What is Guanciale and how do I cook with it?

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A cured meat from Italy, guanciale is often referred to as pig’s cheek though it actually comes from the place between the throat and the cheek. Buy it in a thick piece and cut off what you need. Use it in pasta dishes or to fry and add to omelettes, salads and fish dishes.

Guanciale comes from the cheek or jowl of the pig, or more precisely from between the cheek and the throat. It is cured for between three weeks and a month, then hung for another month before it is used, mostly appearing in pasta dishes. It is usually bought in slices and looks like a fatty pancetta and you will taste the cure which is made of sugar, salt, pepper and spices or herbs (some curers just use thyme). Sometimes it is hot when chilli is added while other producers make it sweeter when the cure contains more sugar. It is used to wrap fish where the fat adds flavour and lubrication, cut into lardons and added to beans or used instead of pancetta in Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

Pasta all’Amatriciana using Guanciale

Ingredients

4 inch piece of guanciale, cut into small strips
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 onion, chopped finely
1 small carrot, chopped finely
1 celery stick, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 red chilli, deseeded and sliced finely (or a pinch of dried chilli)
1 tin of cherry tomatoes, good quality with juice
1/2 glass of Italian red wine (optional)
Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, grated

Instructions

1. Cook the guanciale in a pan without oil until the fat melts. Add the garlic clove, onion, carrot and celery and cook over gentle heat until the garlic is about to brown. Remove and discard it. Continue cooking the carrot and celery mixture until reduced and lightly browned. Add the chilli and fry for a minute.

2. Add the tomatoes and juice and red wine if using. Cook over medium heat for about 20-25 minutes until reduced. Serve with bucatini, penne or spaghetti and sprinkle over the grated cheese.

What’s the different between guanciale and pancetta?
Guanciale has a more robust flavour than pancetta and the texture is more delicate – it melts easily and can be added to bean and pasta dishes to give them more depth of flavour.

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