Do you need to substitute prosciutto for pancetta, or the other way around ?
Sometimes we need to improvise in the kitchen, and substituting an ingredient for another might be the ticket. But are prosciutto and pancetta interchangeable ?
And would switching them give you acceptable results ?
This is what we’re going to explore in this article, so hopefully you get the answers you’re looking for.
First we need to start with the basics, so we really understand what each ingredient is. The everything will make so much more sense.
Can you substitute prosciutto for pancetta ?
Yes, you can substitute prosciutto for pancetta in many recipes since they are both pork meat even if they come from a different part of the pork. However, this doesn’t mean that it is always a good idea to substitute prosciutto for pancetta because it can affect the taste and the texture of the food, it might still be good but not the same.
Each dish is a little different, and knowing what kind of cooking process or what end goal you’re after is really going to decide whether you can substitute prosciutto for pancetta and vice versa.
Below are the most common case examples you’ll find, and hopefully you’ll find your answer in one of these cases.
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Pancetta is better for frying
If you’re cooking something and want or need to fry the meat, then use pancetta.
First because it needs some cooking anyway, and second because it’s got more fat and will perform much better in this type of dish.
- pasta, if you’re making a really simple carbonara where you need to fry the meat then pancetta is great
- any stew or food where you need to sweat the onion is going to go great with some fried pancetta
- any breakfast that would normally include bacon
- some sauces may call for a smoky, cured meat (even if pancetta isn’t smoked)
- most hearty dishes that include potatoes
- almost anything oven bakes is going to go great with pancetta, as it will roast nicely
The difference in flavor between pancetta and prosciutto
Flavoring the food can be done with both pancetta and prosciutto.
That being said, we recommend using pancetta to flavor cooked food, for two reasons.
First pancetta has more fat, and fat is a really good flavor carrier. You’re going to get more bang for your buck by using this instead of prosciutto.
Second, prosciutto is rather dry and its flavor will kind of lose itself in the background of whatever you’re cooking. If tasting prosciutto on its own, you’ll notice it’s flavorful.
Once you put it in a pot with a bunch of herbs, spices and vegetables it kind of loses its punch. Partly because of the low fat content, and partly because it’s got a more delicate flavor than pancetta.
But, if you’re just looking to add a pinch of flavor to a dish or serve some really good entrees then prosciutto is best.
By this we mean any bruschetta, pizza, appetizers, salads or anything that does not require any further cooking.
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If you’re just looking for a good topping
If all you’re looking to do is add a bit of color to your food and don’t much care about the degree of flavor then you can add pretty much anything you like.
If using prosciutto be sure to tear or cut it up into bit sized pieces, and if using pancetta make sure to fry it, do not serve it raw. Unless you’re trying a very avant-garde sushi.
What is prosciutto ?
Prosciutto is an Italian ham, made from the back leg of the pig. It’s a cured meat, and comes in two forms: crudo and cotto.
Cotto simply means ‘cooked’ in Italian and it’s rarely on the shelves outside of Italy. The most common prosciutto you’ll find is the crudo version, meaning ‘raw’ in Italian.
It’s not actually raw, in the sense most folks think about it. It can be eaten as-is, because this meat is aged and very dry, much like beef jerky.
This is means that the overall flavor is a very strong one, better suited for serving on a cheese and meat board or wrapping on veggies to trick taste buds.
Think of it as the Parmesan of hams. A little goes a long way, and it’s best if it’s the main star of the dish and now overshadowed by anything.
What is pancetta ?
Pancetta is also an Italian cured meat, also made of pork but this time it’s the pork belly.
This is an actual raw meat, meaning you’ll have to cook it thoroughly before serving it, unlike prosciutto.
One thing you’ll notice about pancetta is that it comes in the form of a roll with the fatty part on the outside. This is to preserve the freshness of the meat and also to prevent any oxidation from reaching the raw meat inside.
That being said, the higher fat proportion makes this a really good meat source for anything fried.
Both prosciutto and pancetta are great in their own way, and sometimes they can be substituted. It’s just that in some foods one meat just goes better than the other.
Hopefully this article has cleared things up for you, and now you know just what to use and when.