There are a ton of limitations to making charcuterie in a non-commercial kitchen. There are even more when you live in an apartment in an urban area, so when you look at projects that you want to try, but have no space to do so, you have to get a little creative. I have wanted to try making speck for some time but the thought of buying and storing another hog’s leg (who in their right mind, would do that?!?) was something that I was not quite ready to undertake. I did have a jowl. While not lean like a leg, it was just the right size and it was beautiful.
The steps were simple. First the cure – for the cure, I adapted the speck recipe from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Salumi to scale to reach the raw weight of the skin-on jowl (705 grams). Dry mustard, nutmeg, allspice, bay and brown sugar joined the traditional juniper and black pepper in the cure with salt and curing salt. I also opted for a dry cure method instead of submerging the jowl in a brine.
After curing the jowl for 10 days, I rinsed and dried it. Next the smoke. I cold smoked the jowl for 72 hours using bourbon barrels and pecan hulls. The jowl emerged firm from the cure and smelling sweetly smokey from its bath is cold smoke.
Finally the hang. I hung the hog’s jowl in a wine fridge for 6 months. I weighed the jowl intermittently waiting for the standard 30% weight loss until I realized that the pure fat content would not allow that kind of loss. The jowl at 6 months was nearly football like in firmness, so I figured it either cured enough or over.
The skin proved difficult to remove and I had opted to have the butcher who sold me the jowl, slice it. Before seeing the slices, I did not know what to expect. The slicing revealed that my suspicion regarding the fat content impacting the weight loss was right on, this jowl was not only super fatty, but the portion sliced was literally all fat. This was essentially smoked lardo. My original intention was to use it in cooking applications, but having thin slices of lardo was too difficult to pass up. Still after tasting, I think that you’d be hard pressed to find a better friend to a pot of cabbage with some of last night’s white wine.
The flavors were great. I was concerned that with it being so lusciously fatty that the richness would overtake the flavor, but the juniper and baking spices were really nice. The smoke was very present as well – as you would expect with 72 hours of cold smoke. If this wasn’t quite speck, it may be a great riff on guanciale (smoked with a Northern European style cure) or, at worst, lardo (again smoked and from the jowl). Whatever you call it, it is delicious and it fit in a wine fridge.