This week the market report goes indoors to the butcher counter to focus on Guanciale, an intensely flavored, bacon-like pork product which is simply pig’s jowl cured in salt, sugar, and herbs. Mario Batali (the patron saint of cured pork products, Gastrodad extraordinaire, and one of my culinary heroes, as you might have guessed from the number of references to the man on this site), has probably done more to popularize it in the country than anyone. It’s one of those revered regional cured pork products that you read about in hardcore Italian recipes (Batali, Hazan, etc). They offer up substitutions (American Bacon, Pancetta) begrudgingly, because they how uniquely delicious it is, but also know how tough it is to get the stuff. You could make your own according to Babbo’s recipe or buy a big hunk of the stuff from Batali’s dad’s company Salumi Cured meats . Or cross your fingers that La Quercia, a great Iowa-based producer of Italian-style cured meats, adds it to their list of excellent products. One way or another, it’s worth making or buying a bunch to play around with, as I discovered this past weekend.
Last night I made two things: a guanciale red onion pizza that we had as our family meal and an amatriciana sauce (tons of guanciale, san marzano tomatoes, red pepper flakes, onion, and garlic. It’s traditionally used to sauce the hollow spaghetti-like noodle called bucatini). My cured-pork-loving kids snagged the rendered pieces off the cutting board and wolfed down the pizza. What’s the difference between guanciale and bacon? First of all, guanciale isn’t smoked, so you get a more pronounced pig flavor which I can only describe and ephemeral, deep, and incredibly satisfying. In the amatriciana sauce, the guanciale pervades the tomato sauce with its richness and flavor, giving it a meaty sweetness. (Here’s a link to the Babbo amatriciana recipe). We’re freezing it for a future, last-minute family meal.