Prosciutto vs Pancetta
While pancetta and prosciutto are both cured pork meat of Italian origin, their similarities end there. Pancetta comes from the belly of a pig, while prosciutto comes from its hind leg, making pancetta a high-fat cut of meat and prosciutto comparatively lean. Chefs must cook pancetta before serving it, but prosciutto is salt-cured and does not need to be cooked. Now that you understand the basic differences between prosciutto and pancetta, read on to discover the nuances between these popular delicacies and the best uses for each.
What Is Prosciutto?
Pronounced proh-shoo-toh, prosciutto is a thinly sliced, Italian cured meat that comes from the hind leg of a pig. The quality of prosciutto is determined by its curing process. The outside of the ham is typically rubbed with plain salt, but some choose to include a mix of spices. The salt draws out moisture and concentrates the flavor of the meat while it slowly air-dries. The length of this process, which mirrors dry aging beef, can take a few months to several years depending on the producer. Once cured, it’s thinly sliced and served without needing to be cooked. Prosciutto is commonly found in pasta entrees, on pizzas, or paired with different types of cheese on a meat and cheese tray.
How to Eat Prosciutto
Try these ways to eat prosciutto to enjoy its taste to the fullest:
- By Itself: If your prosciutto is DOP-certified, then you should enjoy the prosciutto on its own.
- Wrapped around Cantaloupe: Cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto is a classic pairing in Italy. Top with honey, balsamic, and basil for extra depth of flavor.
- Prosciutto Burrata Salad: Savory prosciutto pairs wonderfully with creamy, mild burrata cheese and sweet figs. Try our prosciutto burrata salad recipe with figs and brown sugar vinaigrette. It makes a crowd-pleasing appetizer, flavorful lunch, or mouth-watering side dish.
- On a Charcuterie Board: When building a charcuterie board, fold the prosciutto into ribbons and add them between the clusters of cheese you've arranged on your board.
- In a Charcuterie Cone: Thread prosciutto onto skewers and stand the skewers in your charcuterie cone.
- In a Sandwich: Whether you're building a sub or a panini, sandwiches are an excellent medium for prosciutto. Pair with provolone, roasted vegetables, and simple toppings like balsamic, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil.
Where to Buy Prosciutto
Prosciutto can be bought at most grocery stores, online specialty stores, and curated Italian markets.
What Is Pancetta?
Pancetta, pronounced pan-chet-uh, is a type of Italian cured pork belly meat. It’s made by seasoning pork belly with salt and a blend of herbs and spices. The meat is then tightly rolled and cured for several weeks to develop its distinct flavor profile. The curing process gives pancetta a unique flavor that is both savory and slightly sweet. One of the reasons pancetta has become so popular is it can be used similarly to bacon. However, while bacon is typically cold smoked, pancetta is not, resulting in a milder flavor that enhances but doesn’t distract from other ingredients.
How to Eat Pancetta
Pancetta is commonly used in pasta and soup dishes, where it adds a rich and savory element. The meat is usually diced or sliced thinly and then cooked until crispy, releasing its flavor and enhancing the overall dish. It pairs well with ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, and herbs, bringing a delightful complexity to classic Italian pasta sauces like carbonara. In addition to its use in pasta and soup dishes, pancetta can also be incorporated into salads, sandwiches, and even appetizers. Its versatility makes it a go-to ingredient for chefs looking to elevate the flavor of their dishes.
How to Cook Pancetta
If you're looking to add a touch of Italian flair to your cooking, here's a step-by-step guide on how to prepare pancetta. Be mindful of its saltiness when seasoning your dish and adjust accordingly. Unlike prosciutto, pancetta needs to be cooked before it's consumed. Remember, pancetta is a flavorful ingredient, so a little goes a long way. Once cooked, pancetta can be served as a standalone appetizer, crumbled over salads, or added to pasta dishes, soups, and sauces to enhance their flavor.
- Select the Pancetta: When purchasing pancetta, look for a piece that is well-marbled with fat. This fat gives pancetta its distinctive flavor and helps to keep it moist during cooking. You can find pancetta in various forms, such as sliced, diced, or rolled. Choose the form that best suits your recipe.
- Remove Moisture: Before cooking, it's important to remove the pancetta from its packaging and pat it dry with a paper towel. This helps to remove any excess moisture and allows the pancetta to crisp up evenly during cooking.
- Slice or Dice: Depending on your recipe, you may need to slice or dice the pancetta. Sliced pancetta is commonly used in sandwiches or as a topping for pizzas and salads. Diced pancetta works well in pasta dishes, soups, or as a flavoring agent in sauces.
- Choose Your Cooking Method: There are several ways to cook pancetta, and the method you choose will depend on your desired outcome. Popular pancetta cooking methods include pan-frying, oven-baking, and grilling.
- How to Pan-Fry Pancetta: Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the pancetta. Cook till golden brown and crispy, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking. The rendered fat from the pancetta can be used as a flavorful cooking oil for other ingredients in the dish.
- How to Oven-Bake Pancetta: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the pancetta slices or diced pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the pancetta is crispy and slightly browned. This method is great for larger quantities of pancetta or when you want a hands-off approach.
- How to Grill Pancetta: If you want to add a smoky flavor to your pancetta, grilling is a fantastic option. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat and place the pancetta slices directly on the grates. Cook for a few minutes on each side until crispy and slightly charred.
Where to Buy Pancetta
Pancetta can be purchased at specialty Italian stores, online food retailers, and most grocery stores.
Pancetta and prosciutto are two kinds of meat that originated in Italy. With the many different uses for both pancetta and prosciutto, you can make a wide variety of dishes for your menu.