Pancetta is an Italian cured pork product that is very similar to bacon. Like bacon, pancetta is made from pork belly but unlike bacon, it is unsmoked, giving it a clean, salty flavor. Often confused with prosciutto, which is also an Italian cured meat but made from the hind leg of a pig, pancetta requires cooking before it can be consumed.
Here's a primer on how to use pancetta:
How to buy pancetta
Pancetta is rolled up into a thick log with alternating layers of meat and fat.
Look for pancetta that is fresh, brightly pink with velvety white fat marbled throughout. It should be damp — not dry and withered or too wet.
Pancetta can be cut fresh to order from the deli counter. You can ask them to slice it thick (around ¼ inch) if you want to cut it into cubes or thinly if you plan to use it similarly to bacon.
How to store pancetta
Store unused pancetta in the fridge away from foods that will be eaten raw. Keep it well-covered and store for up to three weeks. Throw away if you notice any sort of “off” smell as you would bacon.
How is it made?
Salt and spices (garlic, juniper, sugar, rosemary, chile flakes, bay, etc.) are rubbed into the meat from a thin cut of pork belly. The cure sits on the meat until the flesh firms, about 7 days.
At this point the meat is washed of any flecks of herbs and spices from the cure and then thoroughly dried. Sometimes fresh pepper is then added before the pancetta is rolled and tied.
After that, the pancetta hangs in a cool spot with about 60% humidity for about 2 weeks. Then it is ready to slice and cook.
How to use it
Pancetta could be used any place where bacon is used. Sometimes I prefer it because it doesn’t have a strong, smoky flavor.
I love to buy the pancetta in ¼-inch slabs then dice that into cubes. Cook the pancetta on medium-low heat to slowly render out the fat and crisp up the meat. Once crisp, turn off the heat, remove the pancetta from the pan then whisk in a bit of Dijon. Add the warm dressing to chopped kale or spinach and finish with the crisped pancetta cubes, toasted pine nuts and currants.
The same can be done with shaved Brussels sprouts.
Thinly sliced pancetta clings beautifully to a pork loin before roasting.