As a carnivore diet lover, I've pretty much tried all kinds of meats. I've been buying and cooking cured meats for years, and pancetta is one of my favorites.
I love it for its unique and distinctively rich and bold flavor.
Read on to learn everything about pancetta, including what it tastes like, how to cook it, and what to use as a substitute when you don't have any.
- Pancetta is an Italian-style cured pork product.
- Pancetta has a rich porky taste.
- Pancetta can be substituted by prosciutto, bacon or guanciale.
What Is Pancetta?
Pancetta is a salt-cured fancy bacon made from pork belly. The meat is treated with curing salt, assorted seasonings, and other ingredients.
It's a super versatile ingredient that adds depth and flavor to soups and kinds of pasta or even served on sandwiches. It also has a light pink color and a rich, silky texture that isn't too greasy or heavy.
This Italian bacon can be eaten raw or cooked and is sold both sliced and cubed. Thinly sliced pancetta is best for an antipasto plate, charcuterie boards, pizza, or sandwiches, while cubed pancetta is an excellent ingredient in cooking.
How Is Pancetta Made?
Pancetta is made by allowing it to age instead of cooking it directly on heat like other cured meats. Curing the meat inhibits the growth of bacteria that may deem it unfit for consumption .
Making pancetta is a simple yet demanding process:
- First, producers source the pork belly and prepare it with either liquid brine and spice mixture or curing salt with similar ingredients.
- Typically, pepper, chili flakes, rosemary, and nutmeg are the most common spices and seasonings used. This mix of ingredients preserves the cured pork and fills it with its flavors. The flavors develop as the meat is left to age and cure for 2-3 weeks.
- It's later hung to dry for around 60 days. Once it's ready, the pancetta is rolled and cut, creating that signature shape of pancetta slices.
Every batch of cured meat can taste differently depending on aspects such as the region it comes from and the spices used to prepare it.
But all batches have the meaty, porky taste it's become known for.
What Does Pancetta Taste Like?
Pancetta tastes like bacon but with a solid porky flavor.
The meat receives a bold, meat-forward, and savory taste with a bit of spiciness from the black pepper and chili flakes.
The rest of the flavor is determined by the other spices: earthy flavor from rosemary and nutmeg. None of these spices overpower the savory porkiness but accentuate it a bit.
The Best Way to Cook Pancetta
You can now follow up these easy steps to cook pancetta:
- Place thin slices of pancetta in a pan that has been left at room temperature and heat the pan.
- Ensure the pan is not hot when adding the pancetta because the idea is to cook the pancetta to render out the fat gradually.
- Set your burner to medium-low and allow the fat to render out slowly. Increase the heat to medium-high to make them crispy.
- Do this in batches to give your pancetta time to brown, as too much-rendered fat would result in soggy pancetta.
- Put the cooked pancetta on a platter lined with sliced paper towels. Add it to your pasta sauces, sauteed vegetables, salads, stews, soups, or pizzas.
Here are some of the best pancetta substitute options:
Prosciutto is a great substitute for pancetta since it will match pancetta's saltiness and unsmoked flavor.
It can also be eaten cooked or raw. However, it is much drier than pancetta; hence you won't get much fat after rendering it. It adds much flavor when added at the end.
Bacon also has the same saltiness consistency but a higher fat content. You'll also need to adjust your recipe due to the smokiness flavor of bacon.
I noticed the smokiness was off-putting when I used thin slices of bacon in pasta with greens. I recommend blanching it in boiling water for 2 minutes.
This reduces the smoky flavor and will make it taste more like pancetta. It's also advisable to add oil after blanching.
"Since blanched bacon isn't as fatty as pancetta, you'll need to add extra oil to the recipe."
- Spike Mendelson, Chef
Also Read: How to Cook Bacon on a Grill?
3. Cured Pork Jowl
A final option is a guanciale: cured pork jowl. Guanciale is made the same way as pancetta, but it has more fat than pancetta, giving it a richer buttery feel.
Can I Eat Pancetta Raw?
Yes, you can eat pancetta raw. The curing process prevents bacteria growth and makes it safe to eat. The final product is an aesthetically satisfying spiral of meat that is safe and more delicious than other cooked varieties from the same cut.
How Long Does Cured Pancetta Last?
Cured pancetta can last for several months if kept in its original packaging. However, after opening either diced or sliced pancetta, it's recommended to store it in an air-tight container to prevent air from getting in. The cured meat can last up to 2 weeks when stored correctly in a refrigerator.
Is Smoked Pancetta Gluten-Free?
Yes, smoked pancetta is gluten-free because it contains only the proteins from the animals and the spices.
How Many Calories Are in 1 Oz of Pancetta?
There are around 140 calories in 1 oz of pancetta. One ounce will also contain 15g of fat, 20mg of cholesterol, and 9.1 mg of sodium .
What Is the Difference Between American Bacon and Pancetta?
The difference between American bacon and pancetta is that bacon is smoked while pancetta is dried and salt-cured.
Should You Try Pancetta?
Pancetta is one of the most versatile and flavorful meat cuts there is. Its somewhat salty, slightly fatty, and deeply porky twist can transform a simple dish into a daintier one.
You can add sliced or diced pancetta to many dishes, from sandwiches and pasta to pizzas and spaghetti.
If you decide that pancetta is the best way to make a hearty, warm meal home, check out ButcherBox and order healthy, premium-quality pancetta.
I highly recommend ButcherBox because it ticks all the boxes, from ethically sourced meat, premium quality, and affordability to reliability.