“It’s all work,” the preacher replied. “They’s too much of it to split it up to men’s or women’s work. You got stuff to do. Leave me salt the meat.” From The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Joads are ready to head out; their last chore is to butcher and salt down two young pigs for the trip. When Casy offers to take over the job so Ma Joad can pack her room, she protests that it’s “women’s work.” But Casy is adamant.
Home Cured Pancetta
About 5 lbs of pork belly (do yourself a favor and make sure that the skin and ribs are removed by the butcher and that it’s trimmed up to a nice rectangular shape)
12 grams pink salt (Prague powder #2)
50 grams kosher salt
26 grams brown sugar
10 grams juniper berries
4 bay leaves crumbled
4 grams nutmeg
4 grams thyme
40 grams coarsely ground black pepper (plus extra for the drying phase)
4 cloves garlic, pressed
Grind all of the spices except the pepper in a spice grinder/coffee grinder (I actually bought a new one just for this purpose). Then mix the coarse pepper and garlic into the rest of the spices. Rub the meat all over with the spices being sure to get it good and coated. Place in a zip lock bag in the fridge for 7 days. Every other day, you should flip the bag over and “massage” the meat.
After the 7 days have passed, you should rinse the meat thoroughly and pat it dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the meat side with more ground pepper. Roll the meat as tightly as you can so that there are no air pockets (air pockets can lead to bad mold). Tie it off to keep it tight and then place it inside a linen bag. Hang to dry for 2 weeks. The best conditions are 70% humidity with minimal light. I made a home for mine in a seldom used cupboard and placed a bowl of salted water on the shelf for humidity.
Here’s why I don’t think my project is going to work. Good kitchen knives are super expensive. I don’t own any. I have a decent set that my friends Bethany and Carey gave me about 7 years ago. They get me through the average kitchen task. Butchering meat is way beyond my average task. When I bought the pork belly, it was from a great, albeit expensive, shop in Carrol Gardens called Paisanos. When it rang up at $27, I assumed I was being victimized by the neighborhood and the “artisanal” craze. In fact, when I got home, I discovered that not only did I have the belly, I had the ribs and the skin as well. I had to cut it off. Pun intended, I butchered it. I lost most of the fat that makes pancetta delicious, and I also ended up with long rents in the middle of the belly as well as piece that got pulled completely away from the main portion. I attempted to overlap it and splice it together as much as possible, but it looks nothing like it should. I am anticipating lots of air pockets, and dreading lots of bad mold.
On the plus side, I was also able to make some delicious honey soy sauce spare ribs and roast my own chicharron (blogs to follow).
Although this took an initial layout of money in the form of the food scale and the grinder, I think, if it works, it will mean that I have close to 4 pounds of pancetta for a reasonable price when you consider the ribs and the chicharon.
Check back in about 2 weeks to see how the experiment fares.