Too bad guanciale is not easy to find in the USA. When you crave for carbonara or Amatriciana, you will have a hard time looking for it.
This delectable, succulent piece of meat is the star of popular Italian types of pasta. We love it all for creating a mouthful of savory, buttery richness in a slice of fat from pork cheeks.
Seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, and sage, and then cured for a minimum of three months, you’ll get this delightful treat on top of your pasta. How can we forget its punch on pasta and sauce when being only pan-fried still throws an umami kick on each bite?
Thankfully, some Canadians or Americans are trying to produce this cured meat. But if you still can’t, we made you a list of substitutes for guanciale, in case you suddenly need it.
How to Find a Substitute for Guanciale
When looking for a guanciale substitute, remember the authenticity level of the dish you will cook. Know what level of creaminess, buttery flavor, or fattiness you need in your recipe.
Also, you want to remember the level of umami you need for that recipe. And there are plenty of cured meats that can replace guanciale in the market.
Some Italian cured meats do not necessarily come from pork jowls but can have closer spice levels and rich-savory mouth bombs. And looking through these properties, the best picks are pancetta, bacon, prosciutto, lard, and speck.
Pancetta comes from pork hind leg but usually, the pork belly is dry-cured with almost the same seasonings used in guanciale. There are smoked versions of pancetta, and you should avoid it as much as possible if you want your dish to come close to guanciale.
Pancetta is distinct for its porky taste coming from a fatty part of the pig. Its pork flavor is so close to bacon minus the smoky hints. It is usually served uncooked on sandwiches and cooked on plates of pasta.
Albeit not as tasty as guanciale, it’s one of the closest you can get, and you’d find it in slices or cubes. The reason you can come close with it is because of the level of fat that melts as soon as it touches the heated pan.
Here’s another substitute with savory melting fatty goodness that you can use for guanciale. Bacon comes from the back, sides, or belly, and we all love its sweet-salty umami that releases from its fat. The difference between bacon and guanciale is it’s much crispier than guanciale and has less fat, and a porky taste.
However, bacon is probably one of the easiest cured meat you can sub for guanciale. But you have got to pick only the unsmoked ones if you want your dishes to come close to your favorite Italian recipe.
If you only have smoked bacon in the fridge and still want to give it a go, you can blanch it in boiling water for one to two minutes. Doing so will remove the smoky flavor.
Prosciutto is a delicately cured high-breed meat. The curing process involves salting and dry-aging it at a controlled temperature, giving off its sweet-salty taste.
Prosciutto can be cooked or cured, but it is better to use the cured one if you want to substitute it for your guanciale recipes. Since they are both cured, the only difference is the part of the meat where they come from.
Prosciutto comes from the leg part of the pig. And because this meat is lean, you will probably miss the velvety taste of melting fat of guanciale meat. Nevertheless, you can always use prosciutto if this is what you have in the kitchen.
You can compare speck with prosciutto as they come from the same cut-part. The difference is that speck underwent a smoking process before being dry-aged. And we all know that we want to avoid cured meats with a smoky taste.
However, you can still use speck if this is the only cured meat you have. It still works in other guanciale dishes because of the fatty and tender texture.
Another difference is the seasonings used: bay leaf and juniper have a distinct tone in speck. It gives off a stronger taste that might be closer to guanciale than prosciutto.
Pork jowl is the same meat cut where you take guanciale from. It can either be cooked or cured, and you will find it saltier than guanciale.
You will find it near bacon packs in the market, and it comes in thin slices. The fat content of pork jowl is the same as guanciale, so you know it can end up as creamy and rich as guanciale in your recipes.
It makes a great replacement for Amatriciana, or you can also pan-fry it like bacon in carbonara. Although saltier, it can still give off the fatty goodness we love in guanciale.
If you love the fatty content in guanciale, you better use lardo as a substitute. Because it comes from the back of the pig, it is mostly made of fat, and you will love how the fat melts away and give off nice umami in your guanciale recipes.
Lardo uses more seasonings than guanciale before starting the curing process: rosemary, coriander, anise, sage, garlic, oregano, and cinnamon. Then, it is left to dry age for six months.
To add it to your charcuterie board, you’d have to slice it thin. It tastes great with fruit, bread, or baked potatoes. We love this piece of meat because it gives off a unique herbal umami kick to pasta dishes, and the fat content oozes with creaminess and a velvety texture that we also love in guanciale. [Source]
You can also add a few cuts of lardo at the end of your cooking time and let the piece of fat melt down.
Salt pork is simply salt-cured pork from the belly. It has a rather salty taste and somehow comparable to and looks like strips of bacon. It is sometimes called white bacon.
The difference between white bacon or salt pork and bacon is it is not smoked and contains more fat than bacon. So when you pan-fry it or roast it in the oven, you are rendering the fat out of it, and its strong flavor comes out as the moisture slowly runs out.
You can rinse off the saltiness by simmering it in water shortly and then add some olive oil so you can use it for guanciale recipes. [Source]
If you’d like some leaner meat for your carbonara or amatriciana, try using capocollo. It also goes by the name coppa or capicola because the meat comes from the neck to the pork’s fourth rib by the shoulder or neck.
This cured meat takes different seasonings: red or white wine, garlic, and many herbs and spices like paprika, red pepper flakes, or anise seeds. It sits between sausage and prosciutto. It is salumi of an entire muscle around the neck, heavily marbled, and dry-cured.
If you’re going to use coppa for your guanciale dishes, get the unsmoked one. You’d love how it is delicately spiced, and topping it in your carbonara is always worth the try.
Some Americans would use smoked ham for their carbonara, but you can also use dry-cured ham. It is not advisable to eat country ham uncooked, unlike prosciutto.
But similar to prosciutto, they come from the same leg part. However, the meat used in prosciutto is high-breed pork. When people see a slab of dry-cured ham, they won’t usually know what it is until you say it is the American version of prosciutto.
Country ham has deep, intense saltiness that traditionalists would love. To use it for your usual guanciale recipes, blanch it in boiling water to reduce the saltiness.
JamÃ³n serrano is also much compared to the Italian prosciutto. However, the difference is in the place of origin, time of curing, and the type of pig used.
JamÃ³n serrano is cured ham from Spain, and takes about 18 months to cure. While the curing process seems the same, they both use white pig’s ham. However, their tastes are different as Italian white pig eats whey and feeds from Parmeggiano cheese, giving it a nutty flavor, and Spain’s white pig eats cereals and fodder.
Additionally, JamÃ³n serrano has a darker color. So if your guanciale dish requires a specific appearance, you may skip this substitute.
For people who are conscious of their fat intake or do not eat pork, you can use turkey bacon for guanciale. This type of bacon is fat-free by 90%.
Although it tastes more like duck bacon than pork, you can have a taste of that crisp, sweet, and salty flavor of bacon but with added health benefits. You can use it for your favorite guanciale dishes such as amatriciana, carbonara, sautÃ©ed mushrooms, or bean soups.
But if you’re thinking of cooking it in the oven to release fats just as you would with pork bacon, better put some olive oil because it has no fat, and it will dry out and become feathery. The best way to cook turkey bacon is to pan-fry or deep-fry it.
Here is a non-pork substitute you can try. Most people do not like the flavor of the raw lamb, but when you add those aromatics together with salt to cure it, you will be amazed at how it tastes.
You will taste how the lamb flavor outshines the spices and herbs. It turns out salty and sweet with a bit chewy texture.
The lamb prosciutto will fit your loaf bread that you usually pair with guanciale. You can also use lamb prosciutto on lentil dishes or soups for guanciale.
If you love making ingredients by yourself, go ahead, and try making your version of homemade guanciale. However, it’s not easy as you might think.
All it takes is cutting the cheek right, salt, controlled humidity, and time to cure. For that, you will need a curing chamber.
You will need a place to hang your cured meat. Also, find a way to control the temperature and humidity. You will dry-age the meat for three weeks, and the best taste is when you cure it longer.
When done properly, you may not have a problem finding guanciale anymore.