Sitting at dinner with great company on a frigidly cold winter night, a dish came out with lamb pancetta. A few of the guests were surprised by the substitution of lamb for pig in the pancetta. After discussing the intricacies of how to make lambcetta, I offered to make some for a friend with a fantastic sense of taste. I asked what he wanted flavor-wise and he suggest to go off-script with cinnamon. When looking through a spice shop, I noticed cassia buds which are simply dried buds of the cinnamon tree and carry similar, but more floral flavors than more traditional cinnamon.
Given the baking spice flavors from the cassia buds, I wanted to make sure the pancetta did not take the evil turn into sweet territory. I thought outside of pouring French Onion soup mix or straight MSG over the cassia buds, the flavors which would make the cure decidedly savory was piment d’Espelette and I had just cold smoked a bunch of it. Finally I added bay because bay is delicious. At this point, the cure smelled like a fancied up and punch version of Old Bay spice.
After ten days in the cure and 75 days hanging, I had not gotten the weight loss I usually look for and over the past 3 weeks the weight had stayed essentially level, so I pulled the rolled lamb bellies from the garage and trimmed them. The proportion of fat to lean was far higher than I expected. This may account for the stalled loss of water weight.
I rendered some of the trimmed ends to kill some of the young red mustard greens from our garden. There are few cooking smells which rival pancetta. Add lamb, the cassia buds and chilis and you have a tremendous lure to the kitchen. Freshly picked young mustard greens are delicious and need very little of anything. The wilting power combined with the aroma from the cassia/chili infused hot lamb lard made a delicious two ingredient dish. And while I am not a real proponent for easy/quick, if you discount the 85 days of curing and hanging, this was about as quick as it gets.
Cassia Bud Lambcetta
Based on a kilo of lamb belly
- 3 garlic cloves
- 5 grams pink salt
- 27 grams kosher salt
- 10 grams sugar
- 8 grams pepper
- 5 grams cassia buds
- 5 bay leaves
- 10 grams smoked piment d’Espelette (smoking not needed) or pimenton (if you wish) or Calabrian chili powder (you understand)
Post cure rub
Equal parts cassia buds, peppercorns or bay.
Step one: Combine ingredients and dredge lamb belly in cure. Let sit in fridge for 10 days, flipping daily.
Step two: Rise the belly and let sit over night uncovered in fridge.
Step three: Apply desired amounts of crushed cassia buds, crushed peppercorns and crushed bay leaves . Roll, tie, and hang. Weighting roll before hanging.
Step four: Once roll is 70% of original weight. Remove from hanging chamber and slice as needed. If the belly is more fatty, you may never reach 70%. Please don’t cry. It isn’t your fault. Things will be delicious.