If you’ve ever had carbonara in a really good Italian restaurant and bitten into a crispy, juicy, umami filled nugget of pork, you’ve tasted guanciale. It’s sweet and crisp, full of umami and porky-ness.
What is guanciale?
Guanciale is an Italian cured pork cheek. It’s a key ingredient in carbonara and alla gricia. The cheek, or jowl, is super fatty making it perfect for curing with salt and herbs. It has a salty, super rich flavor that is similar to pancetta or an unsmoked bacon.
What does guanciale taste like?
It tastes balanced between sweet and savory, rich and buttery, with a very, very porky flavor. The sweetness comes from the pork and it’s a huge umami bomb, salty and deeply rich. When rendered, the fat is fragrant, sweet, savory, and not too salty. Biting into a crisped up cube of guanciale is biting into pure delicious pork goodness. Because it’s cured, it has an intense concentrated pork flavor.
Where can you buy it?
How do you cook it?
Guanciale is typically cooked by crisping up over low heat until the fat is rendered out. then the fat is incorporated into a sauce such as carbonara or alla gricia while the meat is used as a topping in the same pasta dish. It’s also used sautéed with greens, beans, or used in stews, and ragus. To cook it, slice it or cube it and cook in a dry pan over medium to medium low heat, stirring to crisp all sides.
What do you use guanciale in?
You can also use it instead of pancetta in dishes like:
- sautéed greens
Difference vs pancetta
The main difference is the cut of pork: cheeks vs. belly. The second difference is the curing process, guanciale is cured with spices and pancetta is cured with only salt.
Guanciale: salt and spice cured pork cheeks. It tends to be fatter and has a more robust flavor due to a longer cure. Slightly sweet due to the curing process.
Pancetta: salt and pepper cured pork belly. Pancetta is a tiny bit less fatty and leans more towards the saltier side.
Difference vs bacon
The difference between guanciale and bacon is much the same as with pancetta. Guanciale is cheek and bacon is pork belly. Bacon is also smoked and cured and therefore has a distinct smoky flavor.
If you can’t find guanciale, you can sub bacon or pancetta. Bacon will be more smoky and pancetta will lack the same delicate spices. Both work in a pinch.
How to store
Slice off what you need and keep it wrapped up in kitchen paper and place it in the fridge. It’s best to not wrap it in plastic wrap because the resulting condensation will make it soft. It keeps well for up to 6 months in the fridge.
- 4 oz guanciale cubed
- 6 oz pasta shape of choice
- 3 oz Pecorino Romano finely grated
- freshly ground black pepper a lot, at least 2 tsp
Crisp the guanciale in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat until the fat renders out. Once the guanciale is crisped to your liking, transfer the meat to a bowl, then remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
While the guanciale is crisping, cook your pasta of choice in a large pot of boiling water, stirring occasionally, until pasta is 3 minutes shy of the package time. Save 1.5 cups the pasta water, then drain the pasta without rinsing.
Add 3/4 cups pasta water to the skillet and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, swirling often to emulsify the pasta water and rendered fat, about 1 minute. Add the pasta to the pan and continue swirling until pasta is cooked al dente and the sauce becomes thick and glossy, 2 minutes. Tip: use silicone covered tongs to avoid breaking the pasta.
Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the crisped guanciale cubes, pepper, and two-thirds of the grated Pecorino. Toss well to melt the cheese and combine. Enjoy immediately topped off with the remaining Pecorino.
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 252
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 15.8g99%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.