I've asked my butcher to supply two hog jowls so I can try my hand at making guanciale (an unsmoked, dry-cured thing--effectively, it's like pancetta made from jowl rather than belly).
I'll pick from one of the many recipes that have been discussed here and are also online (Batali, Ruhlman, etc.). One thing that isn't clear to me, though, is whether the jowl is to be cured whole, or in chunks.
The butcher told me that the jowls tend to be about 2 pounds each, and that each jowl is from half of the hog. A recipe like Batali's calls for, and I quote, "2 pounds hog jowls." Might he as well have said a "two pound hog jowl" (singular?), or does his use of the plural mean that the jowl is ever broken down further prior to curing, like into chunks?
My guess is that he means a whole jowl, but specified the weight because that variable has to correlate just so with the quantities of salt and sugar for curing. But I wanted to ask just to be sure.
Of course, also, if anyone has sage advice about making this, or things to avoid, I'll welcome it.
Your guess of whole jowl is correct.
I don't have particularly sage advice, but maybe a few comments.
Temperature and humidity play key roles in air drying (guanciale/sausage/ham, whatever). Traditionally, curing is done in the fall time with the onset of colder weather. I don't know how hot and humid Indiana summers are, but just plan ahead on where you are going to do the drying.
From chefj's link:
"Despite their positive effects, nitrites are converted in the stomach into nitrosamines, known carcinogens."
I see this all the time - blanket descriptions of nitrite/nitrate use. Even the term "Prague Powder" is somewhat archaic (but I think the author simply wanted to use it as a segue to "X-rated movie sequel set in a Czech beauty parlor").
To each his own, but I wouldn't simply dismiss nitrite/nitrate use as a curing agent. They "help prevent rancidity in the storage of meats and protects the meat products from botulism...unfortunately, there is no other substitute in the world today that can do the job." (Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing - Kutas).
Me? I'm more worried about botulism than potential nitrite hazards.
I'd suggest to learn about their proper use and go from there.
Thanks for this. As it happens, I found a specialty Italian market that could sell me a chunk of prepared guanciale. So I got that, and I will hold off until fall to try making some of my own, as we have a basement and probably perfect conditions for hanging (cool, open, arid). Maybe I should age some beef, too!
I did cure a whole brisket and used potassium nitrate for that. The cure was in the fridge, in a bag.
But that fridge part's not so relevant as a precaution against botulism, which is indeed the key thing that the nitrates/nitrites help to control. If I'm not mistaken, botulism only thrives in anaerobic environments. So using nitrate/nitrite in the fridge in a sealed environment might be important, whereas something hanging in the air might not foster botulism at all?
re: Bada Bing
I don't want to go too far off-topic, but nitrate/nitrites can be hazardous if used incorrectly (like almost everything...), but lack of use in certain circumstances can be just as scary.
Like I say, knowledge is key - when to use, how much, etc etc.
Ifn you're gonna cook it, you don't have to worry too much about botulism (which is killed with heat), but theres still spoilage and rancidity issues.
Salt alone (sodium) can often times keep this in check, but I'd recommend following recipes: if it calls for sodium nitrite (AKA Instacure #1, AKA Pink Salt, AKA Prague Powder#1), use as directed.
An old Italian friend showed me how to make air-dried sausage. He never used nitrites (as I said above, to each his own) and I can respect that. However, I ALWAYS use instacure#1 when doing the same.
I also like the tangy flavor brought about by curing.
I applaud your instinct to caution. As with canning, I think, one needs to be careful in meat curing and follow recipes from sources that are VERY credible.
There's an interesting gray-zone on that credibility issue in connection with celebrity chefs and their recipes/cookbooks. If you look on Amazon for Ruhlman's "Charcuterie" book, you'll find lots of positive reviews but some professionals insisting that the techniques are unsafe and backward.
In these cases, I tend to get alarmed and to triangulate obsessively between various viewpoints in order to make a judgment.
Kind of like using reviews to buy an oven or fridge, now that I think of it....
Hope sister and BIL miss this one.
Sendiks of Milwaukee had a sale on beef tenderloins at $4.99 a lb. Sent to get one, I bought two. Hung one out of sight in the basement and we enjoyed the other. I did leave a plate to catch the drippings and cleaned daily.
While off for a few days on a cheese trek, the cat found the basement door open and enjoyed the drippings. So I caution you to block off you air drying area from pets as well as flies, or you may find nasty surprises all over the house like they did.
The dry aged was much better than the first. When asked how it was done, I simply smiled and said a secret process.
Charcuterie and dry-aging beef are a bit different.
I dry-age beef in the fridge (have a rib-roast going on 29 days now).
I dry-age sausage (and capicolli) in a small room in the basement.
We were in Spain a few years ago. After much thought and prep, I brought back a whole Serrano ham (like prosciutto). I plopped it on the kitchen table when we got back. We awoke in the middle of the night to a strange sound - it was our dog who pulled the pig leg off the table and was now eating/licking/slobbering it.
I was heartbroken....