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diner

Making Guanciale at Home

67 posts in this topic

Has anyone tried to cure guanciale (cured pig's jowls) at home? There is a simple recipe in the Babbo cookbook, which also appears on the Babbo Web site:

http://www.babbonyc.com/in-guanciale.html

I was surprised that the recipe did not call for using any "curing salt." I would love to avoid using curing salt/nitrite, but from some preliminary research, it seems to be a standard curing ingredient in order to kill certain bacteria. I looked at a few recipes for pancetta, and they all use a curing salt, in addition to regular salt. I'm wondering if this is an omission in the recipe, or if it could safely be made without curing salt.

Another question: The recipe does not discuss washing the salt off the meat after the cure and before the drying period. This is a step I have seen in pancetta recipes. Another omission of a step that should be followed?

Any thoughts on either of these questions?

Thanks.

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Hi Diner,

Have fun! The nitrites in 'curing salt' just preserve pink color, they don't do any added bacteria-killing. Normal salt will take care of that (pardon the self promotion, but there's a nice article about salt and curing on this great website, www.emilykaiser.com).

Guanciale air dries with the salt on it, and that's how I air dry my pancettas, too. When it comes time to use it, I just brush off any excess.

A place I worked as a cook, we had a wall of guanciale and pancetta drying right next to the walk-in refrigerator, and we all had deposits of salt on our shoulders from brushing up against them all day.

Be sure to hang it to air dry with a bucket underneath it for the first couple of weeks - some juice will drip. (or set it on a rack over a pan - hanging it in the air is not required, either).

Hope this helps! Happy cheek drying!


Emily Kaiser

www.emilykaiser.com

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If I remember correctly from my sausage, pates and terrines class at the CIA, the nitrites/trates are there for color preservation, not for special bacteria-killing properties. The drying/salinity kills the bugs. The nitrites/trates are to keep the meat from going grayish.

Also, I can't imagine the recipe could make it past editors and lawyers in a book as high profile as Babbo without it being safe.

Others please set me straight if I'm wrong on either count..... :unsure:

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Thanks, Emily and bigwino. You should know that I am completely inexperienced on the subject. I read that color preservation was one of the main rationales for using nitrate, but I have seen many references also that it is a protection against spoilage. For example, from Paul Bertolli, who provides an extensive discussion of all sorts of salumi curing in his book, Cooking by Hand: "Today the use of nitrate and nitrite is still widely considered to be an essential element of the curing process for aesthetic reasons, for safety, and for its functional effectiveness."

Thank you both for clarifying the salt and washing issues. I didn't really think there was a mistake by the publishers, but I was surprised to see such different approaches re: nitrite and washing online and in print.

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I have made this on 2 occasions from the Babbo cookbook. I hung them in my wine cellar covered in salt with a drip pan underneath. They turn out great. My hardest problem here in the mid-south was finding uncured jowls as they are usually the first thing that gets put in the salt. See preceeding posts about the need for nitrites/trates as they are for color only

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Oh, one more question. Emily, where would you air dry it at home? If it doesn't need to hang, could you just put it on a rack in the refigerator? Hanging it out in a basement or garage sounds like it would attract insects/animals. I even thought of buying a cheap wine cooler to put it in.

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Hanging raw meat for weeks on end does seem like an incredibly dangerous business, doesn't it. And food safety is such a touchy topic now, I can fully understand your concerns and precautions. But it's a safer thing than the current climate might have us think. Just be sure to coat the thing heavily with lots of salt - make a bin filled with a whole box of kosher stuff and just toss it all around, if you want to be absolutely sure about it, because the salt will kill bacteria, and meat left open and unsalted will spoil.

Don't refrigerate it - you don't want it to be refrigerator-cold, and you don't want the moisture and condensation of a fridge. Fresh dry air is so important, legend has it that the best parma hams are hung on particular hillsides where the breezes blow in a particular direction, etc., etc., so some even make a fuss about having a window pried open to maximize drying, or just hang meats on their porches in winter. Certain eating establishments are known to dry theirs inside working kitchens where temps exceed 80 degrees, and everything goes fine. So you have some flexibility. A cellar, even with the occasional fly, should be fine. If you have small animals visiting, I'd suspend it (if it doesn't have one already, pull apart the flesh at a corner and thread some good twine through it, then hang it from a coat hanger or ceiling pipe, what have you). But small animals are much like us - they dont like to eat massive quanitites of salt, either, so they'll most likely stay away.

dlc, any chance of finding a local small butcher whom you can order pig jowls from ahead of time? That's the only way I've found mine here in DC, where butchers are scarce.


Emily Kaiser

www.emilykaiser.com

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The Arrows Restaurant Cookbook has an interesting tip for air curing. They hook oscillating fans up to one of those house lighting timers that people use when they want the house to look occupied when away. They program the fans to run a few hours a day to ensure good air movement in the curing room (which is their dining room in the offseason. ) I guess you don't want them running continuously, otherwise the meat dries too quickly on the outside, sealing in the moisture on the inside --- BAD.

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What a cool idea! You could go really nuts and set a little pot of herbs de provence growing behind those fans ... or in front of ... to perfume your spaghetti carbonara. :)


Emily Kaiser

www.emilykaiser.com

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dlc, did you add any additional herbs or spices, or follow the recipe verbatim? I've seen a number of references to juniper berries in making pancetta.

bigwino, great idea regarding the use of an oscillating fan.

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dlc, any chance of finding a local small butcher whom you can order pig jowls from ahead of time?  That's the only way I've found mine here in DC, where butchers are scarce.

Emily;

Great news on finding a butcher. I'm in Fairfax, and would love to be able to order specialty items like that. If you don't mind telling, how far away did you have to go to find a cooperative butcher? I've found one or two down in southern Maryland, but nothing closer. Thanks.

THW

Edited to correct spulling.


Edited by hwilson41 (log)

"My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne." John Maynard Keynes

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Have fun! The nitrites in 'curing salt' just preserve pink color, they don't do any added bacteria-killing. Normal salt will take care of that.

Not true at all. Nitrates are indeed a antimicrobial, and are not just added to prevent discoloration of the meats. They've been used for centuries to prevent growth of bacteria on meats, Clostridium botulinum in particular (botulinum comes from botulus, Latin for sausage). Whether you elect to use it or not, is, of course, your choice, but it should be an informed one. I choose whether or not to use it when I cure meats based mainly on a preference for the taste it imparts (sometimes I want it, sometimes I don't). Since nitrates are present in large amounts in leafy veggie matter, and we've been eating those for even longer than we've been adding nitrates or nitrites to meat products, I tend not to take into consideration any questionable claims about the ill-health resulting from nitrate or nitrite consumption, but just decide based on what I want the final product to taste like, or if I have concerns about microbial growth during the curing.

On the pig jowl front, you may have better luck finding them at an Asian grocery store that does it's own hog butchery. You'll pay a lot less too.

regards,

trillium

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OK, I've gone for it and now have some jowls curing in the fridge, a la Mario's recipe. A lot of liquid has been released, and the pan was crowded to begin with, so the bottom half is now submerged. Is it ok to leave it like this? Assuming I do leave them alone, this bottom half is going to be wet and saltless when I remove them. Do I dry them off and replace with fresh salt and sugar for the hanging? Also, is it really ok to just put them on a rack instead of hanging? Any reported success or failure? It would be a lot easier. Thanks - all tips and tricks appreciated!

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If it were me, I would get them out of the liquid, but not add anything else. And the rack will be fine instead of hanging, just make sure you flip them around so you don't have any wet spots.

regards,

trillium

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In St. Mario Batali's new book he has a recipe for making guanciale at home. It says that you can hang the cured hog jowls in the fridge for 3 weeks to dry it out. I have always thought it would be too humid in there to work properly. Does anyone here have experience with this?

BTW, Mario's new book is beautiful and highly recommended.

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Unless you've got one of those fancy double-compressor refrigerators, or a unit that doesn't have a freezer at all, the main compartment is pretty dry -- probably around 15 to 20% humidity, depending on what else you've got in there.


Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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so, if you got one of those little mini fridges, the kind that are like 3 ft high, and put nothing else in it except a bowl of that dessicant stuff (to make sure it's really dry) could you cure the stuff in there, if you turned it up nice and high so it wasn't too cold?

i've thought about doing this...

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I don't know. Those little units don't have great air circulation, nor do they have any sort of dehumidifying apparatus to minimize frost formation like grown-up fridges do. Maybe they've improved a lot since I last looked at them, but frost-free operation didn't seem to be a priority. I conclude that they're not nearly as dry as a conventional refrigerator.


Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Here is a link to another thread that has some good points on making Guanciale (I think Ruhlman is right and you should avoid making guanciale in your typical fridge).

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You CAN make guanciale and pancetta in a regular fridge. I did a head to head with 2 pieces of pancetta in my curing chamber, set at 50 deg. F and 70% RH, and the regular fridge, which runs about 36 degrees and 25-30% humidity. (Regualr frost free fridges run dry, usually too dry for cured meats, but ok for pancetta). They were pretty close in flavor, with the curing chamber one being a little more complex, but the fridge one was still really really really good.

So, you can definitely make guanciale in the fridge.

The little mini fridges are not frost free, meaning they run at whatever humidity is in there, if you have moist food, it'll be high, if you have dry stuff it'll be dry... SOme of those little fridges and regular fridges, you can remove the plate from the thermostat knob and there is a screw that blocks the knob from turning past a safe set point for a fridge (40 deg.), if you remove that screw, you can have it run warmer. Otherwise you can get an external temp controller box.

Either way, back to the topic, you can make guanciale perfectly fine in a regular fridge. Instead of hanging it like he probably suggests, you can just put it on a cake rack on a plate. So that air can circulate around it, without it needing to take up hanging space. IT just takes up space on a shelf, flat.

What herbs and spices does Batali use in this book? I have another one of his books, and it is only thyme, pepper and salt if i remember correctly...

jason

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Hey guys

Been away for a while but am happy to report that I just got half of a farm raised pig. I managed to get both jowls and was looking for a good way to cure them for guanciale. Any suggestions?

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