October 25, 2012

Home cured pancetta

Since Becky took our family's diet away from Vegan and straight to Paleo, I became interested in possibly trying out some home meat curing. I read Charcuterie, by Ruhlman and Polcyn, and hit some of the great web resources for meat curing like Jason Molinari's Cured Meats blog. My first effort was turning a big piece of pork belly into pancetta. It turned out nicely!
After some consideration, I decided to build up a dedicated curing chamber. I figured if meat curing didn't work out I could use it as a cheese aging chamber. Being shorter on time than ambition, I bought a little thermoelectric wine fridge like this off ebay. The manual said it could get down to a decently low temperature, and I figured I would need to engineer something to control humidity. I also got a remote temp/humidity meter to be able to check on the chamber conditions from my kitchen (the chamber is in the basement).

As it turns out, the chamber can only get down to 13C (55F), but that is probably ok for most curing. I wasn't sure what to expect for humidity, but it seems to hover around 50% with a tray of water in there. When I first put in the pancetta, it went up to 60%, but then dropped gradually back to 50% as it dried out. While the pancetta turned out pretty well, I think this humidity is too low to cure thicker projects that need slower drying. So I'll need to figure out a controlled humidity addition system. I'm thinking I'll put a humidity control inside to switch on a tiny humidifier which will blow through a hole in the side of the fridge. In the meantime I've got another pancetta or two I can do.

The piece of belly came from Stillman'sat the Turkey Farm, where we have been getting nearly all our meat lately. Most of it comes through our meat CSA share, but I bought this piece of belly as an extra when I picked up the share a month or two ago. We had previously gotten a few smaller chunks of belly and I have not been too keen on the several ways we have tried to cook it fresh, so figuring out a way to make belly more delicious would be a worthwhile endeavor.

This piece was something like 1150g after defrosting and coming out of its packaging. For process and ingredients, I pretty much followed the directions for pancetta on the Cured Meats blog. I think it came out a tad salty if you are eating it straight, so I might cut back the salt a little next time. If you are using it for seasoning or topping another food item it is a suitable level of salt. For instance, the other day I had my usual homemade bread and home grown sprout sandwich for breakfast at work, but with the tasty addition of two slices of pan fried pancetta. Yum!

First, we mixed up a seasoning cure to dredge the belly in. Then we put it in a ziplock, and a tupperware for good measure. 

The cure is very fragrant, so it may scent up the fridge if not further contained, plus I was worried about the liquid integrity of a ziplock over the period of a week in the fridge. The meat then went into the fridge for about 8 days to cure.

When it came out, it was darker and stiffer than when it went in.

 We rinsed it

Violet helped mix up a new spice mixture.

Then we hung it to dry in the chamber.

I forgot to record the weight when it went in the chamber, so I couldn't check the weight loss later. I'll have to be more meticulous next time; perhaps a meat logbook is in order?

After three weeks, we took it out and fried up some slices.

Delicious! Not smoky like bacon, still quite strongly flavored of pork and the various spices. I tried a piece uncooked, and it had a pleasant taste, but was a bit stringy and chewy. I think it is improved by cooking.

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