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Swap for Pancetta? Catering to a Pescatarian

Hey Chowhound,
Having a dinner party this week and planned on making one of my favorite fish dishes EVER - Molly Stevens Braised Monkfish with Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes from All About Braising - because one of the guests is a pescatarian. However, I just remembered that Molly's awesome recipe uses pancetta to really give the dish flavor and depth. BUT I won't be able to use the magic pork product for this dinner party so I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions on what I could swap it with or add to the dish instead of pancetta? Maybe olives? Maybe preserved lemon? I am at a loss. I already bought the other ingredients for this dish so I want to make it work!

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  1. Well, I am impressed by the ideas of olives and particularly, preserved lemon...they both sound brilliant, but not sure if they convey the unctuousness of pancetta...could you reproduce some of that salty/umami quality with a mushroom/fish sauce combo? A pescatarian could do fish sauce, and if you marinated thinly-sliced mushrooms like shiitake in the dish you might be similar flavor/texture. I'm looking forward to seeing the ideas for this from other 'hounds.

    1. I can't think of anything that will quite do what pancetta would, but olives or preserved lemon or capers would surely be very tasty in that preparation. I might also suggest a couple of anchovies mashed into the braising liquid.

      (Love your screen name, BTW; makes me smile.)

      3 Replies
      1. re: nomadchowwoman

        i would also second the anchovies. my other idea was fried/chopped salmon skin. but mostly just cuz i love it.

        1. re: nomadchowwoman

          Anchovies were my first thought too. Definitely a great umami enhancer!

          1. re: Lady_Tenar

            Yes, but otherwise undetectable (in small quantities). Ever since I first saw this tip (from one of the superchefs) several years ago, I add them to all kinds of braises.

        2. I thought of mushrooms, too, so there's that, but mushrooms won't give the little salty bits as pancetta would, so I'd go with your suggestion of olives.
          Capers are another pop of salt.

          1. All good ideas, but I'd also throw out there finally diced sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil. Salty and chewy like pancetta, and you'd also get the fat of the oil (which is also an important part of the pancetta in the original).

            3 Replies
              1. re: katecm

                I'd go with katecm's SDtomatoes and sliced kalamata olives. They are fatty bits of WOW flavor. My husband's pescetarian and this works well in other dishes.

                1. re: katecm

                  oooh this sounds like a great idea - especially because the dish already has tomatoes.

                2. Would a pinch of smoked paprika help?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: escondido123

                    I thought of that too at first, but my concern is that I don't think it will replicate flavor or texture, as pancetta is not smoked.

                    1. re: monavano

                      As I left the house after posting that, I remembered it was pancetta and not bacon.