Most people have had, or even cooked, some sort of ‘Carbonara’ style pasts dish at one time or another (Spaghetti alla Carbonara, being especially favored), and generally, this will be made with the unsmoked Italian style bacon known as ‘Pancetta’, or, sometimes even, the regular, everyday smoked bacon commonly served with breakfast. The favoured traditional pork product, however… the ne plus ultra one might say, is Guanciale… which are salted and dry-cured hog jowls, or ‘pig-cheeks’ for the more genteel among you.
The preparation of guanciale is a bit more complex than for the belly pork equivalent represented by Pancetta. The fatty jowls are rubbed with salt, sugar and spices (pepper, thyme and fennel are common), and then hung and air-dried for three weeks or so. In the above picture, you can see a 200 gram piece I bought in Ottawa… You should be able to make out the mixed herb and spice mixture that was used, as well as the string that was looped through one corner in order to hang it.
The beauty of Guanciale, in contrast to the belly, is the dense, white, very creamy fat that lends a lovely sweet unctuousness to pasta carbonara, or, indeed, to any other dishes where it is employed. As the product is cured, it can also be eaten ‘raw’ as is and, before cooking myself a carbonara with some of my current chunk, I tried doing so… I was a little hesitant as the cut has a very high ratio of fat to meat, but it actually proved to be delectable. I cut it a little thicker than paper-thin and it was delightfully chewy and unctuously tender at the same time, with the sweet, slightly apple-like flavor of a good prosciutto.
Mostly, of course, Guanciale is used as the decadent focus in several different pasta dishes… Continue reading “Guanciale”