Friday, March 11, 2011

Making Guanciale

I'm not Italian, I don't consider myself a gourmet cook, and until a few weeks ago I wouldn't have been able to pronounce "guanciale" much less known what the word meant.  So why am I suddenly making 17+ lbs. of the stuff?

We butchered a pig recently, and I'm suddenly faced with the task of learning how to turn all the different piggy parts into different kinds of food.  I've been rendering lard, curing bacon, cooking pork chops and eating sausage.  But why guanciale?

Guanciale is the Italian name for pig's jowls that have been cured and dried.  Supposedly, it's a bit similar to bacon or pancetta.  I wouldn't know.  I've never tasted the stuff.

But wait... jowls, you say?  Who does jowls better than a Guinea hog?  And who had bigger jowls than the obese hog we just butchered?  I mean really---look at the size of those things!

I had read that the jowls can be cured just like bacon, but frankly, when I realized that this hog produced 54 lbs. of ACTUAL bacon meat, I figured why make more?  If the jowls are considered to be a delicacy when prepared this other way, then why not take advantage of the fact that I now had 17.5 lbs. of jowl meat?

So, as usual, it was off to the internet to do research!  Here are some of the sites I looked at:

Guanciale:  Italian-Style Jowl Bacon
Home Cure Guanciale Is Finished
The Art of the Cure
Bucatini all' Amatriciana, Making Guanciale, and Charcutepalooza!
Making Guanciale
Homemade Guanciale

Most of the recipes I found online called for 2 lbs. of jowl meat.  I had more than 17 lbs., so obviously I had to recalculate the ingredients.

Most of the recipes I found suggested that you trim the jowls into neat rectangles and make a point to cut out the salivary glands.  Because I was doing this on the day we got the whole pig back from the butcher, I was also curing 54 lbs. of bacon, rendering 22 lbs. of leaf lard, and finding room in the freezer for the other 200 lbs. of meat and backfat.  So trimming the jowls really didn't seem like a priority.

I washed the jowls thoroughly and cut them into chunks that would fit into the containers I had.

Then I rubbed them all over with the cure, closed the containers, and put them in the refrigerator.

Here's the recipe I used:

17.5 lbs. fresh Guinea hog jowl meat.
4.5 cups coarse kosher salt
4.5 cups sugar
1/4 cup whole black peppercorns
20 bay leaves, crushed.
1 heaping TB thyme (ground)

They stayed in the refrigerator for 9 days.  On day 3, I turned them over and rubbed a little more salt on them, but other than that I left them alone.

On day 9, I took the chunks of cured meat out of their containers, rinsed them thoroughly, and dried them with paper towels.

I cut a length of butcher's twine (which I happened to already have on hand because it's what I used to make a new drive band for my spinning wheel a few weeks ago).  Then I poked a hole through the thick part of the meat with a skewer, and used the skewer to push the string through the hole.

After curing, the meat is supposed to hang in a cool, dark place for a month.  Our old house is drafty and hard to heat, so in the winter we close off a few of the rooms and don't bother heating them.  We decided that hanging the meat in our unheated dining room sounded like a more appetizing idea than hanging them down in our tiny, dank, dirt-floored basement.

We happened to have a portable rack for hanging clothes on, so I hung the chunks of meat from that.  I put a lid from a large plastic storage bin underneath to catch any drippings.  And I closed the drapes to keep the room as dark as possible.

Now the task is to wait for a month and see what happens!


Jennifer B said...

I think that would be terrifying to encounter on a romp through your house, but I think it is going to taste divine!

I just love your sense of culinary adventure.

Nancy Chase said...

LOL! It is pretty scary looking, isn't it? I know I'm going to be a bit nervous eating a piece of meat that's just been hanging around at room temperature for a month. This salt curing is some kind of awesome culinary magic! (Unless I die of food poisoning) :-)

V.R. Leavitt said...

That's very cool!! And no, please don't die of food poisoning! :-)

Anonymous said...

Look at all the fat on the meat. I didn't know jowls would have so much fat. Now that I think about it, we humans get fat cheeks and necks when we are a bit too heavy too. ...Hummmm

Skye Ranger said...

Hi Nancy... curious about your view on using a colorful Sea Salt, i.e. extra minerals, versus Kosher Salt (which apparently is 100% sodium chloride; and Mark Kurlansky in his book "Salt" does not speak well of it) and Cane Sugar instead of Beet Sugar or Corn Sugar... fresh Bay Leaves have an incredible aroma compared to the store bought too... just curious as to how far folks go with some of their home cooking.

a local guy here was selling his jams at $4 for a small jar and I asked him if he used cane sugar; I am not sure he knew. at the price of farmer's market preserves, one would hope they use cane sugar.


Nancy Chase said...

Obviously I'm not an expert on the subject by any means. But according to my reading, the reason for the coarse kosher salt (as opposed to sea salt or some other type) is nothing to do with its mineral content and everything to do with it being the right texture (grain size) to coat the meat properly and soak in at the correct rate. Or something like that.

As for sugar, that's more for flavor than for preservative, so I think you can use most any kind. While doing my research, I saw bacon recipes that called for sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup... just about anything.

Mosaica said...

Wow, Nancy, I'm so impressed! Not just at those four giant jowls hanging from the clothing rack, but by the fact that you did all this in *addition* to processing all that pig! You've got FORTITUDE! I hope your guanciale turns out great; I just love the stuff.

Nancy Chase said...

Thank you! So far, the guanciale still smells yummy, after hanging for a few days. I'm eager to see what it tastes like once it's done!