Monday, February 14, 2011

Ode to the Red Wattle Pork Belly

This is my first Charcutepalooza post.  To confess, the reason I started this blog was to enter the contest. Of course I had been thinking about writing a blog for years, but when I plopped down in my morning coffee drinking spot and found the Washington Post food section waiting for me... (It was the story of Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy Charcutepalooza) I knew a blog was in my immediate future.

A little background... I bought the book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing after seeing Bryan Polcyn on Anthony Bourdain: No the time my significant other, Gary, was complaining that there wasn't a good selection of Gallo Italian dry salami in northern Virginia and read how to make them. He said it was in "it could kill us if...," and required a special curing environment, bacteria and mold.  He knows after telling me about molecular gastronomy in 2006, that if it is impossible for the home cook I must try it until I figure it out. 

Before reading the Washington Post's "Charcutepalooza" feature story, I had some experience with this craft. I had made with reasonable and sometimes awesome success: Duck Ham, Canadian Bacon, Fresh Bacon, Spicy Smoked Pork Shoulder w/ Carolina BBQ, Breakfast Sausage, Smoked Andouille, Soppressata, Bresaola (in process), and Pate Grandmere.  I currently have 5lbs of cold smoked andouille drying for our Mardi Gras Party on March 5.  All of these projects used Charcuterie as my guide book.

My friend, Cindy, who cooks with me sometimes...and I made Bangers & Mash from Heston Blumenthal's, In Search of Perfection - following each step as directed... thinking that if we missed perfection they would still be pretty darn good and they were great...the best bangers I have eaten. We had to toast white bread and soak it and then use the toast water in the bangers along with crushed rusk. Really Heston?   On another Saturday we started with 20 lbs of pork shoulder and back fat and made Sweet Italian, Bratwurst, Chorizo and Linguica. We learned not to use cured back fat... too salty. It was summer and we tried to cold smoke and it just didn't work. But the hot smoked sausages were still very tasty. Sadly, Cindy is moving to Seattle, so I am in search of a new cooking partner...Any volunteers?

House Made Charcuterie and Sour Dough Bread
I guess this is a long way of staying I am hooked on charcuterie. Our Saturday dinner party guests were greeted with this charcuterie board: Soppressata, Beef Bone Marrow Mousse w/ Balsamic, Duck Prosciutto, Duck Loaf, Roaring 40's Blue Cheese and homebaked San Francisco Sour Dough Bread.

Let's get to the February project... Pancetta!

I just happened to have a couple 2- pound chunks of Red Wattle Pork Belly from Heritage Foods that I froze in November. Red came from Lazy S Farm in Kansas.  Check out the link below: 

Ode to the Red Wattle Pork Belly

Mr. Red Wattle, the pig, was raised on a Kansas farm
In a loving place that caused him no harm
Grazing in the fields, snoozing in the barn
Growing into pork meat, becoming food porn

Ms. Oinkjoint, the cook, was raised on a Kansas farm
In a loving place that caused her no harm
Preserving garden vegetables, butchering fattened chicks
Her mom taught her homemade recipes to fix

All that is left of 5lbs of bacon
Mr. Wattle's 9lb belly and Ms. Oinkjoint met
Soon there was American bacon you can't forget
There was bacon risotto, bacon in everything
Even bacon with butterscotch hanging on a swing

Then Mr. Red Wattle goes Italian, becoming fancy bacon
When Ms. Oinkjoint's pancetta project was in the makin'
Red stars in spaghetti carbonara, a sexy Valentine's Day dinner
That Ms. Oinkjoint will prepare in hopes that her blog is a winner

Rolling Red
The Project:
What would I like to share from the pancetta making process?  First, always start by sterilizing all equipment and work surfaces with a Clorox and water. I had to dig out my small scales that measure .1 gram in order to weight the spices. 

Rolling is a two person job... one to roll and one to take pictures. And of course one to hold the roll tight while the other ties the string. Thanks Sweety... That looks really good.

Next Step:  Hang the pancetta in a place that is 50-60 degrees and 60% humidity.... hummmm, Where could I find such an environment?  It seems reptiles need a similar set of controls for their aquarium and PetCo had just what I needed. And hey if this project doesn't work, I can always get a pet snake or lizard. 

My Homemade Curing Cabinet...  I found my son's old dorm room fridge in the basement.  I bought a Zoo Med HygroTherm Humidity & Temperature Controller and Zoo Med Repti Fogger.  I plugged the fridge and fogger into the Controller, placed the sensor in the fridge, retro fitted a smaller tube on the fogger (this needs to be  improved) so that I would not have to drill a hole in the fridge... and I have 55 degrees, with 60% humidity.  Most of the time.  The more and fresher the product being cured the higher the natural humidity is in the box. And the fridge tends to lower the humidity when it runs, but I find I have a bigger problem keeping the humidity low enough. I crack the door open at night when the room is around 60 degrees to help control the humidity.  I think my box is too small and need a bigger fridge. 

Retro-fitted Curing Cabinet

The Reward: 
Spaghetti Carbonara:  I use a classic recipe from Saveur magazine... toast the black pepper in olive oil, delicately move the pasta from the water straight (no draining) to the pancetta, egg and cheese mixture and then using enough pasta water to make the sauce.  For Valentine's Day, Mr. Wattle shares the stage with a seared pork tenderloin from Spain... Solomillo Ibérico de Bellota - Ibérico Pork Tenderloin. The king of PIG... acorn fed 'Pata Negra' pork from Spain. This stuff is awesome.  Mr. Iberico is served with a simple orange gastrique.

I know you have seen this before.... but it really was the best spaghetti carbonara I have ever made... and the pancetta was perfect for the dish. 


  1. Love the ode!!!
    & the pancetta looks beautiful! (& delicious!)

  2. Yum! Mouthwatering and fun to read. Look forward to more.

  3. I love Red Wattle too... that's what I used for most of my pork curing.

    I also think your home curing fridge setup is brilliant!