The pig. Where would we be without this generous animal? I do not want to think about living in a world without prosciutto, mortadella, or guanciale, to name a few. So I wont. Instead, in this series of piggy blogs, I will take the time to revere this creature who has added much to cuisine around the world. The diverse flavors created by the, in my opinion, underappreciated swine, are precious to life. Let’s investigate further…
Guanciale is such a beautiful word
Go ahead, say it out loud. Get your Italian on. GUANCIALE [gwa-n-chà-leh]. Yes, I ham what I ham. I love many parts of the beloved pig, but guanciale has become a viable contender for my heart’s number one swine spot. As you may know, Casa Mia has expanded into the world of online interactive cooking classes. If you didn’t know that you must stop reading this and click here. No, seriously go and look at our classes. Then sign up! I had the great pleasure of cooking Carbonara, Amatriciana, and Gricia numerous times in the past few months. In order to keep the authenticity of these dishes, I had to buy guanciale. HAD TO. Multiple times.
My new local…the salumeria
Off I went to the North End, the Italian section of Boston, and found my “go to” for all meats, cheeses and accents Italiano. I love this little salumeria not only because of its gorgeous products, but because it brings me back to my time in Italy. I miss Italy. I MISS Italy. Thus, when I found a local joint that features quality and personality, I had to return. HAD TO. Multiple times. Kind of sums up Italy, no? Keep the faith my friends, we will return. Ok, back to the pig in the room.
As we know, the amount of products the pig produces is seemingly endless. So what exactly is guanciale? This delectable item first starts as the plump, rotund, generously fatty jowl of the pig. Yes, the lower cheek, neck, and throat of the pig. Even if you were to take your hand and place it on your jowl right now (yes, go ahead) you can feel that fleshy area that we, as humans, may not totally appreciate. However in the pig, it is one fleshy delight. Guancia is the Italian word for cheek, hence guanciale. Bravo!
Time, flavor, region
Let’s not turn a cheek to the subject at hand here. Once this fatty cut is harvested (for lack of better word), the masters of their craft take over. A curing blend of salt, sugar, black pepper, garlic, and herbs––most commonly sage and rosemary––are generously massaged to cover the outside of the jowl. It is then allowed to rest and dry out anywhere from 4 weeks to 3 months. As with most, if not all food from Italy, traditions from the various regions of this peninsula dictate the actual recipes including time and temperature control. Now that it is ready for consumption… what does one do?
Back to the beginning of this article (I am sure you have signed up for a class by now. Keep in mind we can arrange private classes too). I became a regular at this wonderful salumeria in Boston in order to make 3 out of Rome’s big 4 traditional pastas for our cooking classes: Carbonara, Amatriciana, and Gricia. I have professed my love of Carbonara many times, but I must say Gricia and Amatriciana have truly carved out a respectable place in my palate. But why?
Guanciale can be, and is, utilized in many pasta dishes as its fat renders itself to a sauce of great depths. It is also a wonderful base for soups adding it to your soffrito. Honestly, just heating it up to a crispy snack is so delicious, albeit not a treat that should be consumed each day… let’s be real. However, I have added it to sauteed greens as well as a fresh spinach salad. It will keep very well in the fridge, so if you come across it, buy it.
Guanciale is commonly replaced by bacon or pancetta in recipes especially if one cannot find it. That is ok. BUT… do try to find guanciale. Seriously, it is worth the journey. Especially if it is freshly sliced by your butcher, or maybe you buy the entire jowl. That is my next step in this salty relationship of mine. However, please know that bacon and pancetta are substitutes for guanciale. Substitutes. NOT replacements.
Here is my advice to you… until you find yourself in the presence of its flavor, its silky fattiness, its mouthwatering spices, only then will you understand. So yes, in the meantime please do use what is accessible. But know you are cutting yourself short of flavor. You are worth all the flavor in the world. Know that when it comes to guanciale, always be cheeky.