Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bacon, Guanciale

Quite a nice Valentine's Day!

Where to begin? I guess it could start with a tweet on Twitter (#charcutepalooza). I tweeted that the bacon I had just made was the best I'd ever had. Mrs. Wheelbarrow congratulated me on converting. And I said that I had been converted last year, but now I was proselytizing. Indeed, I am here to sing the praises of curing your own bacon, and guanciale. They are totally worth all the sitting around I did, living my own life, while they did their own magical thing with salt and time, transforming into amazing cured products that turn everything they touch into tasty, tasty gold. That little number above? That was our appetizer on Monday night. Nice, right?

What made my bacon the best I'd ever had was the high-quality pork belly I had purchased at Fleisher's Meats. It's all about the ingredients. Everything will taste better and be better for you when it's all about the ingredients. Look at this pork belly.

Suggestively fleshy.

And the after shot. I usually use this Saveur recipe, but this time omitted the seasoning in favor of just a bit of cracked pepper. I'm so glad I did. It was so simple and the flavor of the meat itself just shined.

Isn't that how bacon should look?

Other than just having slices fried up for dinner or breakfast or whenever I could get a free minute, I enjoyed this special snack I made for Valentine's day:

 I cooked some oysters right on the stovetop cast-iron grill alongside a few slices of bacon. You know they are done when they open their shells. (They go a lot quicker on an outdoor grill, but mine's asleep until spring.) Then, you can grab them with a oven-mitted hand and rip off the flat shell. Put them on a plate, top them with some bacon and a touch of chopped preserved lemons, chopped chives and cheers! Drink some champagne.
Oysters and bacon.

Part Two: Guanciale

Hog jowl.
What is it about these winter-lit shots of raw meat that are so seamy? Is it the butcher paper? The crinkly plastic wrap? I don't know but these are like pin-ups. So. Ahem.

I loved the Babbo recipe, and of course referred to Wrightfood, too. (Confession: I haven't bought my copy of Charcuterie yet. So far, I'm the only person sitting at the Barnes & Noble Thomas the Train play table watching my toddler play trains while reading a book on meat curing. That may change soon, though. Either I will get the book, or more people will be reading up on guanciale while playing trains. My favorite train? Salty!)

Threading meat was a novelty.
You know, I had no idea how much I'd love guanciale. And I had no idea how different it was from bacon. I sort of thought: yeah, well, it's just more bacon, right? And that would be: wrong. After it's initial salt soak in the fridge, I hung it in the basement with a little cloth covering it. (I got an okay from guru Bob del Grosso on this; my basement is very dusty.) After two and a half weeks it felt and looked right, but it didn't lose the 30% weight. So, being that today was post day I decided to chance it and pull it.

Look at that pristine white fat! I sauteed some up to make this bastardized version of an amatriciana sauce. A few slices fried up turns glassy first, and they a little browned on the edges. A taste reveals such sweetness (again, that Fleisher's meat) and nuttiness! This is what we ate tonight for dinner. Not bad for a stay at home mom whose two and a half year old is on a nap strike.

Chopped guanciale sauteed until golden. Add one medium onion, diced, saute until soft. Add one jar of sauce (homemade, canned, from my garden) slowly, until all is incorporated. Add a few chopped celery leaves (no parsley in the house, celery leaves from summer, frozen). Toss in pasta of your choice (organic wheat rigatoni), serve with pecorino shavings. Now, wolf it down and chase your toddler who is choking the cat and try to get him to sleep!


  1. Seamy (seedy?) pinups indeed! Love your photos and love how you enjoyed the finished product! Bacon should, indeed, look like yours!

  2. Julia, your posts always make me smile. I've never made guanciale and now I think I really must.

  3. Looks fantastic Julia! Glad to know it worked out without the pink salt. I didn't rinse mine well enough to start I'm guessing.
    Sorry about the nap strike. I feel your pain.

  4. Guanciale is the SHIT. I endeavor to never run out. But you know that already. Try it nicely crisped on an English muffin with a fried egg and some sort of sauce.

  5. Mardi - Thank you! I was just looking at your photos (of the "eggs" and bacon). Beautiful!

    Cathy - That is so nice of you to say! Glad to know it's my enthusiasm that coming through, and not the cranky exhaustion! Get thee to a hog jowl! I can only imagine what amazing thing you will make with guanciale.

    Denise - All in a fortnight's work.

    Meg - I think the strike is over. Not sure how I did it, but who cares? I left you a note on your bacon. Loved what you did with it. Who doesn't love onions and bacon cooking on the stove??

    Peter - I owe it to you, Sensei. My chickens just started laying again, and I will do as you say immediately! BTW: Holy crap, your tarts rule.

  6. Mmmm, bacon. I just ordered from Flying Pigs and was seriously tempted to order pork belly.... but I ordered leaf lard instead. One new cooking project at a time (as if).

    I think I'm a little afraid to try homemade bacon. I don't know that I have the capacity to love bacon even more.

  7. Kaela - As if is right! You are unstoppable. And you know what? You can always love bacon more. And it will love you more right back.

  8. Thanks for posting the Saveur link--it looks like it doesn't have to be "hung out to dry" as it were; but can live in the back of my fridge (keeping my sourdough company, perhaps?). This scares me less than finding "a cool dry place." I bet I can get some great pork belly from my meat CSA. I think there is a bacon recipe in well-preserved too that I should look at.

    Random question, but do you have to worry about things hanging out to dry in the cellar attracting critters and other unwanted "friends"?

  9. Sara, bacon is so darn easy, especially that recipe, that you can't not do it! That question is a good one. We used to have mice, until we got a cat. Now I just have to worry about the cat. So far, she hasn't caught on.