If you’re interested in making homemade pancetta, but don’t know much about curing meats (like me!), you’ll love this simple homemade pancetta recipe! With herbs and spices, you can mimic the flavor of traditional pancetta for use in all of your favorite recipes (Like Bucatini all'Amatriciana, Bolognese Sauce, and Carbonara.)
A few years ago, Keith and I spent several weeks in Italy. I missed a lot of non-Italian foods while we were there because they’re nearly impossible to find: burgers, Thai food, Mexican food.
In Italy, you’ll find delicious cured meats like prosciutto, guanciale, and pancetta, but not bacon. At least that’s all we could find, with the exception of our stay at the Oasi hotel near the Cinque Terre where breakfast was included. Among other menu offerings was an ‘American Breakfast’: toast, fried eggs and crispy bacon. We were there for a week and ordered it every. single. day.
When I got back home, it was pancetta that I missed.
It’s not that I couldn’t find pancetta, but it was always in a shrink wrapped package, sliced paper thin. To make some of my favorite Italian dishes, like Bucatini all’Amatriciana for example, I needed thick slices to dice.
What is Pancetta?
Not long ago, I bought a pound of pork belly and got to thinking about making my own pancetta. Pancetta is the Italian cousin of bacon, made by curing pork belly with salt and aromatics, but not smoked.
I considered the traditional dry cure route (Michael Ruhlman's cookbook is a wealth of information on making cured meats). But it's something I haven't dabbled in before and wasn’t interested in the whole charcuterie curing process, which typically includes cure ingredients like sodium nitrite, also called curing salt or pink salt, and dealing with an entire pork belly (10 pounds or more).
So I thought, "Why not just coat fresh pork belly with the traditional herbs and aromatics used to make pancetta and let the flavors penetrate over a couple of days in the refrigerator?"
It worked beautifully!
The herb mixture includes mostly common herbs and spices like bay leaves and black pepper, and is a cinch to make. But you’ll need a spice grinder (aka coffee bean grinder) or mortar and pestle.
You’ll coat the pork belly generously, then cover and let it dry brine in the refrigerator for 24 to 72 hours. From there, use it in any recipe you like that calls for pancetta or bacon (or portion and freeze it for up to 3 months!).
Bacon and pancetta are both cured pork belly. Bacon is brined and smoked while pancetta is flavored with herbs and aromatics, but not smoked.
Yes, absolutely! Just be sure to note the thickness when determining how long to pan fry it, just as you would bacon.
Pancetta that has been traditionally cured is often thinly sliced and can be eaten straight from the package. Because this homemade pancetta is not traditionally cured, it should be thoroughly cooked before eating.
How to Make Pancetta
Step 1: Finely grind peppercorns, dried juniper berries, bay leaf, and fresh thyme and rosemary leaves in a spice grinder.
Step 2: Combine ground spice mixture with brown sugar, nutmeg, and garlic in a small bowl.
Step 3: Place pork belly flat in a baking dish. Coat all sides thoroughly with spice mixture. Cover and refrigerate 24 to 72 hours. Use or freeze for up to 3 months.
Easy Homemade Pancetta
- 1 ½ teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon whole dried juniper berries
- 1 dry bay leaf broken into pieces
- ½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves about 2 sprigs
- ½ teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves about ½ small sprig
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt or 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons packed dark brown sugar
- pinch ground nutmeg
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 pound skinless pork belly
- In a spice grinder, combine first 5 ingredients (peppercorns through rosemary leaves), pulse until finely ground. (This can also be done with a mortar and pestle.) Transfer mixture to bowl and stir in kosher salt, brown sugar, nutmeg and garlic.
- Place pork belly in a dish large enough so it will lie flat; coat generously on all sides with spice mixture. Cover and refrigerate 24 to 72 hours. Use or freeze for up to 3 months.