Things have slowed down a bit work-wise and as you may have noticed I’ve been doing some adventurous stuff lately. One experiment I was eager to try was curing some pork cheeks into guanciale. It’s been on my ‘to-do’ list but I always kept forgetting to ask about pork cheeks when in a butcher shop. Well, I remembered, but instead of whole cheeks I ended up with a package of pork cheek meat. So instead of gunaciale, I ended up with guancialini! That’s improv Italian for mini-gunaciale.
To be honest, I figured I’d be making this post a few weeks from now but since I was using smaller chunks the curing and drying was finished way ahead of time. Depending on the size of the cheek it can take 1-3 weeks of hanging for it to properly cure. I had a dozen pieces which added up to the total weight of the cheek I was supposed to have (2 ½ lbs) so I figured it’d be between 1-2 weeks. Nope. Not even close. The really small pieces were done after 4-5 days of hang time. The big ones were about a week.
I took the cure from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie (always my first stop for meat curing). In the recipe he describes guanciale as the easiest cured meat a home cook can do. While I think making duck prosciutto is probably the simplest (salt and hang it for a week) guanciale is more rewarding. First of all, though the cure for guanciale has a few more ingredients it really is pretty simple. Second, you’re not covering the meat entirely with salt which allows other flavors to seep in, like the thyme, garlic, and sugar. And isn’t that what you really want, flavor? There is one optional ingredient I added, pink curing salt. It helps give the red color and adds some savory zing to the meat.
Taste test time. Duck prosciutto, as you can imagine, is salty, since it get cured in a pile of the stuff and has much more of a duck flavor (no duh). Pork on the other hand is much milder so it lends itself better to taking on the flavors of the cure. Most importantly, Cheryl is quite pleased with the result and agrees: the duck prosciutto tastes great but the guancialini tastes awesome! Gives me great hope for tackling some other pork cuts I have in mind to cure…Stay tuned!
Home Cured Guanciale (Pork Cheeks) from Charcuterie
- 2 lb pork jowl (or pieces like mine)
- 70 gr kosher salt (½ C)
- 70 gr sugar (⅓ C
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed, chopped
- 15 black peppercorns, cracked in a mortar & pestle or with the back of a knife
- Thyme, large bunch. I used about 10 sprigs and stripped the herb from the ‘branch’
- 1 tsp pink curing salt (optional)
Rinse off the jowl and trim away any membranes or extra stuff which doesn’t look like fat (glands). If you’re using meat pieces already butchered there’s not much to it.
Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.
Place the jowl/cheek pieces in a large Ziploc bag (1 gallon size works great) and pour in the mixed cure. Give the bag the Shake n Bake treatment and shake the pieces around so they’re all covered in the stuff and rub them to make sure the cure gets in.
Place the bag on its flat side in the fridge, so the pieces are distributed evenly in the bag. Every other day flip the bag over to redistribute the cure. There will be liquid in the bag now, this is fine. That’s the result of the salt doing its job.
Leave in the fridge for 4-6 days until the meat is no longer squishy. It should feel firm all the way through. Fell some squish, keep it in another day.
When the meat is ready, remove from the bag and wash off the cure under running water. Rinse it well.
If using a whole jowl the recipe says to poke a hole in a corner, run a string through it, and hang in a cool dry place until it is stiff to the touch but not hard all the way through, about 1-3 weeks. If using pieces like I did wrap them individually in one layer of cheesecloth and hang in a cool dry place. Like in the picture below. They’ll take 5-7 days depending on how small the pieces are. Remove from the cheesecloth, eat. Wrapped up in plastic wrap and refrigerated they’ll keep for a few weeks. Don’t worry, they won’t last that long.