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April 08, 2008

Smoked Pancetta

Dominic Armato
Yeah, I realize the title is basically a contradiction in terms, but allow me to explain.

For a long time now, the short answer to the "what's the difference between pancetta and bacon" question has been that bacon is smoked, pancetta isn't. This wasn't entirely true, as I believe smoked pancetta has always been present (if uncommon) in some pockets of Northern Italy, but for all practical purposes, at least in the States, it was true. But a recent development is complicating that answer somewhat, as Leoncini has started to import a smoked version of slab pancetta. It got a quick mention in the New York Times about a month ago and I've been anxious to get my hands on it since. With my Baltimore-based guanciale search coming up empty, I need a new pet pork product anyway. So this past week I was chatting with Nino, my neighbor and friend who is one of the owners of Il Scalino next door, when he happened to mention that he was getting in some special smoked pancetta from Italy the next day. 24 hours later, I was walking out with a pound, half of it in one large chunk, and half of it sliced super thin.

It's good. Really good. But it's not the shocking departure that you might expect. It's nothing like regular pancetta, to be sure. Essentially, it's bacon. Really, really good bacon. I want to say that it's a little cleaner and sweeter than the typical American slab bacon to which I'm accustomed, but it's still a very strong smoke and, in any case, it's extremely good. I spent the weekend playing around with it a bit, and frankly, my favorite usage so far is just to eat it as-is, sliced paper thin, with a good crusty bread and maybe a little cheese or fruit. There are a couple of ideas that are still percolating, but in the meantime, here's one quick and easy dish I've made with it. This hardly merits a recipe -- it's just a simple five-minute vegetable dish -- but I thought it worked nicely. For the Baltimore folks, if you want to pick some up, I'd recommend calling first. They were already running low.

Dominic Armato

3 oz. smoked pancetta
1/4 C. diced onion
12-15 small Brussels sprouts
1 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Smoked Pancetta and Balsamic
Serves 2-4 as a side

This is a dish that you sauté up very quickly, not unlike a stir-fry (in fact, a wok would be a great way to make it), so you want to have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go next to the stove before you get cooking.

Slice the pancetta into short strips about 1/4" wide and 1/8" inch thick. Remove the stems from the sprouts and discard them. Slice the sprouts into little rounds about 1/4" thick, or a little thinner. Some will hold their shape and some will fall apart to make a pile of shredded sprouts. That's exactly what you want. You should have about 2 C. worth.

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat and, when it gets hot, add the pancetta. Sauté the pancetta, stirring constantly, until some of the fat has rendered and the pancetta has softened a little. Then add the onion and continue sautéing until the onions soften just slightly and the pancetta has gotten just a touch crispy around the edges. This should only take a minute or two. Add the Brussels sprouts and continue stir-frying until the sprouts have turned bright green, just thirty seconds to a minute. Finally, add the vinegar, scraping up anything that's stuck to the bottom of the pan, and toss the mixture with the vinegar for about 30 seconds.

Remove from the heat, salt to taste (the pancetta is pretty salty, so you might not need any) and serve right away.


I just made smoked spicy pancetta a couple days ago. It's hanging right now so I won't be able to try it for another week and a half or so but I am quite excited. I did a very cold but direct smoke.

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