Often referred to as Italian bacon, pancetta comes in several forms. The most common in the US, pancetta arrotolata, is cured, rolled, and air dried for up to several months. In some parts of Italy, notably Calabria, it is made in a flat slab, pancetta tesa, sometimes including ribs and often cured with hot spices. In the northern Italian region of Veneto it is smoked and quite resembles American bacon. Whichever version you prefer, it is easy to make for far less than the $7 to $12+ per pound you would pay in the market. Incidentally, I hedged my bets by rolling one piece and hanging it in the basement but smoking the other over apple wood.
- Two slabs of pork belly or side, about 5 pounds each
- 2 Tbsp. whole black peppercorns
- 2 Tbsp. whole juniper berries
- ⅓ cup kosher salt
- 3 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
- 2 tsp. curing salt (“pink salt”)
- ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 fresh or 5 dry bay leaves, torn into small pieces
- 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
- ½ Tbsp. dried rosemary leaves, broken
Using a sharp boning knife, remove the skin or have your butcher do it for you. (Don’t throw away the skin; save it to make fried pork rinds.) Place the pork belly meat side up on your cutting board and using the same sharp knife level it by cutting off any high spots. Repeat on the fatty side then square the pieces with a large chef’s knife. (Save the trimmed bits for Double-Cooked Pork.) Rinse the meat well and pat dry.
Coarsely grind the peppercorns and juniper berries with a mortar and pestle. (Or spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and crush with a heavy pot.) Combine with the rest of the cure ingredients in small and mix well.
Rub each piece of pork with cure being careful to coat them on all sides. (It is easiest to do this in a rimmed baking sheet so that the cure does not wander away.) Double-wrap each piece tightly with plastic wrap, or put into a large plastic freezer bag. Put the wrapped meat onto the rimmed baking sheet and place another sheet on top. Weight with several cans or anything else that comes to three or four pounds. Set on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for from seven to 10 days, turning daily.
Remove the pork belly from the refrigerator and rinse off the curing mixture under cool running water. (It’s OK if a few bits of pepper or spices stay behind.) Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels.
To make pancetta arrotolata, place a piece of the cured meat lean-side up on a clean, large cutting board. Starting from the thinner end roll very tightly. You may need to roll, unroll, and re-roll it a few times to get it really tight. Tie snuggly with butcher’s twine at 1-inch intervals leaving a foot long loop at one end. Hang the pancetta in a slightly cool, dark, moderately humid place where air can circulate freely around it. Ideal conditions are around 60°F and around 60 percent humidity. Keep it out of direct sunlight and away from air vents. (I hung mine in the basement which in the winter is a bit cooler and dryer than ideal but workable nonetheless.) Let it hang for at least two weeks. It will emit a subtle aroma, which is fine. If it starts to smell rancid or rotten, discard it. When it is done, wrap in plastic to store. It will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks or in the freezer for several months.
To make smoked pancetta, finish it for about 2 hours at about 200°F it in a water smoker using apple wood chips according to the manufacturer’s directions. Wrap and store as above.