Sicily may not be the first place you think of when you think cured meats, but just like all the other regions, they too have their specialties. In fact, Sicily has an indigenous pig; the black pig of Nebrodi. Nebrodi is a mountain range in the northeast part of Sicily.
Theoretically this recipe would have to be made using one of those pigs, but try as I might, I was unable to find one in Atlanta. What I DID have was a belly from a Mangalitza hog which I was fortunate enough to have been given from Mosefund Farm. Michael at Mosefund clearly knows his stuff as his pigs are sold all over high end New York City restaurants. This stuff really is something special.
This recipe is a little different in that the curing and spicing occurs twice. First the belly is cured with its spices and herbs, then it’s rinsed and rubbed with additional spices and herbs, really accentuating the flavors.
Unfortunately, by request I've been asked not to share the exact recipe. You'll have to work out the ratios on your own for this one! I can tell you that the main flavors are oregano, black pepper, garlic and fennel.
|The belly in all its glory. |
Thanks again to Michael at Mosefund.
|Look how beautiful this is. It’s about 3” thick. The fat feels quite different from other pig’s fat I’ve felt. It’s softer and seems to have a lower melting point. I have to assume this is because of the pasturing of the pigs at Mosefund.|
|If you’re going to make this, do us both a favor and don’t use generic oregano. This is one of the main flavorings, so find the good stuff. I conveniently had a bag of Sicilian stuff.|
|The cure mix ready to apply. Smells AMAZING.|
|As usual, spread the cure mix all over the belly, bag it up and put it in the fridge. |
I left it in the fridge for 20 days. This is probably longer than needed, but that’s the beauty of equilibrium curing (using the amount of salt in the cure that you want the meat to absorb), it can’t overcure.
|This is the spice mix, ground as fine as possible in a spice grinder and ready to apply after the belly was rinsed.|
|Rinsed belly and testing the “folding”|
|Spice mix liberally applied|
|This is where things get interesting. Instead of doing my usual pancetta method and hanging flat, i decided to make it “steccata”. This involves folding it over and clamping it with wood boards. This is meant to slow the drying and reduce the possibility of oxidation of the exposed fat. |
I used cedar boards. Initially clamped with woodworking clamps. Note how much pressure is on there, the boards are flexing quite a bit.
|And then the boards were tied with strings. You want the boards to be really right to make sure there are no air pockets in the pancetta and get the meat to adhere to itself over time.|
|Traditionally the belly would be folded and cut in such a way that the edges are actually sewn together as the skin ends up touching. I didn’t want to trim this and waste and of the precious belly, so I covered it with a beef bung which I split so it would be like a sheet. |
This will slow the drying on the exposed area.
|This is to show I had to add additional boards to make sure the whole belly was equally compressed. |
This went into the curing chamber at about 55 deg F and 80% RH, and will remain there at least 4-6 months I would think. Likely longer.
Looking forward to trying the Manga belly from Mosefund! If this is half as good as it looks, it’ll be amazing.