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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.

                  2. The simplest thing is to just omit the pancetta. None of these other things are going to duplicate its flavor. Pancetta is not part of the name, is it?

                    http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2008/04...
                    calls for 2 oz of pancetta. You may need more oil when sauteing the fennel. You are going to salt according to taste, pancetta or not.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: paulj

                      No, it's not the focal point of the recipe, but I do think that having a kind of salty fatty component really helps this dish! I am not a huge making-fish-at-home fan and I have made this like 20 times it is so good.

                    2. Chowhounders to the rescue! I knew I asked the right people - what splended ideas! I think I will go with adding some of the olive oil sundried tomatoes (if I can find them at WholeFoods) and some olives. Are kalamata the best option?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: theamusedbouche

                        How about salt or oil cured olives? Those are somewhat pancetta-like. Kalamata would have the right taste, but salt cured would have the consistency too.

                        1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                          I would vote for kalamatas here, though I love salt and oil-cured, since the kalamatas are so fatty and unctuous (part of the reason to love to eat pig bits); and the other olives can be dry or sharp.

                          1. re: rcallner

                            You know, I don't think I've ever had salt or oil cured olives that I didn't make myself, so I'm not sure what the store-bought ones are like. I made mine from plump mission olives and they turned out wonderfully fatty and unctuous without the water content of kalamatas. But I can see how they might end up dry if made from the smaller olives recommended in some recipes. Then again, they'll probably reconstitute somewhat when cooked into a sauce. I bet either type of olive would be great.

                      2. I'd just leave it out. Cooked Kalamatas can get overpoweringly salty.

                        1. I wouldn't worry about losing anything by leaving out the pancetta, especially if you take the great anchovy suggestions; a small fistful of salt-cured capers, well-rinsed, will also add a nice contrast. Lots of fresh parsley and maybe some mint, too.

                          1. how about some kind of roe or caviar? or perhaps bottarga.

                            in another direction, chopped roasted salted almonds might be a good salty, crunchy kick in this recipe

                            1. UPDATE: ended up making the dish with chopped kalamatas and oil-cured sun dried tomatoes and it was FANTASTIC. I used turbot instead of monkfish because that's what WholeFoods had on sale (fish for a party is expensive!) and we didn't miss the pancetta at all. It was really great. Thanks again for all the suggestions!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: theamusedbouche

                                Sounds luscious. Probably going to make it for my pescatarian at home. Thanks for closing the loop!