Pancetta is cured pork belly – the name comes from the Italian for pork belly ‘pancia‘.
Pancetta comes in three forms: a slab which you cut yourself; a tight cylinder or roll and lardons or little cubes. It is a versatile ingredient to cook with: it’s salty, fatty and becomes crispy when you fry or grill it and a small amount packs a punch. You will find a plain pancetta which is cured simply with salt and more elaborate versions made with spices such as cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and juniper. Each curer has their own blend of spice.
Pancetta has about 40-50 g of fat per 100 grammes so use it sparingly. When you fry it, remove the panceta from the pan and mop it with kitchen paper to soak up the fat.
Pancetta is very rich with a strong flavour so you can use less than you would if you were using ham or bacon in a recipe.
When pancetta is cut into thin slices, it frazzles and curls up when you fry it and becomes crisp and crumbly. The cooked pancetta is now perfect to add to omelettes, to serve with slices of turkey or chicken in a sandwich or to use in Spaghetti Carbonara or any other pasta dish that calls for pancetta.
Add cooked pancetta to Macaroni Cheese instead of ham or bacon. A classic Italian dish pairs crisp fried pancetta with spring peas (cook fresh or defrosted cooked peas, cook the pancetta in a frying pan separately, add the pancetta and its oil to the peas and toss).
How to store and keep pancetta
When you buy pancetta that is sliced, eat it within 2 days. Keep it in the fridge in the paper it came in (preferably waxed or greaseproof paper). Once it is cut, it will dry out easily. When you buy a whole piece of pancetta you can keep it for up to a week. Check it before you eat it: it should smell fresh and sweet. Cut away the end of the meat that has been exposed.
Always buy cured meats from a trusted source where you are sure that the cold chain has been maintained. In supermarkets, choose from the back of the chilled cabinet and pick a package with the longest date.
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