Any fan of Italian cuisine knows by now that authentic carbonara does not contain cream, although we do not deny the “fake” version either. The ingredient that perhaps does go unnoticed outside of your country is guancialea traditional italian sausage that outside its borders we usually replace with pancetta or bacon.
The three products are similar in their nature and origin, also in appearance, although the most trained eye will be able to distinguish them at a glance without too much difficulty. Of course it is in the texture and, particularly, the flavor and aromas where the guanciale clearly stands out as a particular cured meat that gives the carbonara, and other elaborations, a unique character.
what is the guanciale
already commented Jaime de las Heras in his review of some of the most popular Italian sausages, leaving aside the well-known mortadella or salami; Italy shares our Mediterranean passion for cured meats, cold cuts and cured meats. And, although it is not the only animal that lends itself to these games of meat derivatives, it is the one that shines with its own light in the pantry.
In short, the guanciale is nothing more than pork bacon, but with a clearly higher fat percentage than bacon or any conventional cut of bacon. It can be made from pig face or the double chin -sometimes combining neck and throat- the first being the most traditional and oldest, also more expensive.
In fact, the term guanciale comes from Italian guancia“cheek”, or cheeka very meaty part of the pig that offers less yield than other cuts, for sheer size, which makes the product more expensive, but which is much appreciated for its delicate texture, firmer in the meat section, and more intense flavor and fragrant.
The key, as we say, of the guanciale is in the high proportion of fat and the buttery texture of it. In addition, this sausage acquires its final personality through the elaboration process, a healing aged between three weeks and three months, but always without smoking -an important detail, although there are exceptions-, after having rubbed the entire piece in a mixture of salt, pepper, aromatic herbs and, optionally, garlic.
As a result, a sausage is obtained firmer to the touch than pancetta or bacon, somewhat drier, but with a softer interior texture, much more aromatic and balanced in its aromas, which are notably enhanced when the bacon that it is made of is heated and melted.
Not just carbonara
The carbonara sauce is today one of the most famous in Italy, whether it is made in the canonical way or with its multiple versions adapted to other palates. However, its appearance is relatively recent, becoming popular especially since the mid-20th century, after World War II.
Rather, it is an evolution of the “mother” sauces of Italian cuisine, an example of pantry simplicity and minimalism: cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), gricia (guanciale or jowls and cheese) and caso e ova (cheese and egg), as explained Anna Mayer in Panepanna, a reference website for the dissemination of Italian cuisine for Spaniards.
The guanciale is also present in another great classic, the amatriciana, with tomato, and could really be incorporated into almost any sauce that calls for that extra hit of flavor, smoothness and fragrance almost umami. Fat, when heated and melted, soften the meat that surrounds it, intensifies its flavors and blends slightly with the other ingredients, creating a kind of shortening which, in carbonara, helps the egg bind the sauce.
The guanciale is also used in stews, soups, stews, meat sauces and fillings, as well as in more informal dishes such as pizzas, focaccias or sandwiches. Just like we do with pancetta or bacon, but with different results.
How to substitute the guanciale
Even in Italy, pancetta is used -Italian, of which there are many variants- when there is no guanciale available, always considering its quality and the type of dish to be prepared. In Spain it is still difficult to find this sausage in ordinary places, so we can manage well with local equivalents that are close the maximum possible.
If we cannot find guanciale we can substitute it by combining cured bacon with Iberian bacon
Sliced bacon or smoked bacon, the typical format we use for a hamburger or to top some eggs, are the least recommended options. We have already mentioned that guanciale is used in carbonara unsmokedand must also have a thicker cut to be able to chop the sausage into more generous cubes or cubes.
Ideally, it should be a cured or aerated pork sausage, without smoking, and that it has a high proportion of fat. Anna Mayer herself advises us to use the typical fried bacon of the Asturian compangos, or equivalent, to whose lack of fat you can add a little Iberian bacon extra, to compensate.
In any case, there is no need to obsess. The important thing is to start with good quality pasta, master the carbonara technique and have good quality ingredients. It will always be better to cook the sauce with top-notch bacon than with a minor guanciale, because there are also low-quality ones. If something identifies Italian cuisine, like so many others, it is that it knows how to adapt quickly to circumstances.
Images | iStock – judywitts – Cayobo
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