Ever wondered what gives traditional Roman pasta dishes that buttery richness? The answer is guanciale — find out all about it here!
Pronounced as ‘gwan-CHAA-le,’ this cured pork cheek will elevate the flavor and richness of any dish or sauce.
Guanciale is derived from the word ‘guancia,’ which refers to ‘cheek‘ in Italian and is a specialty of regions in central Italy like Lazio and Umbria.
Since Rome is the capital of Lazio, guanciale is used by locals in most of their dishes like carbonara, pasta all’Amatriciana, and pasta alla gricia.
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Aside from salt and pepper, herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage are often used during curing, and sometimes garlic or fennel are added for spices.
Guanciale has a high fat-to-meat ratio, and the aging process gives the fat that soft texture that easily melts when cooked.
Guanciale vs. Pancetta
As you can see from the image above, there is more fat in guanciale than pancetta.
However, the main difference is which specific part of the pig they’re from — guanciale is pork jowl (or cheek), while pancetta is pork belly.
They also have different curing processes, which gives the cured pork cheek a noticeable, more robust flavor than pancetta.
Even if pancetta is only typically seasoned with salt during its curing process, it is still the best substitute that you can use.
Since it has less fat, you will probably need to add more oil, especially if used as a base for sauce.
Bacon is a combination of different cuts from a pig, not just from the belly, so in this sense, it’s a good substitute.
However, it’s typically smoked, so you might get that smokiness in your dish (depending on the quantity, of course).
How to use it
Because of its high-fat percentage, there is no need to add oil when cooking this cured pork cheek.
Just place it in a cold pan, wait for it to heat up, and cook until the meaty parts start getting darker and the fat becomes transparent.
Take a look at these traditional Roman dishes to give you a better idea.
Amatriciana sauce is composed of guanciale, tomatoes, and pecorino Romano — only a handful of ingredients, but packed with complex flavors.
You can choose any type of pasta, but bucatini is the best one to use if you want to do what the locals do.
Some are saying that this is the original dish from where amatriciana sauce came from.
It’s got the same set of ingredients, EXCEPT for the tomatoes and onions — so try them both and let me know which is your preferred guanciale dish!
Alternatively, and I’ve seen locals in Tuscany do this:
- Slice the guanciale thinly.
- Place them on top of some crunchy bread (or pane Toscano).
- Serve with a glass of wine and enjoy! 🙂
Make sure you wrap sliced guanciale in a paper, place it in a ziplock bag or airtight container, then keep it in the refrigerator — for about a week.
So how about it? Give this cured pork cheek a try; I promise you will not regret it! 🙂
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