Ventrèche is the French version of bacon, either lightly smoked or not smoked at all. When not smoked, it’s exactly like pancetta. It’s delicious in any stew, and it can be cut smaller and sautéed, then used for pasta, a lardon salad, or New England Clam Chowder. You could even use it in a BLT.
It’s always best to use skin-on pork belly if that’s available to you, because the skin is so rich in collagen, but skinless will work as well. It should be well salted, so much so that it should look as if it were dredged in salt, with excess shaken off. The salt deepens the pork flavor and the drying concentrates it. Traditionally, like pancetta, the belly is rolled, tied, and hung to dry, though it’s fine to dry it flat.
Rinse the belly. Salt the skin side of the belly till it is uniformly coated—shake it straight from the box. Turn the belly over and coat the flesh side till it has a uniform layer of salt covering it. Put the belly in a large zip-top bag and refrigerate it for 24 hours.
Wash all the salt off the belly under cold running water. Pat the belly dry. Give the flesh side a uniform dusting of black pepper. Put the belly on a rack on a rimmed baking sheet, flesh side up. Put the sheet in a cool place and allow to dry-cure for 7 days. You can also do this in your refrigerator, but you don’t need to.
Alternatively, you can punch a hole in one corner of the pork belly, thread butcher’s string through the hole, and hang it to dry-cure. Or, as they do in France, you can roll it (so that the skin is on the outside) and tie it tightly with butcher’s string and hang it to cure.
When it has finished curing, wrap the ventrèche in plastic and refrigerate for up to 8 weeks. Or cut it into portions, wrap it in plastic, and store in a zip-top plastic bag in the freezer.
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