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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Till We Meat Again!

Hanging from the beams of my basement, there is something that the dog has contemplated for weeks now.

There is a pig somewhere who is about 7 pounds lighter in his belly.  Do you think that they can do tummy tucks on pigs?  Sorry, I got distracted.  I had a pork belly but then I exercised and it went away.  Sorry, it happened again.

Alright, I am focused now.

The Daring Cooks Challenge was one that lasted for 2 months because the challenge could require most of that time to complete.  If you were me and decided to try making pancetta, you would blissfully check the gauze log that hangs in the cold dark basement for any smell of rancid yuckiness and, when you don't pass out from the smell, believe that you are golden.  Until such time as you discover a new term that has nothing to do with metal.

Case hardening is exactly what it's name implies, it is when the outside layer hardens, leaving the interior soft.  In the case of iron or steel, it makes it stronger but when you apply it to meat, you have a problem.

Hard on the outside and soft on the inside

So I discovered that my case had hardened and now I had to figure out what, if anything, I could do about it.  Onward to the Internet!

One site said to vacuum seal it and allow the moisture to redistribute by putting it in the fridge for a few days then hang it back up.

Another site said to unroll a rolled pancetta and hang it slab style to allow it to dry more evenly then roll it again later.

Still another site said to bag it and place holes in the bag to allow the moisture to waft around and the meat to still get air.  When it feels like the inside is a little bit harder, hang 'er up.

Wait a minute!  I need to get you caught up with the pancetta.  Let's start from the beginning shall we...

The first step was finding a freaking "whole" pork belly.  I seriously thought that this would be easy and I was VERY wrong!  It took me countless phone calls and visiting about a dozen meat markets to discover that all I was going to get was a 16-30 pound pork belly.  Now, I really like pancetta but I didn't want to have that much meat just hanging around.  One day, while waiting for my son to work out his energetic tendencies in karate, I ventured to a local market.  If I had heard their motto prior to beginning my pork belly adventures, I probably would have tried there first.  "If you can't get it here, you can't get it."  See what I am saying?  OK, So I go in and stop by the butcher counter, fully expecting to be turned away quickly.  Joe was the butcher behind the counter and he became my new best friend.

This is not Joe but he is a butcher so let's pretend
"Hi, I wanted to find out if I could get a whole, raw pork belly?"
"Yea!  I can get you a whole pork belly."  Joe mused
"Excellent, but I only want about 6-7 pounds."  I stated already dejected.
"Oh, no problem.  I will order it and then we can cut it down for you."
"Do I need to pay for the whole thing?"  I was sure that this was where the conversation would end.
"No, no, no!  You only pay for what you take away with you."


Joe floated over and ordered the belly and floated back to me with a receipt.  As you can tell, I had now put Joe on some kind of godly pedestal where all he did was float but he earned it. 

"What are you doing with a whole belly?"  "I am going to try my hand at making a pancetta."  I was smiling a big goofy grin at this point.  "Well then..." Joe walked away and then quickly returned with a small styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic film with a dainty pink granular substance in it.  "You will need some of this to do the job right."  Joe then explained all about pink salt.  Don't you just love this guy!?  I bowed to him as I left the store and made sure never to turn my back on him, out of respect.  Was that too much?

So the next week I got my pork belly and lit a candle for my new best friend Joe.  I had my pink salt and all the other herbs and such to begin my process.

I chopped and ground and mixed and ground all manner of herbaceous materials and then I gave the belly a good massage.  If nothing, it was a very relaxed belly...much like mine.  (please excuse my indulging in belly humor)

Now the belly had to sit in the fridge for a week and every so often I would lovingly massage it and sing sweet songs to it.  A very happy belly indeed.

It was time to get serious with this belly.  No more Mrs. nice guy!  Time to clean it up, tie it up and hang it up.  I practiced the continuous tie method on the dog as he lay next to me on the couch and once I had him properly tied up and causing no trouble, I directed my attention to the belly.

I have my own hang up about belly rolls but I will leave that for another time and just say that this kind of belly roll is a beautiful thing.  Wrapped gently in cheese cloth and lovingly trussed, I just stood back and thought that if this all goes to heck in a hand basket, I am happy right here and right now.

Next step was to hang it where the dog had no chance of getting to it.  Coonhound Roger and I went to the basement where I used his insistence on getting close to the belly as my measuring device.  He would stand up and try to get close and I would take up the slack.  Poor Roger.  For 3 weeks Roger would venture to the basement with me to check the belly.  He would stand under the belly and sniff, sniff then walk this way and sniff, sniff then he would look at me with his big round coonhound eyes and curse me before we ran up stairs to dream about the belly.

I checked the belly almost every day for 3 weeks and it never made me want to hurl so I knew it was doing alright. 

Now you are caught up to the case hardening part. 

So what am I going to do about this problem?  I am doing a little bit of all of the suggestions...I vacuum sealed the belly and put it in the fridge till I could feel that the outside had softened, then I cut some vent holes in the bag to let air and moisture in and out and it is sitting in a cool place.  I am hoping that it will dry the way it is suppose to but as of this post it is still looking for the cure.

So there you have it, the pancetta diaries.  The saga continues, the adventure goes on...till we meat again.  As always, thank you to Carol a non-blogging Daring Cook and Jenni of The Gingered Whisk for a true challenge!  We are not giving up on this one, one way or another!  Be sure to visit The Daring Kitchen to see what other charcuterie was created by all of the talented cooks they have over there.

For the January-February 2013 Daring Cooks’ Challenge, Carol, one of our talented non-blogging members and Jenni, one of our talented bloggers who writes The Gingered Whisk, have challenged us to make homemade sausage and/or cured, dried meats in celebration of the release of the book Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn! We were given two months for this challenge and the opportunity to make delicious Salumi in our own kitchens!

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Sarah Galvin said...

Nice to see someone else's pancetta. Being a first time maker, I wasn't sure how homemade pancetta should look. I didn't have the pink and raw looking middle. I let mine cure for more time than recommended, until it felt very firm, before rolling. I still have a difficult time eating it!

Todd M said...

Some serious animal cruelty - poor dog. Cruel for us too - just leave me hanging - when do we find out what happens ??? Hope it all turns out well - and I want your butcher.

Olga said...

you've made me laugh hard with a "tummy tuck" thingy.. It reminded me a joke when "farmer was asks why his pig is running around on crutches. He answered: am I crazy slaughtering whole pig because of one leg of prosciutto?!".
Isn't it fun all those challenges? With my 2 cents - did you dry meat thoroughly after curing and before rolling it up? I hope your whole "moisture re-distribution" technique will work. Good luck. Nice pictures ..very entertaining post :)

Claudia said...

Too funny, but I wanted a pic of Roger looking up. It's not too late. This reminds me of my hog jowl hanging in the office fridge on the way be becoming guanciale. It got some double takes.

Poisonive said...

Love your post and I hope you get through the case hardening - its one of the pitfalls of curing:( Keep us updated on how it works out - well done!

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