What's Fabulous: Guanciale
Heavenly Pig Jowl
The name Guanciale comes from the Italian word guancia, which means cheek. It is unsmoked bacon that is made from the jowls, or cheeks, of a hog that is rubbed with salt and pepper and cured for about three weeks. It has a smooth, white, silky texture and a slightly richer flavor than pancetta. And it is pure pig heaven.
It's hard for me to resist just cooking pieces of it before adding to a recipe (eating half of it before I'm done), but it's most perfect when added to classic Roman dishes.
As when buying pancetta, guanciale is sold cut to your instructions from a slab so that you or your deli can cut slices or thick pieces depending on how you're going to serve it. It's usually cut in thick, 1/4-inch or so slices, and sautéed until crisp and golden brown. Some also consider it a fatty delicacy -- an alternative to butter or cheese -- to make a crostini of paper thin "raw" slices (because it's been salt-cured, it's not really raw -- just not stove cooked) of guanciale on top of a slice of grilled bread.
Guanciale replaces pancetta in pasta all'amatriciana or spaghetti carbonara. But my favorite use for it is in the classic Roman pasta called Bucatini alla Gricia where guanciale is cooked to crispness and then combined with thick strands of bucatini pasta and grated pecorino romano cheese, a Roman sheep cheese that's similar in texture to Parmigiano-Reggiano but with a more robust flavor.
The City Cook has a recipe for Rigatoni alla Gricia in which we've replaced rigatoni for the hard-to-find bucatini. Please make the effort to find the guanciale instead of making a substitution. If by any miracle you'd have any slices of guanciale left over, sauté them to golden brown. Make your favorite Caesar salad. Fry large croutons in the guanciale's rendered fat. And toss the crispy slices of golden pork jowls with the croutons and the pungent salad. It just doesn't get any better.
Look for guanciale at food merchants that sell Italian salumi and similar products. In New York this includes Fairway, Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market, and the superb Blue Apron Foods in Park Slope.