BACON, PANCETTA, PROSCIUTTO OR JAMON?
Bacon, Pancetta, Prosciutto and Jamon. Many people are confused about the differences between each of the above meat delicatessens are. Europeans have their so-called “English bacon” and believe it is the same as in England.
They often use it as a substitute for the Pancetta, the Italian bacon too. When it comes to Jamón, most people think it’s the same as the Italian Prosciutto. But don’t despair. We have come up with a little guide to help you shine some light into this delicious mystery.
Bacon is a type of salt-cured meat prepared from different cuts of pork (often from a pork belly). In Britain, back bacon is the most common form, with less fat and often sold as thin slices called rashes.
Bacon is usually either salted dry-cured or soaked in brine (sadly usually also containing nitrites) and then lightly smoked in cold smoke. Rarely, brief drying in an air-conditioned chamber is included between these two steps.
The produced bacon is still raw and therefore intended for further cooking. Unlike the European bacon, its taste is much softer, less smoked, and is, therefore, more suitable as a replacement for the Italian pancetta. However, it is also recommended to cook lightly in a small amount of water to get rid of its smoky aroma for some recipes.
This bacon is the only one of all types in this article that has already been cooked in the production process. The first steps of preparation are similar to that of traditional English bacon.
The bacon is either salted and then soaked in saline and usually nitrite solution (often injected and then macerated in the machine). Then it is cooked either within, after or before smoking so it is suitable for direct consumption. The traditional way of making bacon was to coat the bacon with salt and then smoke in the chimney.
The vast majority of European bacon, of course, contains nitrites, which you can easily tell by its appealing pink colour. Bacon without nitrites is relatively unsightly, in the lean part rather grey, resembling cooked pork.
European bacon has a much stronger smoked flavour than the English bacon and is therefore only suitable for cooking in meals that can cope with its vigorous smoked taste. It isn’t suitable for any Italian recipes requiring pancetta or for any traditional French recipes either.
If you have no other choice, you should at least boil it for 10 minutes in boiling water to weaken the strong smoky aroma.
Pancetta is often referred to as the Italian bacon, but the way it is made is closer to dry-cured ham than to bacon.
In its most common form, known as pancetta arrotolata, it is rolled into a thick cylinder, from which the known thin slices with a beautiful concentric structure are cut. During the pancetta production, the outer skin is cut off, the pork belly is salted and eventually spiced with pepper, nutmeg, juniper, cinnamon or other spices. Then it is allowed to partially dry over two weeks to maintain certain juiciness.
Pancetta is never smoked and is therefore like prosciutto or jamón air-dried meat. However, it is less salty, sweeter and softer due to shorter maturation and higher fat content. Unlike Italian Prosciutto, due to shorter maturation, nitrites are often used.
Replacing pancetta with Jamon or Prosciutto makes much more sense than replacing it with bacon. Dried ham has a stronger "a curado" taste, but if you have a whole leg at home, it is very easy to choose a softer portion with a higher fat content that is incomparably similar to Pancetta than any English bacon.
ITALIAN PROSCIUTTO AND SPANISH JAMÓN
We have already discussed the difference between prosciutto and jamón on our knowledge section, so please check for more details. Today we will just mention some basic information.
Both prosciutto and jamón are salted pork leg (in Spain the shoulder is also used), which is slowly air-dried. In the case of the most expensive Spanish jamón ibérico, this drying can last for 5 years. The Spanish jamón is further divided into jamón serrano and jamón ibérico, with jamón serrano as well as prosciutto coming from white pigs we know, while jamón ibérico is a unique delicacy from black Iberian pigs.
Surprisingly, Prosciutto does not appear very often in authentic Italian recipes, it is recommended to eat as it is without destroying its consistency and taste by cooking. Spanish cuisine, on the other hand, is teeming with traditional recipes in which jamón plays a crucial role.
It is usually added as a flavour enhancer to pan-fried vegetable dishes (fava beans, peas, artichokes, cabbage), soups, sauces, roasted meat, lentils and chickpeas, used for stuffing seafood or freshwater fish, with rice, eggs, baked cheese, etc.
Its use makes sense in most recipes because it adds a strong yet sufficiently neutral taste. The main difference between Prosciutto and Jamon when cooking is perhaps so great just because it is much more common in Spain to have a whole leg at home for festive occasions. Often leaving many tasty, excellent pieces on the bone ( not usable for the nicest presentation on its own on a plate) which are great for cooking.
Anyone who has ever cut the whole ham or shoulder of Jamon knows that it is full of diverse parts that differ in salinity, fat content and consistency. It is easy to find parts from which slices can be easily cut with their fat proportions very similar to pancetta which is less salty than jamón, but like jamón, it is matured and unsmoked.
The stronger flavour of Jamon and greater salinity is not a problem for most recipes - especially considering that Jamon is saltier due to the higher lean meat content. So if we concentrate on slices with greater fat proportion, we get a taste very similar to pancetta.
FINAL COMPARISON AFTER COOKING
When you cook European bacon, its smoked taste is enhanced due to the loss of water. Its consistency is less dry and crunchy, but not juicy. Due to its strong taste, it’s suitable for only a small number of meals where the smoky aroma does not cause mischief.
The remaining three products - English Bacon, Pancetta and Jamon (or prosciutto), are much more similar to each other. They have a similar crunchy consistency.
Dried ham has the darkest colour and the most intense taste of all of them. Due to incomparably longer maturation (1-3 years versus 1-3 weeks) it contains less water and when toasting one has to be more careful because it can easily burn. Because of its lower fat content, which does not absorb the salt as easily as the muscle part, it is also saltier than pancetta and similar to English bacon when fried.
As pancetta is usually used to give meals a mature "a curado" taste, dried jamón or prosciutto are a perfect substitute. However, it is important to choose slices with the greatest fat content. The advantage of a good quality Jamon over all the remaining products is higher fat infiltration into the muscle part.
Hopefully, we have managed to describe the main differences between Bacon, Pancetta, Prosciutto and Jamon. But if you still have some questions, get in touch.