Italian style cured and dried pork belly.
Pancetta is an Italian-salumi made by curing and drying pork belly. It is often used raw for charcuterie plates or cooked for pasta and soups. It is quite easy to make but does take time for the curing and drying process.
The curing and drying processes are critical parts of making pancetta. The cure flavors the meat, removes moisture, and inhibits bacterial growth. Flipping the meat every other day ensures the cure stays evenly dispersed. The meat is finished curing when the entire belly has become firm. If it feels squishy, continue curing for 1-2 additional days.
The meat is then rinsed of the cure, wrapped in cheesecloth, and hung to dry. Drying continues removing moisture without overpowering the meat with salt flavor. The pancetta is dried for 10-14 days or until it is firm but pliable.
Drying meat ideally requires a temperature of 50-60 degrees and 60 percent humidity. If you live in a cooler climate, you can dry the pancetta in a basement or another cool dark place in your home. This is not an option for me. So, I dry the pancetta in the refrigerator. Refrigerator drying works just as well but takes a few more days because of the lower temperature. An empty wine refrigerator is another good option for drying the pancetta.
Pancetta is often rolled before drying. I kept this pancetta flat because it is easier to tell when the meat is properly dried, and the finished product is easier to use. If you would like to roll your pancetta, place the belly skin side down. Start on the long side and begin rolling it up. Get the roll as tight as possible. There should be no air pockets inside the roll. Air pockets will increase the chance of spoilage. Wrap the roll tightly with twine and dry for 10-14 days.
- 3 pounds pork bellly skin off
- 1 tsp pink salt cure #1
- 1/8 cup salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp chili flake
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 3 bay leaf
- 8 sprigs thyme
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- Pat the pork belly dry. Mix the sugar, salt, cure #1, chili flake, and nutmeg. Rub all sides of the pork with the salt mix and garlic. Place the thyme and bay leaf all around the pork belly. Wrap the belly in plastic wrap and place in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for 7-10 days until firm. Flip over every other day.
- Rinse the cure off the belly and pat dry. Wrap the belly in cheesecloth and tie with butchers twine. Hang to dry for 10 days. Pancetta should be firm but pliable. Refrigerate up to 3 weeks or freeze for 4 months.