A large portion of the meat left from our “local” pig was pork belly. Not sure why I waited so long to get to the “best part” – most would say this borders on negligence given the US’s unbridled love affair with bacon. I think the process of curing the meat for a week before drying was different enough that I just focused on the sausages for a while. Well, that’s not true either. I made the Guanciale, which cured for a week, and was dried in the same way. In any case, there was a lot of pork belly crying out for attention. I decided to make it into Pancetta after Ruhlman gushed about there being “no good substitute” for it in a culinary sense.
Unable to muster enthusiasm for “overhauling” the meat every other day, I opted to seal the pork belly with seasonings in “food saver” bags. Foodsaver vacuum-packing system was an impulse buy at Costco. The Costco folks have elevated the ability to induce impulse buys to a high art form. This usually results in bad-math-shock: the depressing grand total on the receipt that I scan while wheeling my cart out and wondering how I spent that much.
We’ll see how the whole vacuum packing thing turns out – I cut the belly into slightly smaller pieces so they would go into the bag, but I probably have 15lb of meat in total. Here’s how they looked once vacuum-packed:
Note the lonely scraps of belly in the bottom left corner that soon will be salt pork – these are cured in the “basic cure” for about as long as the Pancetta. I know nitrates aren’t supposed to be good for you, but just look at the rosy-pink hue of the meat after spending a couple of hours with the cure. A close-up of the Pancetta shows all the spices: cracked pepper, juniper berries, thyme, and bay leaves:
I’ll take a water activity reading after the curing is done, and then periodic readings while it dries. I expect it will be high even after drying because Pancetta is supposed to be cooked. Lots of recipes I use start with sauteing vegetables in bacon, so I’m anxious to see if Pancetta makes a difference to the overall flavor.