Wednesday, April 4, 2018


First thing you must be asking yourself is what the heck does a pillow have to do with a food blog let alone cured meats? While researching Guanciale and I didn't know this but the translation from Italian to English is pillow. Yea no kidding Pillow. We all know words have meanings and definitions but over a course of time the meanings will change occasionally. Before you read any further you need to google that because you will be blown away. I'm assuming that Guanciale falls into this category. We all know that Guanciale is Cured Pork Jowls or Cheeks. That being said the English translation of the Italian word Guancia is cheek. So what came first Guanciale or Guancia? Maybe both? Maybe a Pig Cheek is as soft as a Pillow hence the name. I really don't know so we'll move on. Heck I'm making a beef version because as most of out know I don't eat pork. 

You're not going to find Guanciale in a grocery store and for that matter a-specialty shop. You might be able to locate Guanciale  on the East-Coast but I live in the NW. That being said I think there may be one place in the NW that carries the meat but all they carry is pork so I you won't find me there anytime soon….LOL. 

I came up with this cure based on previous experiences with these ingredients and I kept tasting the dang thing until I got it correct. I won't go into a lot of detail but the percentages are based on the weight of the meat. If you want a lot of detail on now to apply the percentages CLICK HERE.

Bought the Cheeks at the Business Costco. There were many packages to chose from so I chose the largest. I'm curious though who buys them? I frequent many restaurants and I have never seen them on a menu. They are very flavorful but very tough with a lot of connective tissue and fat. One would need to braise them or Sous-Vide them for a long time. I would shoot for 72 hours at 136f degrees or 149 f for 48 hours. I think I saw them once on DDD (Diners, Drive-ins and Dives) on the food network. Guy was at a CA Mexican restaurant that serves them in Tacos. If I am not mistaken they were the only place to serve cheek Tacos. 

Here they are released from their cryovac home. As you can see there's a lots of fat. I will remove the excess and hard stuff. I have nothing to compare them too so I am flying blind here. Now I have to decide how I'm going to cure them. Do I roll them? Lay them flat? hmmmm..... good thing I am creative and I make up my own rules as I go along. 

Three bundles of joy and a and a crap load of fat. Yea, now I have to figure out how to proceed. Laying them out flat is not a very good option. Hmmmmm...I got it!!!

Not kidding here but I've must spent 10-15 minutes pondering the configuration of these cheeks. After removing all the hard fat and connective tissue I pieced them together to form 3 little footballs. These Cheeks will be glued together using Transglutminase (Activa RM).

Here they are all rolled out.

Cure & Salt combined than sprinkled all over the cheeks.

Process the whole spices in a spice mill and combine with the rest of the ingredients mixing throughly. Spread them out all over the cheeks making sure to get them in every-nook and cranny. 

Vacuum seal and place in refrigerator for about 7-9 days. It's an equilibrium cure so I am not worried about over curing. These cheeks are relatively thin so it shouldn't take that long. 

It's been 7 days and they are fully cured. I rinsed (as much as I could) off all the spices under cold water. As you can see the Beef Cheeks have taken on a red hue and to the touch feel a little firmer.

In order to roll them up into a cylinder I had to pound them out a bit. The trick to pounding them out is to place between plastic wrap with a little water to reduce friction. The splash of water will allow them to move around under the plastic without tearing while you're pounding away. 

Before you start applying the Transglutminase Activa RM you need to do a preliminary roll. You need to figure out what is the optimum way to roll up the Beef Cheeks. Things to consider. Symmetry, and how the meat surfaces cling to each other. You want a configuration that gives you a symmetrical cylinder. This part is hard to describe the but the seam or flap needs to cover as much of the roll as possible. 

Anyhow unroll the Cheeks on to a large cutting board covered with a 24 inch plastic roll. Sprinkle on the TG making sure to get it into every nook and cranny. Make sure to get some on the ends too. 

This is a two person operation at this point. Start rolling the Cheeks with a layer or two of plastic wrap. This thing needs to be TIGHT!!! Stretch and roll, stretch and roll, twisting the ends in the opposite direction and squeezing. As you squeeze, pinch and roll it should start to form a very nice symmetrical cylinder. All in all I must have made 20-30 evolutions when finally got done. Again using two people twist ends and secure with butchers twine. Use pliers if you have to. It needs to me be extremely tight.

After securing the Cheeks with the plastic wrap Vac Seal individually. Refrigerate for 24-36 hours. The TG needs at least 24 hours to bind the proteins. I'm going for 36 hours do to schedule and convenience.

Fresh out of the bag!! Beautiful specimen. Even the ends came out perfect.

This next part is very important so get a scale and piece of paper ready to record some weights. Each cylinder will be weighted in grams. Record the weight and subtract 30%. In order for them to be deemed safe to eat they're will need to lose 30% of their green weight. Keep them separate (label the bags) and don't confuse which one is which. 

This is what I did.... 

1. Weight 717.5 grams....  -30% = 502.25
2. Weight 555 grams....... -30% = 388.5
3. Weight 767 grams......  -30% = 536.9

Each cylinder will be treated with this rub. As the Cheeks dry in the UMAI bags the flavor will intensify.


Each cylinder was placed in an UMAI bag. Each bag was labeled 1, 2 and 3. Each bag was labeled with the Green Weight and the 30% loss calculation. 

All three finally hit their target weight loss of 30%. Number two which was the lightest of the three got there about 2 weeks sooner.

After all three have hit their target weight loss of 30% they're vac sealed so the moisture can equalize. In other words the moisture will be redistributed. Have you ever cut into something like this and wondered why the outside is super hard and the center is a little softer? Other than case hardening it's about moisture redistribution. The closest analogy I could offer is letting a steak rest after it's cooked. 

This rest period will take at least 8-10 weeks for optimum results. The larger one will equalize for another week or so. If one hit 8 weeks and one hits 10 weeks it's not a big difference. Pull everything out at once and slice up. 

 The pic to the left is at 10 weeks. 
This whole process took 6 months. Patience is necessary when you delve into the world of cured meat.

Review at the bottom of the pics….

These slices are about 3/8 of an inch. They will be used to make sauces. The fat is just amazing. Hmmm…. dinner tonight…. Pasta Carbonara..

Review- Wow is just the beginning of this review. Extremely happy with the results. Exceeded my expectations. The flavor was spot on and because everything sat for a while you cannot distinguish one spice from another which is what I was going for. The fat is sublime and plays well with the spices. In order to appreciate the delicate flavors and texture you must slice extremely thin. When I say thin I mean thinner than Prosciutto. Very hard to package so I used thin wax butcher paper and vac sealed. The larger pieces will be used for sauces and stews.