Just to confuse you, what’s the difference between:
Pork Belly * Bacon * Ham
Pancetta * Prosciutto * Porchetta * Guanciale
Here’s your quick-guide Pig Primer:
Prosciutto v. Bacon: Prosciutto is a haunch that is air-cured. Bacon is pork belly that is cured and usually smoked. Prosciutto is usually eaten ‘crudo’ or raw, but it’s not raw in the usual way, it just means it hasn’t been subjected to heat; the ‘cooking’ is in the curing. Eating raw bacon? I don’t think so.
Ham v. Porchetta: Ham is a cooked haunch. Usually made on Easter Sunday, followed by bean soup later in the week. Porchetta is a full, roasted pig that has been stuffed with fennel and garlic, and is eaten at Italian festivals and gatherings. Both ham and porchetta have cult followings. As well they should.
Pancetta v. Guanciale v. Bacon: Here is where things get interesting. Pancetta can either be cured or raw, it literally only means pork belly.
Cured pancetta is the closest thing to bacon, except it isn’t smoked and can be eaten raw, although it is usually cooked and used to flavor dishes. In Italy it’s usually found in slabs, like bacon. In the States, it’s round. I have no idea why. Confuses me every time.
Guanciale is cured pig jowl and is the upscale pancetta. It’s tender, properly fatty and just delicious. It is a precious commodity in the States (i.e. crazy expensive) and it’s dirt cheap in Italy. Well, not dirt cheap, but about 6 euros for a whole jowl is pretty inexpensive when you consider how little of it you need to add flavor to a sauce.
Pork belly is currentl in vogue, usually braised, soft, melting and super rich. In Italy, you can buy strips of pancetta/pork belly and it looks like thick slabs of raw bacon. Instead of a long, slow cook to melt the fat, here it’s seared over high heat, preferably over a wood fire. It’s the first thing that gets snapped up off a plate of mixed grill.
If we serve it at home, we do it contadina style, or farmer style. Sear it in a hot pan, remove the pancetta when it’s cooked, toss in 5 or 6 fresh sage leaves cut into slivers, some boiled potatoes, and then add a good sized glug of strong red wine vinegar. And stand back, because it steams, hisses and splatters! When things calm down in the pan, deglaze and pour over the pancetta. Serve immediately.
And that’s your pig primer for today. There may be a pop quiz later this week, so be ready! Buon’apetito!