Archive for the ‘pork jowl’ Category

Fettucini alla Bolognese is my daughter’s go-to dish when we visit one of our favorite Italian restaurants,  Il Corso, on W 55th St. in New York. But we only go there once a year, so it was about time that I tried my hand at Bolognese at home. The dish isn’t difficult, but like many great dishes, the better the quality of the ingredients, the better the result.

I use grass-fed ground veal that I get down the road from a local dairy farm: Sweet & Salty Farm in Little Compton, RI. I use ground Berkshire pork, full of “good fat.” And I use guanciale, a cured pork product that comes from the cheek (jowl) of the pig. I buy the Berkshire pork jowls raw and cure them myself. The rest of the ingredients are organic, when available.

FullSizeRender

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 lb. ground veal
1 lb. ground pork
1/2 cup finely chopped guanciale
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 cup ground tomatoes
1 cup milk
1 cup white wine (I use an un-oaked chardonnay like Alice White)
1 lb. pasta, cooked (I use Garofalo gluten-free pasta)

 

Place the olive oil and butter in a large sauce pan with a heavy bottom over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Keeping the heat on medium, sweat the veggies and allow them to get soft but not brown, about 10–15 minutes.

Turn the heat on high and add the guanciale. Stir it around to keep it from sticking. Let the guanciale cook for a minute, then add the veal and the pork, constantly stirring until the meat browns.

Once the meat has browned, add the tomato paste, ground tomatoes, milk and wine. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a medium-low, and let it simmer for 60–90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Traditionally, ragu Bolognese is served by placing a portion of cooked pasta in a pan, and adding just enough sauce to have it cling to, not drip from, the pasta. It’s not soup!

 

Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved pork chops and store-bought bacon all my life, it’s only been in the last decade that I’ve learned to appreciate other cuts of pork and how they’re prepared.

Over the years, I’ve learned to cure and smoke my own bacon, from heritage breeds like Berkshire. I’ll make my own pork sausage on occasion. But the desire to make a classic Italian dish, genuine spaghetti carbonara, required that I learn how to cure an unusual cut of pork I’ve never used before.

In the beginning, I could only find huge jowls that required them to be cut and weighed to mix with the right amount of cure.

Looking at carbonara recipes online, everyone said the same thing: “Though the genuine dish uses a cured cut of pork called guanciale, it’s hard to find so use pancetta or bacon.” Although both pancetta and bacon meats are quite tasty (both come from the belly of the pig…bacon is smoked, pancetta is not) the flavor and texture is not the same as a pork cheek, or jowl. That’s what guanciale is made from. So I needed to find a source.
I started with a local restaurant, the Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. Being a buddy of the owner and chef (and bribing them with alcohol), I asked if they’d order me some jowls. They did, and that worked well for a while. But I didn’t want to keep bothering them every time I wanted more howls, so I eventually found my own source on line that supplied me with massive jowls weighing many pounds each. (See the photo above.) They were good, but a pain to work with. Eventually, that company went out of business.
I finally found my go-to pork website: http://www.heritagepork.com. They sell a variety of pork products made from the breed of pig known as Berkshire, also called kurobuta. It’s a delicious breed with wonderful fat that’s healthy and full of flavor. And conveniently, they sell pork jowls in 2-pound packs, with 4 1/2-pound jowls in a pack.
My curing process is simple: sugar, salt, peppercorns, and fresh thyme. I cure the jowls for about 3 weeks. I rinse them once they’ve cured, and pat them dry. Then they’re ready to use and any extra guanciale freezes really well.
Once I made my first batch, there was no turning back!

Pork jowls with a good sprinkling of the cure, ready to be wrapped.

 2 lbs. raw pork jowls
1/2 cup basic dry rub (recipe below)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
a handful of fresh thyme sprigs
Combine the dry rub, brown sugar, and peppercorns in a bowl.
On a large work surface, lay down several sheets of plastic wrap, overlapping each other to keep the cure from leaking through to the counter underneath. Sprinkle half of the salt mixture onto the plastic wrap in an area where the jowls will lay. Scatter a half-dozen thyme sprigs on top of the salt mixture. Lay the pieces of pork jowl on top of the salt mix and thyme, then top the jowls with the rest of the salt mix, covering them evenly, and top with more thyme sprigs.
Fold the plastic wrap over the jowls as tightly as you can, pressing the salt mix into the meat. If the wrap is loose, use more wrap to really tighten the salt cure around the meat. Then place the entire pork-wrapped package in a container that will hold the liquid that will ooze out during the curing process. If the plastic wrap still isn’t too tight around the jowls, weigh it down with something heavy to press down on the pork. You really want the salt to make contact with the meat. Place the container in the fridge to cure for 3 weeks.
Every couple of days, remove the weight off the jowls and flip the plastic wrap package over, so that the top is now the bottom. Add the weight and return it to the fridge. You want the cure to get at every part of the pork. Don’t pour off any liquid that forms…it will help the curing process.
In about 3 weeks, the pork jowls will feel firmer. This is a sign they’ve been properly cured. Remove them from the plastic wrap, rinse them thoroughly under cold clean water, then pat them dry with paper towels.

Cured, rinsed and dried guanciale. Cut the jowls into smaller pieces before freezing. A little goes a long way!

At this point, you can cut the jowls (now officially guanciale!) into smaller pieces, wrapping each well and placing them in freezer bags. They will keep in the freezer for a long time.
Many guanciale recipes tell you to hang the meat in the fridge for at least a week after curing, but I haven’t really found the need to do that if I’m keeping them frozen. The drying process keeps the meat from getting moldy, but that’s only if you keep it in warmer temperatures.
Now that you’ve got guanciale, make that spaghetti carbonara you’ve always dreamed about! It’s also great chopped and fried and sprinkled on pizza, and sautéed with vegetables or mixed with scrambled eggs.
The Basic Dry Rub
Every good cure starts with a good dry rub. This one’s extremely simple but requires a special ingredient: pink salt. This is not pink Himalayan salt. This is a very special curing salt that must be used in small amounts. It contains nitrites which will help preserve the meat and give it a good color. Many people get bent out of shape over nitrites these days, so you need to decide whether you want to use pink salt or not. I do, because I don’t eat pounds of guanciale like a lab rat.
1 1/2 cups Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
1/2 cup organic turbinado  sugar
5 teaspoons pink curing salt
Combine these ingredients and mix well. Store it in a tightly sealed plastic bag in your pantry.
Note: the reason I give the brand name for the salt is because all salt does not weigh the same! A cup-and-a-half of Morton Kosher Salt, for example, will weigh more and will throw off the recipe.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Fettuccine Alfredo are my two favorite pasta dishes. Little did I realize that if I took the best of each one, I’d have something that would just blow me (and my family) away. The addition of chicken and peas made for a more balanced plate. This will now be my go-to dish when guests arrive, since many parts can be prepared ahead of time. And you’d never know that this dish is completely gluten-free!

fullsizerender-4

Start with the chicken…

The breading for the chicken uses gluten-free bread that I’ve toasted, crumbled and put into a food processor to make breadcrumbs. You get a lot more flavor this way than using store-bought GF breadcrumbs from a can. I add gluten-free flour to it to lighten it up. Cup4Cup is by far the best GF flour I’ve tried.

1/2 lb. chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
1 egg, scrambled
4 oz. sliced gluten-free bread, toasted (I use Udi’s frozen bread)
1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
3 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
olive oil, for frying

Scramble the egg in a bowl. Cut the chicken into pieces, and add them to the egg, making sure they get evenly coated. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs, flour, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Fill a pan with about an inch of olive oil. Heat to medium-high, for frying.

In batches not to overcrowd the pan, take the chicken pieces out of the egg and toss them in the bread crumb mixture, shaking off the excess. Place them carefully in the hot oil and fry on both sides until golden. Since they’re small pieces, they should cook all the way through easily. Drain on a plate covered with paper towels. Do this with all the chicken and set aside. Try not to eat it all before you make the rest of the dish! (This chicken can also be eaten as is–these are my daughter’s favorite nuggets–or used with tomato sauce and cheese to make a delicious chicken parmigiana.)

fullsizerender-6

The carbonara factor…

Many recipes for Spaghetti alla Carbonara use pancetta or bacon. But the original recipe calls for guanciale: cured (but not smoked) pig jowls, or cheeks. It’s easy enough to find in a good Italian food store, but I cure my own. I buy raw heritage Berkshire pork jowls from a farm that raises the pigs humanely, and cure the jowls for about 3 weeks in a combination of salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Then I rinse them, pat them dry, and cut them into portion-sized pieces, which I wrap individually and freeze until I need them. It’s a lot of work, but to me, totally worth it.

3 oz. guanciale

If the guanciale is frozen, let it thaw just a little, then cut it into the smallest cubes you can manage. Place it in a pan and cook them until they’ve browned and crisped beautifully. Keep an eye on the pan, as guanciale can burn easily. Use the fried meat bits for this recipe and save the fat for flavoring a future dish! Set aside.

The Alfredo sauce…

Despite what you get in crappy restaurants like Olive Garden, Alfredo sauce should not be runny or soupy. It should cling to the pasta and be rich in flavor. I use Garofalo gluten-free pasta exclusively, because it tastes just like real pasta. Believe me, I’ve tried every GF pasta out there. I buy mass quantities at Amazon.

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
Fleur de Sel or sea salt
1 lb. pasta, fresh or dried (I used linguine this time because that’s what I had in my pantry)
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
freshly ground black pepper
a very tiny grating of fresh nutmeg (optional for this dish–I leave it out–but used when I make Alfredo)

 

Put 2/3 of the cream and all the butter in a large saucepan that will later accommodate all the pasta. Simmer over medium heat for less than a minute, until the butter and cream have thickened a bit. Turn off the heat.

Drop the pasta in a bowl of boiling salted water. If the pasta is fresh, it will take just seconds. If it’s dry, it will take a few minutes. Gluten-free pasta, which is what I use, takes a little longer. Either way, you want to cook the pasta even firmer than al dente, because it will finish cooking in the pan with the butter and cream. Drain the pasta immediately when it reaches that firm stage, and transfer it to the pan with the butter and cream, tossing the pasta gently for a few seconds to coat.

Turn the heat under the saucepan on low, tossing the pasta, coating it with the sauce. Add the rest of the cream, all the Parmigiano Reggiano, a bit of pepper (no salt because the guanciale will add more saltiness later), and the nutmeg (if you’re using it.) Toss briefly until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is well-coated.

 

At this point, you don’t want the pasta to get to dry, so you add…

1 cup of frozen peas

…tossing gently to warm them through. Also add the cooked guanciale at this time.

fullsizerender-5

 

Plate the pasta in a bowl or dish and serve the chicken alongside.

 

 

 

 

 

Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved bacon and pork chops all my life, it’s only recently that I’ve started to appreciate other cuts of pork and how to prepare them. That includes guanciale (pronounced gwan-chee-ah-lay), meat that comes from the cheek (or jowls) of the pig and is cured but not smoked. The process is similar to making pancetta, only pancetta comes from the belly of the beast.
It all started when I wanted to make an authentic spaghetti carbonara, which uses guanciale, not bacon or pancetta as many recipes state. But finding raw pork jowls wasn’t easy at first. Many websites offered smoked jowls. But raw jowls were almost impossible to find, and I just about gave up until I visited my friends Sal and chef Aaron at the Back Eddy restaurant in Westport, Massachusetts. I told them of my dilemma and they said: “Pork jowls? Oh, we can order them for you!” I was psyched!
About a week later, I picked up my jowls, individually wrapped in hermetically sealed ¼ pound packages, and my curing began. The process is simple: salt, pepper, some fresh thyme. Rub it all over the meat, wrap it tightly, and place it in the fridge to cure for a week or two.
4445B294-694F-4519-AB71-778490B12592
Finding room in my spare fridge to cure the meat was easy…everything fit snugly in a Ziploc bag. But after curing, and once I rinsed the excess salt off the jowl pieces, I had to dry them (all 24 of them since I bought 6 pounds.) So I rigged up a special hanging system that used bungy cords and vinyl cable ties. And three weeks later, I was frying up my guanciale in a saute pan and adding it to vegetables, potatoes, and pizza. I even gave guanciale gifts to my foodie friends.
FullSizeRender (2)
Since that first curing effort, many things had changed. I have several excellent sources for pork jowls, and I buy large 3-pound jowls (big pig!) at one time. And I’ve found 1001 uses for guanciale: pizza, ragu Bolognese, adding flavor to broccoli or brussels sprouts, and more. And, oh yes…I finally made the carbonara recipe with it as well. Here’s my recipe for ragu Bolognese using guanciale: http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-Pc
Always good to have a helper.

Always good to have a helper.

Fettucini alla Bolognese is my daughter’s go-to dish when we visit one of our favorite Italian restaurants,  Il Corso, on W 55th St. in New York. But we only go there once a year, so it was about time that I tried my hand at Bolognese at home. The dish isn’t difficult, but like many great dishes, the better the quality of the ingredients, the better the result.

I use grass-fed ground veal that I get down the road from a local dairy farm: Sweet & Salty Farm. I use ground Berkshire pork, full of “good fat.” And I use guanciale, a cured pork product that comes from the cheek (jowl) of the pig. I buy the Berkshire pork jowls raw and cure them myself. The rest of the ingredients are organic, when available.

FullSizeRender

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 lb. ground veal
1 lb. ground pork
1/2 cup finely chopped guanciale
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1 cup ground tomatoes
1 cup milk
1 cup white wine (I use an un-oaked chardonnay)

 

Place the olive oil and butter in a large sauce pan with a heavy bottom over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Keeping the heat on medium, sweat the veggies and allow them to get soft but not brown, about 10–15 minutes.

Turn the heat on high and add the guanciale. Stir it around to keep it from sticking. Let the guanciale cook for a minute, then add the veal and the pork, constantly stirring until the meat browns.

Once the meat has browned, add the tomato paste, ground tomatoes, milk and wine. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a medium-low, and let it simmer for 60–90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Traditionally, ragu Bolognese is served by placing a portion of cooked pasta in a pan, and adding just enough sauce to have it cling to, not drip from, the pasta. It’s not soup!

To keep this dish gluten-free, I use GF pasta. Our favorite brand is Garofalo.

If she's happy, I'm happy!

If she’s happy, I’m happy!

Pasta is not something I’m currently eating on my low-carb diet. But it’s a great recipe I wanted to pass on to others.

Sometimes the simplest dishes are the toughest to execute well. Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of those dishes. All you need is pasta, olive oil, raw eggs (separated), guanciale, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and pepper. (Real carbonara doesn’t use cream.)

You boil the pasta. Chop the guanciale (cured pork cheeks or jowls) and saute in a pan with the olive oil. Do not drain the fat. Drain the pasta and drop it into the pan with the guanciale, adding about 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Shake it around for a minute and remove from the heat. Add some of the cheese and the egg whites, season with pepper, and mix the pasta well. Separate into bowls, making a nest with the pasta. Add an egg yolk to each, sprinkling more cheese on top. What could go wrong, right?

There’s a lot to be said for finesse!

I make my own guanciale. I buy Berkshire pork jowls and cure them. Then they go through a drying phase for a few weeks before I wrap and freeze them in chunks. Whenever a dish calls for guanciale (my daughter loves it on pizza), I simply unwrap some, let it thaw, then chop it up and saute it. The fat in the pork jowls is very different from other parts of the pig, and there’s no replacing that flavor. When making Spaghetti all Carbonara, some cooks replace the guanciale with pancetta or bacon, but that’s not for me.

It’s also important to note that this dish relies a lot on fat, so good fat is really important. Berkshire pork fat has good fat. Organic butter has good fat. And the cheese? Parmigiano-Reggiano isn’t called “The King of Cheeses” for no reason!

I decided to make a Not-Quite-Carbonara dish. I say “not quite” because I left out the eggs, which my daughter doesn’t like. It still came out pretty damn good…

image

 

 

1 lb. pasta (we like bucatini over spaghetti)

1 lb. Berkshire pork guanciale, chopped into small (1/4″) cubes

olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted organic butter

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

black pepper

 

Boil the pasta to the just-before-al dente stage.

In a large saucepan, heat the guanciale and olive oil until the fat has rendered. Do not drain the fat. Turn the heat off, add the butter and let it melt.

Drain the pasta and drop it into the pan with the guanciale, stirring the pasta around to coat with the ingredients. Sprinkle in 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and season with pepper, still mixing.

Distribute the pasta into individual bowls, making sure everyone gets the tasty bits of guanciale. Sprinkle some more of the Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. Serve immediately.

image

 

Pork is magical. And though I’ve loved bacon and pork chops all my life, it’s only recently that I’ve started to appreciate other cuts of pork and how they’ve been prepared.
No store-bought bacon for me. I have a favorite website where I’ve bought the best quality bacon on line from Missouri for years: http://www.smokehouse.com/.
My Italian pork sausages and larger cuts of pork (like shoulders, bellies, and big fat pork chops) come from Caw Caw Creek, the only certified humane heritage breed pork farm in North Carolina. http://www.cawcawcreek.com/.
My pork ribs and liverwurst come from my friends at Simmons Farm in Middletown, RI, a certified organic farm. http://www.simmonsorganicfarmri.com/
And sometimes, my pork can come from surprising places, like my rafting guide friend Rob, whose family runs Crabapple Whitewater in the Forks, Maine, where I raft on the kennebec and Dead Rivers every year. Rob decided to raise two pigs this past year, and he’s willing to trade pork jowls for a few bottles of my homemade Lithuanian honey liqueur called Krupnikas.
Pork jowls?
Weighing the jowl pieces
It all started when I wanted to make an authentic spaghetti carbonara. Since I worship at the Italian food altar of chef Mario Batali, I went to his website to look up his recipe. It said that although many people use bacon or pancetta (both from the belly of the pig—the bacon is smoked, pancetta is not)…authentic carbonara is made with guanciale (pronounced gwan-chee-ah-lay).
Guanciale is cured (but not smoked) and made from pork jowls…that would be the cheeks of the pig. According to Batali, you take raw jowls, cure them for about a week in sugar, salt, peppercorns and fresh thyme, then hang the meat to dry. The result is a delicious pork product that you slice and fry and use in carbonara or any other recipe that calls for a tasty addition of porky goodness.
The flavor of pork jowls is subtly different than that of pancetta. There is a very special mouth-feel to the fat that makes guanciale so good. And once I made my first batch, there was no turning back!
But finding raw pork jowls was not easy. Many websites offered smoked jowls. But raw jowls were almost impossible to find, and I just about gave up until I visited my friends Sal and chef Aaron at the Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. I told them of my dilemma and they said: “Pork jowls? Oh, we can order them for you!” I was psyched!
About a week later, I picked up my jowls, individually wrapped in hermetically sealed ¼ pound packages, and my curing began, following Batali’s recipe.
Getting the curing ingredients together: picking thyme leaves.
Finding room in my spare fridge to cure the meat was easy…everything fit snugly in a Ziploc bag. But once it was time to dry the jowls (all 24 of them since I bought 6 pounds,) I had to rig up a special hanging system that used bungy cords, vinyl cable ties, and beer cans…don’t ask. But it worked! And three weeks later, I was frying up my guanciale in a sautee pan and adding it to vegetables, potatoes, and pizza. I even gave guanciale gifts to my foodie friends. And before long, it was time to make more.
Since that first curing effort, some things had changed. My source for heritage pork, Caw Caw Creek, now carried pork jowls, too. And I was able to buy a couple of 3-pound jowls at a time. They were big, thick, and what I originally envisioned when I dreamed of the jowl of a pig that weighed 300 pounds or more. I cut the two big jowls into 1/2–pound, 3-inch thick slabs, and cured them using the same recipe.
A big, beautiful jowl in its native habitat.
Jowls with curing spices.
All was fine until one time, I went away on vacation, and a hurricane hit our neighborhood, knocking the power out. Fortunately, my good neighbors came to my rescue and started up my generator, plugged in the fridge, and saved the guanciale! I was back in business.
Curing and hanging completed (I now used a far more sophisticated system of stereo wire instead of bungy cords and beer cans, as seen in the photo,) I’ve been sharing the goodness of this incredible and little-known pork product with anyone who would listen—and taste.
A year ago, I had never heard of guanciale. Now, I can’t imagine not having a slab at the ready in my fridge. I use it just about anywhere I would use bacon, short of a BLT.
And by the way…I’ve yet to make the spaghetti carbonara recipe!