Posts Tagged ‘pancetta’

A good night for a good woman’s chicken

January 11, 2013


It’s that time of year again when my mind and tastes turn to all things New Orleans. Carnival season officially started on January 6 (3 Kings Day/Epiphany) and runs until Mardi Gras…the day before Ash Wednesday. Even as I fret about the post holiday “bloat”, I find myself planning if/when I’ll make a King Cake; who I will share Muffalettas with; when I’ll make my next batch of “Jersey Street Gumbo,” etc. My pre-dinner Negroni or Manhattan morphs into a Sazerac; the medieval influenced Christmas carols segue into the second line and rumba rhythms.

Therefore, it really wasn’t a surprise that the daily question of “what do you want for dinner tonight” was answered with a dish from the Cajun/Creole canon. “Chicken a la Bonne Femme.”

I’m told the name means “Good woman’s chicken” or “Good wife’s chicken.” What it is, is just plain G-O-O-D!

While there are myriad vTalkAboutGood!ersions of preparing this dish, we have always stuck with the recipe we found in this book:

We picked this up on our first trip to New Orleans back in 1989. We bought its sequel on our second trip a year later. We use them as much for reference and inspiration as we do for actually preparing all the recipes from them. The recipe for Chicken Bonne Femme is one we do go back to often. It’s a little labor intensive but rustic, satisfying and oh so tasty. Unfortunately, this recipe is for a company-sized meal (serves 8).

On this damp, chilly night when we were craving the dish, we sought a way to scale it down.

Using what we had at the ready, we were able to put together a very tasty rendition of this homey dish just the right size for us.

Give this a try…the “small version” for two. Add a bottle of wine and simple salad. It’s a real big easy…

Chicken Bonne Femme (for two)

(Poulet bonne femme pour deux)

  • 3/4 to 1 pound chicken thighs
  • 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, skin left on, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 pound thin sliced pancetta
  • 1 medium yellow onion sliced thinly
  • Salt, pepper and red (cayenne) pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a 10 inch, ovenproof skillet, cook the pancetta slices over medium low heat until nicely browned. Remove from pan and reserve.

Increase heat to medium and in the fat that has rendered out from the pancetta, lightly brown the chicken thighs (about 3 minutes per side.) Season well with salt, pepper, and red pepper. Remove from pan and reserve.

Brown the sliced potatoes in the remaining drippings 2 or 3 minutes per side. Add a little olive oil if need be to prevent the potatoes from sticking. Remove from pan.

In same skillet, layer some of the chicken thighs, the potatoes, some of the crisped pancetta and some of the onions. Repeat layers as needed to use up ingredients.

NOTE: don’t be afraid to season the potatoes as you layer them into the pan; you can be assertive with the seasoning of this dish.

Cover the pan and place in the pre-heated oven. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove cover and bake for 10 more.

Remove from oven and plate up. Serves 2.



January 9, 2011

Responding to the sound of pounding coming from the kitchen, I wandered from what ever it was I had been doing to see what all the noise was about.

At the kitchen table sat my father.  In front of him was a sheet of waxed paper upon which rested a thin slice of red meat.  I watched as he laid another sheet of waxed paper over the meat and proceeded to seemingly indiscriminately flail at it the rubber mallet he used when recovering chairs (a sometimes hobby of his).

I was fascinated and sat down to watch what he was doing.  He placed the nearly translucent piece of what I came to find out was beef on a plate with some others he’d already done and set up to attack a couple more.  I asked what he was doing.

“Making braciole,” was the answer.

Now I can’t remember what the occasion was, but it must have been some kind of special dinner or we were expecting special guests.  Something.

Braciole was not a common accompaniment to our meals and certainly I didn’t remember being around when Dad made them.  Hence my curiosity at the process.

I continued to study my father’s moves.  After pounding out the meat, he seasoned the pieces and then covered each with a filling he’d made up of cooked, crumbled bacon, hard-boiled egg, and breadcrumbs.  Then each piece was rolled up and painstakingly tied with heavy cotton thread.  After browning them in frying pan, the rolls of stuffed meat were plopped into the pot of sauce Mom had going on the stove; left to simmer away until dinner time.

Braciole, for those who don’t know, is the Italian version of rouladen.  Although there are many variations, the basic form is a piece of thinly sliced meat, pounded even thinner, rolled and tied around a savory filling and cooked.  I think the most common…and certainly the norm for the Carluccis…was top round steak.  This would be served along with or in place of the meatballs and sausage that accompanied ravioli or lasagna at a “company” or celebratory meal.


I don’t know if someone showed Dad how to make braciole or if he just figured it out from the experience of eating it.  That afternoon watching him was the only lesson I ever had in making them.  It was years after that I first gave it a try and I haven’t looked back.  It’s still something I reserve for special meals and one of my favorites is to make them to serve with polenta.  I kind of like the “fancy” nature of the braciole as a contrast to the humble presentation of polenta eaten right off of the board.

It’s not a particularly difficult process, just a little time-consuming but it adds a really nice touch to an Italian inspired meal.  The recipe below is based upon what I saw Dad do all those years ago but has evolved a little bit to reflect the ready availability of things like pancetta, pignoli and such.  Enjoy.

Beef Braciole

  • 1/4 pound pancetta finely chopped
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms finely chopped
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup pignoli nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1/3 cup fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino romano cheese
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of freshly chopped italian parsley
  • 2 or 3 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1/2 a cup or less seasoned bread crumbs
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs chopped
  • approximately 1.5 pounds thinly sliced beer top round steak (usually labeled “for braciole”) You want 6 to 8 individual slices.

Brown off pancetta in a large skillet over medium heat.  Remove meat,reserving rendered fat.  You can set the pancetta on a piece of paper towel to absorb extra grease or just place in a mixing bowl.

In the reserved pork fat, cook the mushrooms over medium heat until tender and they’ve released all of their moisture.  Remove mushrooms from pan, leaving the fat, and add to the mixing bowl.

Toast the pignoli in a clean, dry skillet over medium high heat.  Watch them closely and keep shaking the pan so the nuts don’t burn.  When you can smell the fragrance of the toasting nuts, remove from heat and add to mixture in bowl.

Add the cheese, parsley, chopped egg, garlic, bread crumbs and some fresh ground black pepper.  Mix thoroughly and set aside.

Working between two sheets of plastic wrap or waxed paper, take each slice of top round and pound it to a uniform thickness of approximately 1/8 of an inch. (NOTE: you can use a heavy skillet, pounding disk, or a rubber mallet as I still do.  Just be sure to strike the meat and draw the mallet towards the edges in one motion).  Repeat until each slice has been tenderized and stretched.

Making the braciole

Take one of the pounded slices and lay it out on the counter or a cutting board.  Make sure it is flat.  Salt and pepper the top side.  Spread some of the filling mixture over the steak, leaving a small border (1/2 inch or so) all around.

Starting with one of the short ends, tightly roll the steak up, tucking in the sides to enclose the filling.  Using a piece of butcher string, tie the bundle snuggly.  Repeat for each piece of meat.

Once you’ve got all the braciole rolled and tied, reheat the pan with the pancetta drippings in it.  If needed, add a little olive oil to make sure there is enough fat and brown off the braciole on all sides (3 minutes or so a side). Don’t forget the ends! Use a pair of tongs to hold each roll on end for a couple of minutes. 

Once they are completely browned off, add to a simmering pot of your favorite tomato sauce and let cook on low for three hours.  Remove the strings before serving.

Making do

December 23, 2009
Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan.
That doesn’t mean all is lost.  In cooking, as in life, adapting and adjusting is key to success.
For instance: A couple of weeks back, I got an email from Bobolink Dairy an artisinal bread and cheese making operation in Vernon, NJ announcing the availability of some whey-fed pork for sale.  Besides the bread and raw milk cheeses (of which their traditional cave aged cheddar is a favorite in this house), Bobolink also raises grass-fed beef cattle and pigs fed on the whey leftover from the dairy operation. (check out their online store here)
I’ve previously tried some of their pork chops and found them quite tasty.  When I saw that they had some fresh pork belly and pork jowls available, I thought I’d order some.  The belly was either going to be bacon or pancetta.  The jowl would be my first attempt at guanciale…a traditional Italian cured meat used for seasoning pasta sauces and such. 

Guanciale in the making

My enthusiasm was attenuated somewhat by the fact that the pieces of meat I ordered were smaller than I had hoped.  No matter, I thought, I’ll adjust my plans to fit what arrives.  The jowl I did cure for the guanciale.  It’s currently hanging to dry for anywhere between one and three weeks.
The two pieces of pork belly are about three-quarters of pound each.  Too small to turn into pancetta but the right size for testing the recipe for sweeter cure that included some maple syrup.  The plan, was to smoke the cured pieces over some maple wood to enhance the maple character.  Alas, when the day came to smoke the pork, we were in the middle of a snowstorm and the thought of tending the grill for even a couple of hours in the winter weather was unappealing. 
The cured meat would hold for up to three days in the fridge, but I was going to have to do something with it. I opted to finish the bellies in a 200 degree oven.  It’s essentially the same process (low and slow) as the smoking…minus the smoke.  The finished product won’t be quite as tasty as the smoked version, but it will give me a better chance to evaluate the flavor of the cure itself.


October 12, 2009

It’s gray and chilly in Trenton today; foreshadowing the dark and dreary days to come.

Fortunately, I had off from work and I had some “chores” to attend to that included turning the gas grill into a smoker and finishing the job of making bacon out of a thick piece of pork belly.  It is a perfect day to spend a few hours tending a fire and inhaling the aroma of selected wood chunks as they gave up their essence to flavor the pig.

This was just the latest in my home study of the art of curing meat (and fish and fowl).  The adventure was launched several months ago after buying a piece of pancetta in the supermarket that was just too damn salty for my taste (not that it kept us from using it all up mind you).  I got to wondering if it was possible to make pancetta at home and started searching the internet for advice and information.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with pancetta it is simply cured and seasoned pork belly that is usually rolled tightly and allowed to air dry.  It is, essentially, un-smoked bacon and is used similarly to season beans, greens, sauces and all manor of savory dishes.  Good pancetta is essential for proper pasta carbonara (although we have made it with everyday, common American bacon).

Apparently, I wasn’t the first and only person to want to make pancetta at home.  I found a number of blogs and forums that contained information about making pancetta at home.  One thing that I noticed right away was that many entries referred to the book “Charcuterie,” by Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman

I continued my research to the point where I convinced myself that I needed to add a copy of this book to our already overgrown cooking library.

So I did.

In reading through the book, and continuing to read the blogs and forums, it appeared as though there really was nothing more to this meat curing business than having the right ingredients on hand, minding some simple sanitation procedures and using a dose of common sense.  Before I knew it, I was at the local market procuring a half a pork belly (about 6 pounds).  I had already mail-ordered in the more exotic ingredients…some curing salt (sodium chloride with a trace of sodium nitrite added) and some juniper berries.  Everything else, black pepper, bay leaves, nutmeg, brown sugar, etc. I had on hand.

The process, as outlined in the book, is straightforward enough.  Mix up your cure and a2009 08 18_0545pply it to the meat.  Let it rest, refrigerated, for a week; turning it every day and massage it to ensure even distribution of the curing/flavoring mixture.  After seven days, rinse, and dry well.  You can then roll it tightly and tie it or leave it flat and wrap it in cheesecloth.  I opted for the latter because I wasn’t confident enough in the process and my skill to challenge the botulism bug that can show up in too loosely rolled pancett2009 08 18_0547a.  And somewhere along the way I picked up the tidbit that the traditional Florentine method of making pancetta was to hang the “flat.”  That was good enough for me.

I won’t go into the whole song and dance here, but I sort of screwed up that attempt at pancetta.  First of all, I picked the hottest, most humid week of the summer to hang the dang thing in the cellar.  This gave me cause to worry.  When the suggested amount of hanging time was up, I unwrapped the meat only to find several spots of mold on it.

Into the trash it went.  And I was a little disappointed. (Several weeks later I was reading the FAQ on Ruhlman’s website and discovered that mold is not uncommon.  The procedure is to cut/scrape it off and wipe the meat down with vinegar or wine.  And then proceed.   Oh well. Live; Learn!)

Fortunately, at the same time I started the pancetta, I also brined a bepastramief brisket according to the recipe in Charcuterie.  Once the brisket was cured, I smoked it and then steamed it for a very successful pastrami dinner with friends.  This, despite being a little heavy handed with the peppercorn and coriander seed for the crust, kept my confidence intact.

Chalking the failed pancetta experiment up to bad timing, I went on to try the gravlax (cured, but not smoked salmon) recipe from the book and bided my time for the onset of autumn and cooler weather.

October came and I could bear it no longer.  I ran off to the Food Bazaar and dashed to the meat service counter.  Scanning the case, I was a little worried because there were no hunks of pork belly in the customary spot.  This market, part of a small regional chain, caters to the various ethnic groups found in urban areas and actually sells fresh pork belly on a regular basis (take that Whole F***s and W*****’s!).  It took a little finagling to get them to sell me 1/2 of a whole pork belly back in August so I was prepared to persevere!

When the counterman asked what he could do for me I stated I wanted some pork belly.  He looked puzzled at first, glanced at the case and then back at me.

How much?” he asked.

A whole one,” I answered.

There was another pause and a confused glance before he dutifully trotted off to the walk in. 

Returning a moment later he “thunked” a large slab of skin on pork belly onto the scale.  17.78 pounds of pig heaven were mine to play with!

The next day I made up two batches of cure.  One, the basic dry cure that can be used for any number of preparations and the second a specific blend of salt, sugar and spices for the pancetta.  Then I set about assembling my mise en place: knives, cutting boards, extra large freezer bags, scale, etc.  I took the cryovac packaged pork belly out of the fridge and over to the sink.  I slit open the plastic, removed the doubled over pork belly and unfolded it. 

Surprise!  There was still a rack of spareribs attached to the belly!  BONUS!

I successfully, if not deftly, removed the rack from the rest of the belly (Hey! I am not schooled in meat cutting!).  I trimmed and cut the belly until I had two nice slabs of meat, one for pancetta and one for bacon.  The trimmings I later cut into large cubes and cured for salt pork.

I removed the skin from a section of belly, applied the cure for the pancetta, slipped the pork into a plastic bag and popped it into the fridge.  Next came the bacon-to-be.

The basic dry cure was applied and it too was slipped into a bag and placed in the refrigerator.

This morning, seven and a half days after starting “the cure,” I rinsed both slabs of meat and dried them off.  The piece destined for the smoker was placed on a rack in the fridge for a few hours to form a pellicle (a sort of tacky skin that helps hold the smoke flavor).  The piece designated for the pancetta was given a dusting of crushed black pepper on the meat side, swaddled in cheesecloth and hung in the cellar to dry for another week or so.

By noon, I had fired up the smoking burner of the grill and applied some chunks of apple, maple and oak that I’d soaked for the purpose.  The slab of soon-to-be-bacon was set on the grate next to the wood box and the smoking commenced.  Keeping the temp at right around 200 degrees F, I fed more chunks of wood into the smoker as needed.  Just a tad over three hours later the pork had achieved the target temp of 150 degrees F.  I brought it in from the grill and, while the fat was still warm and soft, removed the rind (skin).

I trimmed off the edges of the slab and tentatively tasted one of the pieces.  I’d followed the directions carefully; the meat looked like a slab of bacon; it smelled like bacon.baconslice

SCORE! It tasted like bacon!  I quickly put the rest of the trimmings into a small frying pan and browned them off.  Yup. Bacon!

Let’s hope pancetta version two works out as well!