This homemade guanciale, made with pork jowl, seasoning, and white wine, is easier than you may think. Here’s how to make it.
Guancia is Italian for “cheek,” and guanciale, a specialty of central Italy, is cured pork jowl that has been rubbed with an aromatic blend of black pepper, hot chile, and dried rosemary. Although it can be used in many of the same ways that pancetta is used, guanciale definitely has a personality all its own. When slowly crisped in a pan, it gives off an intriguing, spicy, sharp fragrance that awakens the hunger. Sauté thin shards of guanciale with peas, asparagus, and spring onions, or toss crispy bits of sautéed guanciale with shredded Lacinato kale, pecorino cheese, plumped currants, and toasted pine nuts for a satisfying salad. Or, use it as the Romans do, for a robust bowl of bucatini all’amatriciana or spaghetti alla carbonara.–Domenica Marchetti
What's the difference between guanciale and pancetta?
Both guanciale and pancetta are cured pork. Although they tend to be used interchangeably stateside, there are distinct differences. Guanciale comes from the jowl, or cheek, whereas pancetta tends to be made with the belly. And guanciale tends to have a more complex and slightly more robust mingling of spices whereas pancetta takes a quieter approach.
Special Equipment: Kitchen scale; kitchen twine or meat hook
Wear clean gloves while handling the pork.* Pat the trimmed jowl completely dry and place it on a cutting board.
You’ll want to measure the amount of salt you use. It will be approximately 1 tablespoon of both sea and pink salt but the precise amounts for curing depend on the exact weight of the jowl. You want the weight of the sea salt to be 3 percent the weight of the trimmed meat. And you want the weight of the pink salt to be 0.25 percent the weight of the trimmed meat.
In a bowl, combine the sea salt, pink salt, garlic, pepper, rosemary, and sage and mix well. Sprinkle the cure all over the meat and rub it in well to coat all sides.
Place the pork in a resealable plastic freezer bag. Scoop up any stray rub and add it to the bag. Squeeze out the air and seal. Place the bag in a baking dish and refrigerate for 1 week. Turn the bag once a day and give the pork a little massage through the plastic each time you turn it.
After 1 week, remove the sealed bag from the baking dish. Pour the wine into the baking dish. Wearing gloves, remove the pork jowl from the bag and use your (gloved) fingers to brush off as much brine as you can. Immerse the pork in the wine to dislodge more brine; then transfer it to a clean cutting board.
Use a sharp paring knife to cut a hole in one corner of the jowl about 1 inch from the edge. Thread a length of kitchen twine through the hole and knot it where it meets the pork. Tie the ends together tightly to create a long loop for hanging. Alternatively, if you have a sterilized meat hook, this can be used in place of the twine.
Weigh the meat and note the weight. If using a meat hook, note the weight of it as well.
If you have a curing space, hang the guanciale in in it. This is ideally a dark space that’s 41 to 43°F (5 to 6°C). Weigh the guanciale every 7 to 10 days until it’s lost 20 to 30 percent of its weight, which could take anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. If you don’t have a separate curing space, place the guanciale on a rack set inside a shallow pan in the refrigerator and let it cure, uncovered, until it’s lost 20 to 30 percent of its weight, which could take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks. Turn the guanciale over every few days to ensure that all sides are exposed to air.
You can slow the drying process and allow even more flavor to develop by placing a container of a simple saltwater brine beneath the meat.
To store the guanciale, cut it into 4- or 8-ounce (113- or 227-g) pieces and vacuum-seal it or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and seal in a resealable plastic bag. Store in the freezer for up to several months. Once opened, store the guanciale in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
*How to ensure your homemade guanciale is safe to eat
We can’t emphasize enough the need to precisely adhere to the instructions in this recipe. This applies to everything—the weights of the salt in proportion to the pork, the wearing of gloves, and the temperature of the environment in which you keep the pork. Preserving food is an age-old technique yet it also relies on a healthy respect for precision and science in order to do so safely.