in a plastic bag, along with the leftover cure, and put in the fridge for 10 days, turning it over every day – don’t worry about any water in the bag, that’s natural.
As I’ve mentioned before, plastic bags are microporous, and this process demonstrates that perfectly, as every time I turned over the bag, my hands got salty. Adding another bag solved nothing – within 24 hours the effect was the same. Clearly, brine was migrating through the plastic. Not enough to make the shelf wet, but enough to taste on my hands.
After 10 days, remove from the bag and wash well under the cold tap, and dry as before.
Now you need to hang it for a few days, for it to dry out. I hung mine in the bedroom (which I don’t use), from a trekking pole wedged into a bookcase. If all else fails, make a tripod from 3 sticks, or garden canes, and hang it from that, Just bear in mind that wherever you hang it, it needs to be cold and dry, so this is best treated as a winter project. I just tied a piece of butcher’s string around it, tightly, but if you get into this it’s worth investing in a few meat hooks.
If you have any flies or other bugs, hang it in a bag made from muslin.
Leave it undisturbed for 3 days, which is ample for a piece this size.
Originally, I was going to do that in the fridge, but I read that a fridge is to damp an environment. Well, mine isn’t, not based on the speed with which it desiccates unwrapped vegetables, but I decided to go with tradition.
I suggested, originally, rubbing it with paprika once dried, as that’s how the commercial stuff comes, but I think they must rub it with oil first, as it’s too dry for it to stick, so I wouldn’t bother as it simply makes things messy when slicing.
This is the point, before slicing, at which to remove the skin, which is quite hard and much easier than when it was fresh. Just be sure not to take too much fat with it. You could remove it after slicing, but doing it first makes slicing very much easier.
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
And here’s a pic of the finished product:-
Frankly, I’m impressed with the results, as I expected it to go off, but it didn’t. All it smells of is a faint whiff of raw bacon, which is what it is. It has a far higher ratio of meat to fat than the rubbish I’ve been buying, which I’ve now rendered down for lard.
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 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 cold smoked (and the people who are suggesting this smoke it on the barbie, so it’ll be cooked). Another says that, after curing you should roast the meat in the oven to finish the curing process. Again, it’s rubbish. Once you’ve roasted the bacon, you can’t fry it. Well, OK, you can, but I doubt you’d want to!
I’ve read that you can use the same method to cure thick slices of belly pork, and that might be preferable and would give more uniform results. I noticed, when I sliced mine, a couple of slices from the middle of the piece were palpably moister than the rest (actually, softer is more accurate than moister). Not wet, the cure had clearly penetrated that far, but it’s the reason why I’ve reverted to 10 days curing time. It’s all frozen now, anyway, so it’s not a problem, but the slices will clearly give more uniform results. I’d suggest slicing your own.
In fact, slice a piece of belly pork into centimetre thick slices, but don’t cut through the skin, leave them attached – that way you can work the cure between the slices, where it will be trapped and do its thing uniformly across the piece. The paprika will flavour it better, too. And need I stress that you need a very sharp knife?
Finally, when using panceta as an ingredient, whether your own or bought, remember that it’s quite salty, and allow for that in your seasoning.