Charcutepalooza: Bacon and pancetta

February’s Charcutepalooza challenge was like a gift from the gods: Not only do Neil and I both like love bacon and pancetta, but we have actually made it before – for another food challenge involving Michael Ruhlman – the BLT from Scratch challenge in the summer of 2009, back when my blog was just a baby.  So we approached this not with trepidation, more like impatience, knowing what delectable treats were in store for us as the end of the curing process 🙂

Bacon and pancetta are ridiculously easy. You cure them in pink salt and whatever spices and flavours take your fancy for about a week, then you clean them up and, in the case of the pancetta, you either roll it or hang it to dry for another 10 days or so.  A lot of what goes on in curing meats is by “feel” and I am lucky that Neil seems to know what he is doing and what smells and feels right.

This time around, we did maple bacon and a spicy pancetta with juniper berries…

I was pretty happy with our Rowe Farms piggy belly – not too fatty at all (last time we did bacon the belly was incredibly fatty and it was a shame that there was not more meat) and it came out of the cure looking perfect…

We cut the belly in halves and then cut the pancetta half in half again, planning to roll one part and hang the rest as was…

Neil got busy with the cheesecloth (we decided to wrap it because our humidity is fairly low – the cheesecloth slows the rate of moisture evaporation – and also our meats hang in our basement where there may or may not be creepy crawlies)…

And, ahem, someone was pretty excited to help…

And despite the fact that it was frigid outside, Neil headed out to fire up the barbecue and the smokebox for the bacon…  We used applewood chips in a cast iron container without a lid right on the flame grill with the bacon right on top on the opposite side of the barbecue.  We kept the flame at the lowest possible level for 3.5 hours (average temp never exceeded about 150F).

We had the taste tester check it out, as usual…

And it looked gorgeous…

A few days later, we broke out the bacon for breakfast…

You can see the bottom is slightly darker because it was probably left in the cure a day or so too long, and there was so little fat that the meat simply drank in the salt and it dried up.  A little on the salty side that edge but the rest, wow!  I loved that it wasn’t too fatty though I know someone who probably thinks it could have used some more fat…

After a few more days, we cut into the unrolled pancetta… Oh my, isn’t it gorgeous?

Again, a little darker on one end because of slight overcuring but still beautiful quand-même!

Our rolled pancetta is still “hanging out” so watch out for it on the blog soon…

So what did we do with all this meaty goodness?  It’s been cold in these here parts, so I was craving some comfort food and who better to ask than Mario Batali – lover of pasta and all things meat-related!  I own Molto Italiano (check it out here on Amazon US or Amazon Canada) which has a ton of great Italian meals, simple, back to basics dishes made with seasonal ingredients.

I was particularly smitten with his recipe for Bucatini all’Amatriciana, which calls for bacon, pancetta or guanciale and Mario writes in the notes that “if you decide not to make your own guanciale, I suggest you order it from my dad.” A Charcutepalooza-er if I ever saw one!

A simple dish, the bucatini is served with a tomato sauce, studded with diced bacon and a touch of chili flakes.  I used Mario’s basic tomato sauce which is onions, garlic, carrots (!), thyme and tomatoes.  So easy (the sauce and the pasta dish) yet so flavourful.

You can find the recipe here. I will absolutely be making this again – and soon!  The tomato sauce is so simply yet fresh and flavourful and sweet, pairing really well with the slightly salty bacon and sticking beautifully to the fat lengths of pasta.  It’s my new “go-to” pasta. Providing I can keep the house stocked with bacon 😉

For the pancetta, I wanted to make a spaghetti carbonara. A proper one. No cream involved (not that there’s anything wrong with cream, mind you…).  Mario says this dish “can be slightly tricky in its execution” – just what I like to hear 😉  If handling raw meat and curing it didn’t scare you off, a dish made with raw egg yolk that “cooks” in the heat of the pasta might. Not to be deterred, I set about this, determined not to kill anyone 😉  You can find Mario’s recipe here.

This is definitely something I need to make again to get it right.  My egg whites cooked fast in my hot pasta and pasta water and my “sauce” didn’t quite achieve the creaminess it should have. But I served the raw egg yolk to Neil and allowed him to mix it in and “cook” it himself…

Me? I stirred in my egg yolk whilst it was still in the pan. Yup, I’m a chicken. And if I were not so tired, I might have a funny joke about chickens and eggs…

But the taste? This was unbelievable. I will never make carbonara with cream again. Even not being as optimally creamy as it ought to have been, this was fantastic. Such simple flavours, it really allowed the pancetta to shine. It was, most definitely, the star of the dish. Even if it wasn’t as showy as its pal the egg yolk…

Coming up over the next few days, a couple more uses for our bacon and pancetta. Like all good things, it’s worth the wait, believe me 🙂

77 thoughts on “Charcutepalooza: Bacon and pancetta”

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  2. Mardi –beautiful post! I love the pictures of your pancetta especially; you really sourced some *great* pork belly for your project. And your kitty is pretty adorable too 🙂

  3. Not much to add, really – other than this is all so wonderful. I tend to trust people who eat bacon more than those who don’t… 😉

    I sort of knew my cure would be a tad strong on one side of the belly, as it had remarkably little fat on that edge – and I was out three nights in a row, so had to delay taking out of the cure.

    For those who want more detail: bacon cured with maple sugar flakes and drizzled maple sugar. It was a subtle addition – not too maply-sugary.

    The pancetta was cured with a healthy number of crushed juniper berries, cracked Australian peppercorns, kafir lime leaves and a pinch of allspice.

    I’m a traditionalist: am waiting for the roll. (Much larger, so needs more time to dry out – still a bit too squishy to bring up for Mardi’s photo shoot.)

    As for the food, all scrumptuous. I LOVED the traditional presentation of the spaghetti carbonara.

    Wine pairings lead logically to reds from Italy for these dishes (think Chianti). However I mixed things up, serving a Californian Pinot Noir with the carbonera. It was described as being a little heavier for a Pinot, and had the food-friendly acidity of a Chianti to hold it’s own. (I’d have been fooled in a blind tasting.) A winner. For the bucatini I paired a Cabernet Franc / Cabernet Sauvingnon blend from Niagara. The bottle didn’t list percentages, but I’d say likely 75% CF or thereabouts. Even with Mardi nicely putting in some extra chili to suit my tastes, this wine held up and didn’t clash.

  4. Wow, Mardi! The pancetta looks especially gorgeous! I haven’t ever thought about making my own pancetta or bacon but ever since the hubby mentioned that his grandmother knows how to make presunto I’ve wanted to do it myself… I’ll have to add pancetta and bacon to my list as well 😀

  5. I concede, I’m salivating to an undignified degree. The meats look gorgeous, as do the finished meals. Beautiful shots; beautiful food. And I also really appreciate Mr. Neil’s Vino Picks. I got some good ideas from each of you, so thanks!

  6. Love your post, you guys are fantastic. My grandparents used to do drying meets and bacon when I was little.
    Such an amazing flavors.
    Thanks for posting:)

  7. Oh my word… love it! I wish I was that kitty! I’ve made my own bacon but not pancetta… time to change that. Thanks for sharing, Mardi.

  8. Your bacon is beautiful! And I love the photos of your kitty.

    As you know, I did Bucatini all’Amatriciana using my home cured Guanciale for Charcutepalooza. It’s always been one of my favorite pastas to order in Rome, but for some reason I rarely made it at home. Now I have no excuse, it’s just way too easy and a great way to utilize that home cured bacon or guanciale.

    By the way, I won’t eat raw egg yolks either. 😉

  9. one of the BEST dishes I ever had was a spicy tomato sauce served HOT with the raw egg yolk on top!!!! pretty and fabulous- thanks for reminding me- I am in US now and can’t wait to get home to cut open my pancetta!! I also did guanciale–

  10. where to begin? I think I’ll start with Mr. Neil. I love the insight from the “Kitchen correspondent” including the wine pairings.
    I thought the post was told from a very interesting perspective since virtually everyone seems to be a rookie when it comes to curing. I would suspect that everything you learned the first time around made this experience even more successful.
    Now that Neil lived through his carbonara, you can do it raw in the bowl next time. One of my fondest meals in Italy a couple of years ago was a bowl of carbonara after visiting the Cappella Sistina.
    And as usual, the pictures are terrific, especially the egg waiting to be mixed in with the pancetta goodness:)

    • I am glad people are enjoying Neil’s wine pairings and commentary. I think we definitely learned from our first experience and this was definitely superior to the first lot! And yes, next time, I might do the raw egg yolk. Maybe!

  11. Ok, first I had duck envy and now I am envious of your pancetta. Absolutely picture perfect and it’s good to know that you also have a rambunctious black cat in your kitchen, too!

  12. Mmmm, I haven’t made pancetta since the BLT Challenge! Now I’m wondering why I haven’t…you’ve reminded how AMAZING it is when you make it yourself! Both your bacon and pancetta look incredible! Swoon!

  13. I’m with Mr Neil in trusting people who eat bacon more than those who don’t 🙂 that’s why we have weekly home brunch with our friends where bacon is usually the star. Great job guys!

  14. Mardi, your bacon looks great. I can not believe how easy it was to cure bacon at home. I bet the bucatini all’amatriciana was delicious! Can’t wait to see how your pancetta turns out!

  15. Mardi, this all looks amazing! How does the pancetta differ from the bacon? Is there a noticeable difference in taste? It’ll be interesting to taste the difference in the rolled pancetta, too…I’ll look forward to hearing about that!

    • I can answer…taste is quite different.

      Bacon was cured with lots of maple flakes, and a drizzle of maple sugar, and then smoked with apple wood.

      Pancetta was cured with spices, then with extra crushed juniper berries and things whilst hanging. No smoking.

      So I’d probably say the pancetta is more “porky” than “bacony”, and the bacon sweeter and milder. (Gee, great word usage…)

      I’ll let Mardi add to that if she wishes!

  16. Outstanding job! I cannot decide which one I want to sink my teeth into first, the bacon or the pancetta. Both pasta dishes are out of this world as well – YUM!

  17. Mardi & Neil…the bacon and pancetta both look incredible! And the carbonara is just over the top. Neil, thanks for the advice on the duck breast…I finally got it to finish curing after moving it to a lower humidity environment!

  18. Again, gorgeous work on the pancetta and bacon. I wanted to lick my screen!! I’m not sure about the steps in your carbonara recipe, but whisking the cheese with the eggs first helps to create a ‘sauce base’ to toss the pasta in. I also like to add the drippings from the pan-fried bacon/pancetta for added….erm, flavor 😉

    • Danielle, yes, next time I will add the cheese to the egg whites (actually the whole egg if we are not having company since the yolk is really about just the presentation) and see if that incorporates better. Still, the taste was out of this world!

  19. Mardi, your results look awesome – love that you did different variations on the same theme – hadn’t thought of unrolled pancetta but our belly is still curing so I thin you may have inspired the next part of our process. 🙂

  20. Thanks for sharing this! I was hoping you had some step by step instructions on how to exactly prep and cure bacon? I am a newbie in the kitchen but boy do we love our bacon. We would LOVE to make our own! Do we need to own a curer? We have a smoker…not sure if that would work? I would love some info on this…you guys are so talented, again thanks for sharing with the rest of us!

  21. is it to soon to start making requests for meals when we get together in london? cause this is now at the top of the list . . .

  22. That carbonara is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. OH MY GOODNESS. And yes, nix the cream, just go for the egg!

    You’re making me want to cure my own pancetta now… I’m going to do it, I am! And then I’m going to make this carbonara dish and die a very happy lady…

    Jax x

  23. This was the first Charcutepalooza February Challenge I read and I was probably way too excited to spread the word and I left without a comment!

    I’m glad I’m revisiting now that I’m on “E” blogs! Beautifully done, Mardi! I shall try cream-less carbonara! Thanks for sharing!

  24. I just picked up some pancetta today and because of a tweet requesting a good carbonara recipe, Mardi was sweet enough to send me here. I’ve never seen carbonara without the *cream* sauce so this is definitely interesting. I hope the pancetta I bought is as good as what yours was Mardi (but I doubt it will be) In any case, I’m going to use the recipe you linked to and being the chicken I am, going to mix the entire egg with the cheese as you noted in one of the comments above. Thanks for the link and a great post! Appreciate all you share with your readers.

  25. Pingback: Charcutepalooza, Sausage Stuffing and Friends
  26. Just came across this while ‘stumbling’ and you reminded me I want to try making bacon. Since you say it is ridiculously easy, I suppose it is time I give it a try! I am regretting I did not get involved in charcutepalooza, it seems like a blast! 🙂

  27. Pingback: Pic of the Week: Home-Cured Pancetta | FoodNetwork

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