Our recent move necessitated the use or disposal of any perishables. Since that time, I’ve been missing my cured meats the most. Luckily, we’ve been able to find some good bacon in Virginia. However, I have yet to find any thing as good as my homemade pancetta.
I have, however, made friends with a local pork farmer who comes to the Alexandria Farmer’s Market. As a side note, his pork is very very good. So far, I’ve only managed to get one pork belly from him (most are preordered by restaurants, mine has been turned into pancetta) but the real surprise for me was that he regularly sells pork jowls. I’ve been to quite a few specialty markets, butchers, and Asian groceries and not once have I seen pork jowls for sale.
To me, the real coup with finding pork jowls is that I can turn them into guanciale (another hard to find product in the United States). And my desire for guanciale is simply that it is the authentic ingredient in probably my most favorite pasta dish (and quite likely favorite food), spaghetti alla carbonara.
The most difficult part of making guanciale is finding a pork jowl. It’s cured simply with just salt and a few seasonings. Then it’s hung to dry. My choice of hanging spot was in our unheated sun room. The temperature was pretty close to right (50ºF to 60ºF) and seemed to have a pretty good humidity. The only possible mistake I made was hanging it by a window as a pork jowl is mostly fat and light can damage fat. I’ll have to return my drying to a mini-fridge in the future.
Until I had to go without, I didn’t realize how central cured meats like guanciale or pancetta are to my cooking. I like to keep some in the fridge to make quick, but good, pastas. It’s an effective way to add some protein to a meal or to modify a side dish into being a complete meal.
Along with spaghetti alla carbonara, it is also traditionally used in bucattini all amatriciana.
Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing
One 2-lbs/1-kg pork jowl
70 g kosher salt
70 g sugar
10 g garlic, mashed
15 black pepper corns, cracked
1 large bunch thyme
- Rinse and pat the jowl dry. Trim any stray tissue, glands, or hairs from the jowl.
- Combine the dry cure ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Place the jowl into a large zip-top bag and rub with the dry cure on both sides. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 days, until it feels stiff all the way through. Overhaul the cure by redistributing the cure and turning the jowl over every other day.
- Remove the jowl from the bag and rinse off all the cure. Dry thoroughly.
- Poke a hole in the corner of the jowl with a knife. Run a piece of butcher’s string through the hole. Hang the jowl in a cool, dry place for 1 to 3 weeks, until it is stiff but not hard.
- Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or freeze for several months.