Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Homemade Pancetta

For a while now I've been listening to a BBC Radio 4 podcast called The Kitchen Cabinet, hosted by Jay Rayner. It's a panel show with a live audience where they travel over the UK and discuss various food topics - food science to food history to current trends. 

My favourite panellist is Tim Hayward - a food writer and broadcaster. Billy recently got me Tim's latest book, Food DIY. And it is amazing. I've never done, or even wanted to do, so many recipes from one book. He covers smoking, curing, pickling, fermenting and homemade takeaways including doner kebab. 

This book particularly makes me happy because I'm so bad at DIY around the flat, and this is something I can actually do.

So, to make pancetta, the first thing you will need is two plastic boxes that you can stand on top of each other. I got a couple from a pound shop. Make a few holes in the bottom of the top box for liquid to drain through.

Next you need 1kg pork belly. The quality of pork you use will directly affect the quality of your pancetta, so use the best you can afford.

To dry cure the pork belly, combine 500g table salt and 300g caster sugar. This is the time to add any other flavourings, such as thyme, garlic, bay leaves, etc. But, I'd recommend doing it simple at first and building on that as a benchmark. 

Place the pork belly into your top box and smoother with the dry cure mix. Pop on the lid, or otherwise cover, and refrigerate for a week. Turn the pork belly every day and give it an extra massage. The bottom box will catch any liquid that is released from the meat.

After a week, rinse of the cure mix and pat dry with paper towels. Skewer a hole in a corner, thread through a piece of string to create a loop and hang to dry somewhere cool and dry. I used a wine box, that a friend from work generously gave me, knocked in some hooks to hang the meat from and then draped a piece of muslin over the front. The dark things that are hanging next to the pancetta in the picture are pieces of ox cheek, but that's for another post.

Following another week, the pancetta is ready to cook with. But, if you can wait even longer, until it loses a third of its weight, you can eat it raw - I managed to last two weeks of air drying before being overcome with desire to eat it.

Mould! Not all mould is bad. My pancetta started to develop the white mould that penicillin is derived from. But, don't fret, this can actually be a good thing as it prohibits the development of other nasties. If, however, the meat grows any other type of mould throw the whole thing away and start again. 

To use the pancetta, I wanted a dish where it can stand out and not get lost in too many other flavours. As it's summer, a nice salad fitted the bill - Caesar salad. 

Into a bowl, rip up some baby gem, cos or even iceberg lettuce, add some leftover roast chicken, croutons, and decent Caesar dressing and give it a good toss. 
Remove the rind from the pancetta (but don't throw it away) and cut into lardons. Fry them in a large, hot frying pan until golden and crispy. 
Tip the pancetta into the salad (including the gorgeous fat that the pancetta produced) and serve.

The leftover rind, I'm told, can be used to stews to lift them.

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