Monday, December 20, 2010

GUANCIALE, A UNIQUE ROMAN BACON


Guanciale, the Essence of Pork...



Unlike pancetta or bacon, guanciale takes its flavor not from smoke but from wine, herbs and special fat from the pork jowl.

GUANCIALE, only recently available in Canada, and still not widely so, is worth seeking out. Unsmoked, air-cured pork jowl or cheek is unlike bacon or pancetta which one is told liberally to substitute for it. Although many cook a Spaghetti Carbonara a passable representation, without guanciale, it is an imposter.

Bucatini all'Amatriciana and Spaghetti Carbonara are two classic dishes which begin with guanciale though many, many recipes simply call for bacon or pancetta.



Many Italians do not know about guanciale. Italy is a large country and regions are very different from one another. People from the North will cook Spaghetti all'amatriciana, a dish from the center, with pancetta and parmigiano. They might even give you a funny look if you mention they should have used guanciale and peccorino. But this unique bacon is nothing like pancetta. It gives an enormous amount of porky flavour to the sauces and your guests will wonder where it comes from as they hand their plates for more.




In Italy, it is widely available only in some regions. Guanciale is made from pork cheeks(very fat porks apparently). The meat is washed in wine, seasoned and left in a stone niche for 40 days to marinate. After that they hang it to dry and presto - you can eat it.You don't really eat raw guanciale - it is a highly savory piece of white pig fat better used for cooking. You melt it down in a saucepan and use the fat to fry further ingredients who will become infused with this amazing taste. It is not part of any diet I've come across, but even a small quantity will get you the taste, so it's worth trying even if you are dieting.

To buy guanciale, try any food shop or salumeria in Rome, its place of origin. Ask for guanciale or Barbozzo, a cousin from Umbria, barbaglia or barbagia, or even goletta made from the meat below the jaw that unites both jowls. If they don't know what it is, write it down. If they still don't know or show some pancetta or coppa, saying it's the same, thank them and move on. They don't have it.




On the picture above you can see a collection of 3 types of guanciale hanging from the ceiling at Salumeria in Rome, a good place to buy guanciale. They don't cost much and you can store them in the fridge for many months, using only bits at a time. If the end becomes tainted, all you need is cut a slice and disregard it and the rest will be perfect.


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