If you are a fan of Italian food, then you may have come across pancetta substitutes in the past, all of which are delicious in their own ways!
Pancetta is an Italian specialty meat that is cut from the pork belly of pigs. It is salt-cured, flavored with pepper and other seasonings, then rolled and air-dried. In stores, pancetta will often be sold in paper-thin slices, or as cubes. Once cured, it doesn’t need to be cooked; it can be eaten as a cold cut. It’s bacon-like saltiness also makes it a popular addition to pasta dishes.
If you cannot find pancetta at the meat counter of your local grocery store, there are several other types of meat such as prosciutto, bacon, salted pork, and Canadian bacon that will work in your dish as well.
Prosciutto is cut from the jowl of a salted ham. It is brined and then air-dried. It is sold in extremely thin slices, and like pancetta, can be eaten raw. This is the best substitute for pancetta, when it’s available, as the flavors and texture are extremely similar. However, if your pancetta recipe is calling for cubes of pancetta, prosciutto slices will not add the same amount of fat to the dish.
Bacon and pancetta are both cuts from the pork belly. Bacon is salted and then smoked, creating a very savory smoke flavor. Pancetta is air-dried and does not have any smokiness. However, when it comes to substituting for pancetta in pasta dishes or any dish where the pork fat is seasoning the rest of the dish, bacon is your best replacement, due to its similar fat content.
Some people recommend blanching bacon before using in a pancetta dish, to take out some of the extra salt and smoky flavor. Unfortunately, this also skims off some of the bacon fat, which can leave your dish dry and tasteless.
Salted pork is a very fatty pork product used exclusively for flavoring dishes. The salted pork is chopped fine, then rendered crisp, melting most of the pork fat to flavor the soup, stew or casserole. While this would not work as a pancetta substitute for any cold cut preparation, it is a great replacement for hot, savory dishes.
More like ham than American-style bacon, Canadian bacon is actually cut from the loin of the pig, instead of the belly. Consequently, it is much leaner. Canadian bacon can be made either by smoking or brining. If possible, try to use brined Canadian bacon, as this will not change the flavor of the dish significantly.