Pancetta and prosciutto are two Italian delicacies with a lot in common. They are cured meat products made of pork and both are commonly thinly sliced and eaten raw a salty and flavorful addition to an antipasto course in Italy.
These Italian pork products have their differences, though. From the cut of meat and curing process to the resulting flavor and texture, we break down the key differences between these meats and provide our favorite recipes for both.
What is pancetta?
Pancetta is an Italian bacon made of cured pork belly. It is cured through a process of spicing and air drying over weeks or months, giving the meat a distinct salty and spiced flavor and a tender and silky texture to slightly chewy.
Because pancetta is cut from the belly of the pig, it is fattier meat than prosciutto and has a more intense flavor than both American bacon and prosciutto. Depending on the spices used during the curing process, the flavor of pancetta can range from sweeter (with nutmeg, cinnamon, and sweet wine) to spicy and peppery (with garlic, black pepper, juniper berries, and thyme).
Is pancetta the same cut as bacon?
Yes, pancetta and bacon are both cut from the pork belly. The textures and flavors of American bacon and pancetta are so different because the curing processes are different. Bacon is cured with salt and sugar and is smoked while pancetta is dry cured in a variety of spices.
Is pancetta cured or uncured?
Pancetta is a cured meat product, unlike American bacon. Pancetta is seasoned with a mix of herbs and spices like salt, garlic, pepper, nutmeg, allspice, fennel seeds, coriander, and thyme before being left to dry. The finished product is rinsed of excess seasoning and rolled into a cylinder.
Does pancetta taste good?
Pancetta is known to be a fatty and flavorful cut of meat. It has a more robust pork flavor than American bacon because it is not smoked. This also gives it a smoother texture. The meat-forward taste of pancetta is accompanied by whatever spices were used in the curing process. These can range from sweeter to more spicy and savory. Common spices used to flavor pancetta are salt, garlic, pepper, nutmeg, allspice, fennel, coriander, and thyme.
Can you eat pancetta raw?
While many people claim Pancetta must be cooked before eating, this cured meat can safely be eaten cooked and uncooked. This is because the curing process inhibits bacterial growth. In Italy, pancetta is typically sliced thin and eaten raw. Some people prefer to cook pancetta in order to crisp it up because the fatty texture of the meat can be off-putting to some.
How do Italians eat pancetta?
If this rich and flavorful pork belly product sounds delicious to you, you’re probably wondering, “What is pancetta used for?” Pancetta can be used as a flavoring ingredient in many types of dishes that call for seasoning and fat. Traditionally, Italians enjoy thinly sliced, raw pancetta as part of their antipasto, or the first course of a large Italian meal. As an antipasto dish, it may be served alongside olives, bread, cheese, salad, or pickled vegetables. Pancetta is also commonly cubed and cooked to use in any type of recipe that would call for bacon. Think creamy pasta dishes, salads, soups, stews, or risotto. This fatty meat is a great option for flavoring pasta sauces.
Best recipes using pancetta
Substitute the bacon in our creamy chicken and bacon alfredo lasagna, a Drizzle Me Skinny recipe. It adds a great depth of flavor and texture to the dish. We also love this recipe for greens with braised pancetta and garlic from Bon Appétit and this classic pasta pancetta dish by All Recipes.
What is prosciutto?
Prosciutto is Italian for ham. Often found on a charcuterie board, prosciutto is a thinly sliced, dry-cured cut of pork that is typically eaten uncooked. Prosciutto is cut from the hind leg of a pig and is salt-cured over the course of weeks or months.
While prosciutto is a saltier product than pancetta, it has less fat and is considered by some to be the healthier option between the two. Prosciutto has a rougher texture and less intense flavor profile than pancetta as it is typically cured with salt alone.
What cut of meat is prosciutto?
Prosciutto is cut from the hind legs of a pig and is thus more comparable with ham than bacon. It can be described as an uncooked, unsmoked, and dry-cured ham. Because it is cut from the leg rather than the belly of the pig, prosciutto has a lower fat content than pancetta and American bacon.
What is the curing method for prosciutto?
Once cut, the meat is rinsed clean and patted dry before the dry curing process begins. The meat is massaged to remove excess blood and then coated with a thick layer of both wet and dry salt. Traditionally, just sea salt is used.
After about a week, the first layer of salts is rinsed off and the meat is again massaged and patted dry before a thinner layer of salts is applied. The aging process continues in a cool and well-ventilated space for several months.
Does prosciutto taste like ham?
Prosciutto tends to be more flavorful and a bit saltier than ham. It has a salty and subtly sweet flavor profile. The longer prosciutto is aged, the more flavorful it becomes. This is because the meat dries, concentrating its natural flavors as more salt is absorbed into the meat. The curing process also gives prosciutto a more buttery texture compared to the thick and chewy texture of ham.
Are you supposed to cook prosciutto?
Because prosciutto is a thoroughly cured meat, it is perfectly safe to eat raw. It is typically thinly sliced and eaten raw, often wrapped around other finger foods, or used as a flavorful topping on salads and sandwiches. Prosciutto can be cooked, which crisps the meat up nicely, more akin to American bacon.
How is prosciutto usually served?
Prosciutto is typically cut into paper-thin slices and can be enjoyed alone, letting the sweet and salty meat melt on your tongue. It is often served in Italy as an appetizer, served alongside olives, fruits, vegetables, and breads. It can be used as a salty topping on salads, fruits, and sandwiches or as a method to wrap and pick up other finger foods, like cheese, asparagus, and olives. Prosciutto is common as a pizza topping (especially when cooked to crispy perfection and on charcuterie boards. It is best served at room temperature or slightly chilled.
Best recipes using prosciutto
Ready for some salty goodness? Try our tasty and super-satisfying prosciutto and mozzarella chicken rolls! For another classic dish, check out this prosciutto arugula pizza from Izzy Cooking. And if you’re feeling extra fancy, this champagne alfredo with crispy prosciutto and shrimp by Food 52 is definitely drool-worthy!
Summary: What is the difference between pancetta and prosciutto?
Pancetta and prosciutto are both Italian cured meats. While both of these salty pork products are great options for adding flavor to a dish, there are some key differences to note when comparing prosciutto vs pancetta:
- Cut of meat: Pancetta is cut from the belly of the pig, while prosciutto is cut from the hind leg.
- Curing: Pancetta is cured over days or weeks. During the process, pancetta is seasoned with salts, spices, and herbs, such as juniper berries. Prosciutto dry-cured through a process involving salting, washing, and aging the meat over a period of months.
- Flavor and texture: Pancetta has a smoother texture and more delicate flavor than prosciutto. Pancetta is also higher in fat, as it comes from the belly of the pig rather than the leg.
If you’re feeling inspired to whip up an Italian feast, or at least something that calls for bacon, we’ve got you covered! Check out some of our best Italian and bacon-inspired dishes. As the Italians say, “Mangia, mangia!”
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- Chicken bacon ranch dough balls
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1: Can you substitute prosciutto for pancetta?
A: Yes, you can substitute prosciutto for pancetta, or vice versa, in Italian dishes. The flavors of these meats are very similar, although prosciutto has a stronger and more nuanced flavor. Both are commonly served thinly sliced. If a recipe calls for diced pancetta, cube the prosciutto instead of slicing it. Pancetta is a fattier meat than prosciutto, so this may change the nature of the dish you’re making unless you add additional fat when using prosciutto. Additionally, while pancetta must be cooked before eating, salt-cured prosciutto can be eaten uncooked.
Q2: What is better prosciutto or pancetta?
A: Both are great meats for adding salty and savory flavor to a dish. As to which is better, this depends on personal taste and the dish you are serving. The flavor f pancetta is milder, while prosciutto is saltier and a bit buttery. Pancetta, a fattier meat, is better in dishes that call for bacon, like creamy pasta dishes or salads. Flavorful prosciutto compliments sweet fruits nicely. Pair prosciutto with melon, figs, and berries, or as an antipasto alongside cheese and crackers.
Q3: Which is healthier pancetta or prosciutto?
A: While both meats are generally high in sodium, prosciutto is considered by most to be the healthier of the two because it contains less fat and has fewer calories. A one-ounce serving of prosciutto has 55 calories while the same amount of pancetta has 147 calories. Pancetta, which comes from the belly of a pig, also has a higher fat content but is also a great source of protein, B vitamins, and minerals such as phosphorus and selenium. Prosciutto is a good source of protein, iron, thiamine, and oleic acid.