Recipe and article by Todd Kelly, executive chef and director of food and beverage at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, Cincinnati
This article originally appeared in Sizzle Magazine, the American Culinary Federation’s digital quarterly for culinary students.
Guanciale is the Italian word for “cheek” and is a basic method of curing a whole muscle. Derived from the pig’s jowls, guanciale has a wonderful texture and aroma with just the right amounts of fat. I source very fresh, high-quality pig jowls, then season with a curing mixture to crust the jowls to cure for seven days. I then rinse the jowls, dry in a refrigerator overnight and let the meat hang for three weeks in a 58-degree curing room until it loses 30% of its original weight.
The process of curing meat dates back to ancient times, before the invention of refrigeration. The application of salt, sugar and seasonings preserve meat by drawing out moisture without cooking. Drawing moisture from the meat deters microbe growth that results in food spoilage.
Salt is the primary ingredient used to cure meat. The addition of sugar mellows the flavor of the salt and feeds the growth of Lactobacillus, the flavor-enhancing bacteria that turns the sugar into lactic acid. Instacure #2, also known as “Prague Powder #2,” is a mixture comprising salt, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate that enhances the color of the meat and prevents botulism. Botulism is a potentially fatal food poisoning caused by a bacterium growing on improperly sterilized or preserved food.
Curing meat is very rewarding and provides a substantial cost savings to buying cured meat from a vendor. In-house curing also provides you with opportunity to play with the flavor profile and consistency of the product you are curing. At The Orchids at Palm Terrace, we use guanciale for a number of pasta dishes and also use it as a seasoning for vegetables.
2 4-pound pork jowls
2.5 t. Instacure #2
1 cup salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 T. garlic powder
1 T. onion powder
1 T. black pepper
1.5 T. dried thyme
2 t. ground spice berry
8 crushed bay leaves
Step 1: Trim excess fat and skin from the pork jowl.
Step 2: Apply the cure and shake off excess. Wrap in cheese cloth and place in refrigerator on a roasting rack for seven days.
Step 3: Remove the jowl from the cure.
Step 4: Rinse the cure from the jowl under cold, running water and refrigerate unwrapped overnight.
Step 5: Tie the jowl with butcher twine and store in a 58-degree curing room.
Step 6: Monitor the jowl for weight. Once it has lost 30% of its weight, which takes about three weeks, the guanciale is finished.
At the Orchids Palm Court, we serve crisp guanciale with whipped ricotta, heirloom carrots, peas and herbs.
Weigh the pork before curing to determine weight loss.
Wear disposable gloves to prevent contamination.
Finding a benign, white powdery mold on your meat is a good sign.
Finding colored, furry molds are a bad sign, remove by scraping and dabbing the area with a little vinegar and continue.