- One 5-pound slab pork belly, skin removed
- For the dry cure
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons pink salt (see Note)
- 1/4 cup Morton’s kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons juniper berries, crushed with the bottom of a small saute pan
- 4 bay leaves, crumbled
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 or 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper, divided
1. Trim the belly so that its edges are neat and square.
2. Combine the garlic, pink salt, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, juniper berries, bay leaves, nutmeg, thyme, and half the black pepper in a bowl and mix thoroughly so that the pink salt is evenly distributed. Rub the mixture all over the belly to give it a uniform coating over the entire surface.
3. Place the belly in a 2-gallon Ziploc bag or in a covered nonreactive container just large enough to hold it. Refrigerate for 7 days. Without removing the belly from the bag, rub the belly to redistribute the seasonings and flip it over every other day — a process called overhauling.
4. After 7 days, check the belly for firmness. If it feels firm at its thickest point, it’s cured. If it still feels squishy, refrigerate it on the cure for 1 to 2 more days.
5. Remove the belly from the bag or container, rinse it thoroughly under cold water, and pat it dry. Sprinkle the meat side with the remaining black pepper. Starting from a long side, roll up the pork belly tightly, as you would a thick towel, and tie it very tightly with butcher’s string at 1- to 2-inch intervals. It’s important that there are no air pockets inside the roll. In other words, it can’t be too tightly rolled. Alternately, the pancetta can be left flat, wrapped in cheesecloth, and hung to dry for 5 to 7 days.
6. Using the string to suspend it, hang the rolled pancetta in a cool, humid place to dry for 2 weeks. The ideal conditions are 50°F to 60°F (8°C to 15°C) with 60 percent humidity, but a cool, humid basement works fine, as will most any place that’s out of the sun. (I often hang mine in our kitchen next to the hanging pans on either side of the stove.) Humidity is important: If your pancetta begins to get hard, it’s drying out and should be wrapped and refrigerated. The pancetta should be firm but pliable, not hard. Because pancetta isn’t meant to be eaten raw, the drying isn’t as critical a stage as it is for items such as prosciutto or dry-cured sausages. But drying pancetta enhances its texture, intensifies its flavor, and helps it to last longer.
7. After drying, the pancetta can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 3 weeks or more, or frozen for up to 4 months. Freezing makes it easier to slice thin.
Note: Pink salt, a curing salt with nitrite, is called by different names and sold under various brand names, such as tinted cure mix or T.C.M., DQ Curing Salt, and Insta Cure #1. The nitrite in curing salts does a few special things to meat: It changes the flavor, preserves the meat’s red color, prevents fats from developing rancid flavors, and prevents many bacteria from growing.