On my list of Top 50 culinary mountains to climb, curing meat ranks high up there — along with constructing my own wood-burning oven, building a smokehouse, and keeping chickens. Unlike those other three, however, it’s actually not only feasible but really easy to cure meat at home in a New York apartment. So I did.
First, I brought home some Tamarack Hollow jowl. Mike’s jowls, unfortunately, are pretty badly butchered by his processors, but most of the city’s pork enthusiasts agree that his pork is the best, any way you slice it. I got one side, which was about 2.5 lbs, and I trimmed it to make it a little more uniform and to remove the gland. Why jowl and not belly? There’s something about the pure porcine sweetness of guanciale that I’ve always preferred to bacon. I don’t know if the fat is better (as I’ve heard) or what, but it just makes the best bucatini all’amatriciana ever. Bucatini all’amatriciana being the reason why I bother to keep regular ol’ bacon around in the first place.
Ruhlman’s pretty standard recipe has you dry-cure it in salt, sugar, pepper, garlic, and thyme for about a week.
And once all the moisture’s been drawn out of the muscle cells, it has to be hung out to dry. I put some string through one end and stuck it in the Metro shelving in the kitchen.
I was a little worried that the 100°F heat wave we had last week would deep-six the jowl, but turns out it’s fine. I somehow misread the recipe and left the guanciale to dry maybe a week or two too long, which means that it’s a little hard in places, but the flavor is good, and the fatty parts are excellent. I oversalted a little when curing, but it’ll make a fine amatriciana. And despite some initial misgivings about possible toxicity issues, I sliced some up and fried it in a pan and ate it. And I’m still alive to write this. Must be grateful for the little things.
Next up, I’ve got another jowl from the pig butchering demo I did a few weeks back, as well as a nice slab of belly. But first, some headcheese. Stay tuned.