DIY #4: "Guancetta"
Have you heard of Guanciale? It is basically bacon made out of a pig's face. Doesn't that sound delicious? Well, it is! It has a deeper flavor and is slightly chewier than traditional bacon (the jaw/cheek muscle gets a bit more of a workout than the belly). And you haven't really lived if you've never had Pasta Carbonara or Amatriciana with guanciale. It also makes great lardon salad.
If you are on the Seacoast, get your pig jowl from Kellie Brook Farm, in Greenland. Or you can try Carl's Meat Market, in Kittery. If you aren't around here, go to your farmer's market and look for local pig farmers!
If you are looking for an authentic guanciale recipe, try Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's Salumi Book. I really like using a pancetta recipe, but substituting a jowl for the belly. Juniper berries are the biggest difference in the flavor-- they add a "funky floral" note that I love.
Do not confuse this "pink salt" (also known as "curing salt", also known as "sodium nitrate") with Himalayan Pink Salt. They are totally different. You can leave it out, but I really love the "bacon-y" flavor it adds.
4-5 lb. pork jowl
2 teaspoons/ 12 grams pink salt
2 ounces/50 grams kosher salt
2 tablespoons/ 26 grams dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons black peppercorns, cracked
2 tablespoons/ 10 grams juniper berries, crushed
4 bay leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon/4 grams whole cloves, crushed
6 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed with the flat side of a knife
1/2 bunch of thyme
a couple branches of rosemary
Rinse and pat the jowl dry. Trim any stray tissue, glands and extra fat, and put in a non-reactive (preferably glass) dish.
Combine salts, brown sugar, pepper, bay leaves and cloves in a bowl.
Pour the dry cure ingredients over, rubbing thoroughly into the meat. Then scatter garlic and herbs evenly.
Cover tightly and refrigerate until the jowl feels stiff throughout, 4-6 days, turning every other day to redistribute the cure. Make sure you re-wrap tightly each time.
After curing, rinse well with cold water. Pat dry. At this point, it is perfectly delicious, and you can cook it however you would use bacon or pancetta. You can even braise it, like you would pork belly.
Or, if you want to be more concentrated taste (and are in a Laura Ingalls Wilder-kind of mood), poke a hole in a corner of the meat (though not too close to the edge), and slip a long piece of butcher’s string though it. Hang in a cool, dry place (like a wine fridge). 50-60 degrees is ideal. Keep hanging anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks. The longer you hang, the more intense the flavor and drier the texture.
After drying, guanciale can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 3 weeks or more, or frozen up to 4 months. (hint: frozen "guancetta" is easier to slice thinly).
And here is what Michael Ruhlman has to say about sodium nitrite/nitrate, in case you were wondering.