Guanciale, cured pork cheek or jowl, is a staple product and a specialty of central Italy. As pigs have well-developed muscles in their cheeks, it produces a robust and unique flavor that Italians love to create in their cuisine.
When cooking guanciale, it’s typically cut into strips or cubes, depending on the requirements of the dish.
If you want to know how to cut guanciale, you’ve come to the right place. This article will outline the process, tell you how to cure the meat at home, and the best way to cut it for maximum flavor.
How Do You Remove Pork Jowls?
Before you start slicing and dicing, you’ll need the right tools. A boning knife is recommended to get the meat from the bone, perfect if you’re removing the cheeks yourself (and a chef’s knife to cut the meat for cooking).
Based on removing the jowls from a whole or half head, follow the simple steps below:
- Place the animal’s head upside down on your chopping board with the chin facing upwards.
- With your boning knife, cut down the middle of the jowl area.
- Peel back the meat to reveal the jawline.
- Cut alongside the jawline, slicing away the meat from the head. Use your knife to scrape off as much meat as possible from the bone.
- You’ll likely notice the lymph nodes (yellowish-grey lumpy masses). Trim around these to remove them entirely since they may foul the meat and don’t taste very nice.
- As you cut further along the jawline, be careful not to come into contact with the teeth; they’re super strong and could ruin your knife.
- Once the underneath section of the cheek has been completely cut away, turn the head over to begin cutting from the ear.
- Place your knife about one centimeter away from the pig’s ear.
- Begin to cut downwards from the ear towards the corner of the mouth.
- Again, try to remove as much meat as possible without cutting too deeply and grazing the teeth.
- Once complete, the cheek can be pulled away from the face.
- Then, address the other cheek and repeat the steps.
Do You Cut the Skin Off Guanciale?
The short answer is yes; it’s better to have the skin removed when ready to eat.
But when exactly should the skin be removed? Some chefs and guanciale enthusiasts remove it before the curing process, and others remove it after.
Remove the Skin Before Curing
- So the seasoning can penetrate into the fat and meat more easily and speed up the drying process.
- Because guanciale skin dries and becomes very hard once cooked, making the skin more difficult to remove.
Remove the Skin After Curing
- The traditional school of thought is to leave the skin on during the curing process to retain flavor, moisture, and fat.
- This means the curing process will take longer. However, the longer the meat is left to dry, the stronger and tastier the flavor becomes.
How to Cure Pork Jowls
Next, let’s look at how to cure your pork cheeks at home.
- Kosher salt
- White sugar
- Crushed garlic
- Crushed black peppercorns
- Fresh thyme or Fennel
Note: At the end of the drying process, you want the meat to have lost at least 30% of the water content. Therefore, weigh your meat pieces beforehand so you can monitor how it’s drying throughout and when complete.
- Combine all your ingredients into a plastic bag and place the meat inside.
- Shake the bag well, then rub and massage the ingredients into the meat.
- Put it in your fridge for between four to seven days. Rub the seasoning into the meat each day and turn the bag.
- The cheeks will release liquid and create a brine. Depending on the thickness, it should become stiff around the fourth day.
- Remove the meat from the bag to pat dry.
- Create a hole around an inch from the edge of the cheek to put a butcher’s hook or string through it for hanging.
- Hang in a cool place for two to six weeks minimum.
- The longer you leave it to dry, the stronger the flavor will be.
- You can weigh your jowl each week to monitor how well the drying process is coming along. For example, if it dries too quickly on the outside, you may need to pause the process for a while and add some humidity (consider placing a bowl of heavily salted water underneath it) to slow down the drying.
Best Way to Cut Guanciale for Italian Cuisine
This fatty cut of pork comprises strips of slender savory meat between thick layers of juicy lard. It’s essential to cut it properly to get as much flavor as possible from your guanciale.
You can slice it thinly and eat it raw with bread or cut it into cubes. However, because it’s such a fatty meat when cut into cubes, there is a chance of ending up with cube pieces with fat only or meat only.
It is better to cut your meat in strips, ensuring that each piece contains fat and meat to make pasta amatriciana, pasta alla gricia, or carbonara. This combination offers the best of both worlds and will make every bite delicious.
To cut guanciale into slices:
- Cut a slice from the larger piece of guanciale, approximately half a centimeter thick.
- Slice off the skin from the strip. You can use the skin to add flavor to your soups and stocks.
- Cut the slice into one-centimeter-wide strips. Ensure each strip has fat and meat on it.
Note: The strips may appear large at first but will significantly shrink in size once cooked.
The strong muscles developed in the jowl of a pig create an intense sweet-savory flavored cut of meat. Italians love to use guanciale as a critical ingredient in their traditional pasta dishes.
Once cooked, the skin becomes dry and hard. Therefore, it’s better to remove the skin before cooking. If you are curing the meat yourself, keeping the skin on makes the process longer. But the longer it’s cured, the tastier it becomes.
Hopefully, this article has helped you decide how to cut guanciale to create a tasty Italian dish. Buon appetito!