Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Pancetta | Charcutepalooza, challenge no. 2
When this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge: the salt cure, was announced one month ago, I was ecstatic - this was our chance to redeem ourselves. Keeping in mind our earlier mistakes, we were much more careful in weighing out the cure ingredients. Back on my home turf of new york city, procuring a larger (and better quality) piece of pork belly was not a problem. After 7 days of curing in the fridge, parts of the belly were still quite squishy so we left it for another couple days. After nine days the pancetta was still slightly squishy, but haunted with memories of our first over-salted failure, we declared it sufficiently cured, and moved on to the next stage: rolling the belly, and tying it tightly to avoid air pockets where bacteria might grow. I had practiced the tying process on a paper towel roll, and with helpful twitter advice from @BobdelGrosso and @KatedeCamont (of A Hunger Artist and Camont a culinary retreat in Gascony, respectively) became fairly competent. I discovered however that working with actual meat is a whole new ball game - a difficult project even for two people. The meat was slippery, greasy, and certainly did not want to stay rolled up. Plus as the twine got wet, it become fragile, often tearing when we pulled too hard in our attempt to tighten the roll. After a lot of cursing, re-rolling, and wasting of twine, we finally had a pancetta roll we were reasonably happy with.
For the next step, air drying, I was determined to find a better solution than I had for the duck prosciutto, which I hung in the fridge. The problems of before (apartment (small very dry one bedroom) and boyfriend (low tolerance for cold temperatures)) were equally applicable now. The compromise solution I came up with, was to turn the bedroom into a meat curing chamber by day (while ken was at work). Each morning, we would put a steaming tray of salt water into a small bookshelf near the window, which we had loosely covered with a shower curtain (to preserve the humidity). As ken was about to leave for the day, we’d open the windows until the temperature dropped low enough to hang the pancetta in the bookshelf, where it remained for the rest of the day. Each night we’d return the pancetta to the fridge, where it spent the night on a rack over a tray of salted water (again to avoid overdrying). Although our meat drying solution was laborious and far from elegant, it was entirely worth it! There were days (20 degree days, when I needed a winter coat just to grab something out of the bedroom) when I had my doubts. But after tasting the final product (compared to a sliver we had cut and fried up immediately after taking the belly out of the cure) it was clear that it was worth the effort. After our taste test, even ken wanted to extend the drying process as long as possible. The difference in flavor was drastic. The meat was denser, porkier, and had some of that funk you get from a good cheese or a dry aged steak.
The River Cottage Meat Book. We followed the recipe pretty closely with a few small changes in the flavor profile. Although pancetta only played a small role in the recipe, I wanted to mention it here for a couple reasons. First, because it was our very first use of our newly cured pancetta. Second, because it felt like a nice precursor to potential charcutepalooza adventures in the future (a meat pie is really just a rustic - and round - pate en croute, after all). And lastly, because I’m particularly proud of the charcutepalooza inspired decorations!
The second dish I wanted to share, arose out of an entirely unexpected and generous gift. Last Wednesday at the greenmarket, I was buying a few clams when the guy working at the fish stand asked me: can you make chowder?
Thinking I misheard him, I answered: no, I’m planning on doing a pasta.
He shook his head: no, you’re not understanding what I’m asking you. Do you know how, and do you have time to make chowder?
I nodded, although to be honest, I’d never done it before but had been wanting to recreate a favorite of ours which we used to eat regularly back in Boston.
He reached under his stand and pulled up a bag full of some of the biggest clams I’d ever seen, and handed it to me: These are for chowder, it has to be made today.
So, what could I do? I lugged the bag home (close to five pounds!), canceled my dinner plans and started looking up chowder recipes.
Once the broth is prepared the rest of process can be done fairly quickly. A couple slices of our pancetta were cut into lardon, sauteed until crispy, and then set aside.