Pancetta is a delicious Italian meat often used in pasta. It is a type of salted meat that’s flavored with culinary seasoning and dried by curing. In terms of Italian foods, pancetta is among the most popular and can be used in many recipes, like pasta, soups, or stuffed dishes.
In this post, I’ll explore some of the best pancetta substitutes you can use to complete any dish. Let’s get started.
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Italian Bacon/Pork Belly Meat
Most people know pancetta as Italian bacon due to their similar taste and appearance. Both of these meats use the same pork belly for preparation.
Because pancetta can be difficult to find in your local grocery store, many people search for a substitute for pancetta when making classic Italian pasta.
A few pancetta substitutes include prosciutto, bacon, salted pork, smoked ham, or smoked sausage. These foods will give you that pancetta taste you’re looking for, though, unlike pancetta, some add an additional smoky flavor to your dish.
Pancetta itself gives a unique flavor to dishes that can truly only be provided with the exact food. Though American bacon is deliciously similar, it doesn’t have quite the same taste.
If you’re looking for pancetta substitutes or vegetarian substitutes, you’ve come to the right place.
What is Pancetta?
There are hundreds of recipes for pancetta that lend its delicious salt-cured meat taste to every dish. If you love the taste of pork but are not a fan of the smoky flavor of bacon, pancetta is a great way to go.
Go to any Italian restaurant and some sort of pancetta will likely be on the menu. If you’re an avid Italian food fan or love pancetta alone, you likely already know exactly what pancetta is.
However, if you’re not completely aware, here’s a quick explanation of the cured meat.
Pancetta is made by drying salted pork belly, and it doesn’t have a distinctively smoky taste. It has an excellent shelf life of up to a year unopened.
Many different varieties of pancetta are available in various regions. In different places, the culinary spices used for flavoring and curing methods to make pancetta will differ.
At a grocery store or local market, salt-cured pancetta is typically sold as rolled meat or sausages. However, you will also sometimes find pancetta cubes or straight types.
Best Substitutes for Pancetta
Have you ever started making pancetta pasta, but discovered that you were out of the cured meat?
This can be frustrating, but if you don’t feel like heading to a specialized store to replenish your supply, there are options to substitute for pancetta that have a similar appearance and flavor.
Here you’ll find the best substitute options for pancetta that don’t sacrifice the taste of your meal.
An excellent substitute for pancetta is prosciutto. This is a type of hog jowl prepared from salted ham that, unlike bacon, does not have that smoky taste. Once you’ve brined the meat, the ham is air-dried for multiple months to make it into prosciutto.
Prosciutto is packaged as thin slices of meat that are almost transparent. While using prosciutto as a good substitute for pancetta, you should lightly cook the meat then toss it in with the pasta.
This meat can even be eaten raw to add rich pork flavor to pasta, allowing you to be able to add uncooked prosciutto as a substitute for pancetta without the feeling of the meat being smoked.
Pancetta and bacon have a few similarities in appearance and type of pork used but are different in a couple of key ways. Fat content is one of them.
American bacon can be used as a pancetta substitute in your cooking, however, it’s important to keep in mind the difference in taste. Bacon differs from pancetta in the meat seasoning and curing methods used.
Bacon is made by smoking salted pork belly. Pancetta, however, is not smoked, but dried pork belly that is treated with salt and other spices like garlic and black pepper.
When you’re cooking with bacon instead of pancetta, consider boiling meat for two to three minutes before putting it into your dish. This will reduce the smokiness of the bacon and make it taste a little more like pancetta.
If you do not eat pork for religious reasons, are a vegetarian, or simply like vegetables more in your dishes, there is a pancetta substitute for you.
Full-flavored olives work very well as substitutes for pancetta. In many recipes such as soups or other Italian dishes, you can use olives instead of pancetta and still get some delicious flavor in your food.
Full-flavored olives already contain salt, so you’ll be able to get some salt pork, meaty flavor to your soup, pasta, or other Italian meal without using bacon or prosciutto.
Another alternative that you can use is vegetarian bacon, which can usually be found in the vegetable aisle of your local grocery store. This type of bacon-tasting “meat” is easier to be cooked and can be used in your favorite bacon-potato or cheese soup, special sauces, and any pancetta-based dishes.
Looking for additional substitutes for pancetta?
If you’ve ever cooked, you know how frustrating it can be to have to find substitutes for essential items that you don’t have. However, there are even more subs for pancetta that you’re able to effectively use.
If you don’t have any of the above items to substitute for pancetta, you can also use smoked ham or sausage, salted pork, smoked or salted ventreche, or pork tocino.
It’s important to make note of the flavor of each cured meat alternative, as you’ll want to adjust the salt and spices according to your tastes.
Now that we’ve gone over some substitutes for pancetta, I’m sure you’re feeling like the delicious Italian meat would hit the spot right now. Here are a few scrumptious recipes to cook with pancetta (or any potential subs).
Pasta is one of the most popular dishes to cook with pancetta. We found the simplest recipe to make a delicious pancetta pasta.
Ingredients that you’ll need for this recipe include the following:
- 5 shallots, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 6 ounces pancetta bacon, diced
- 2 cups fresh sliced mushrooms
- 2 pinches freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pinches dried oregano
- ½ cup chicken broth
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 (12 oz) package linguine pasta
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
First, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add your pasta and cook for around 8 minutes or until tender but still firm, then drain.
In a skillet, cook your pancetta in hot oil until lightly brown. Stir in shallots, mushrooms, and garlic, then cook together for 1 minute. Season with oregano and pepper, then pour in chicken broth.
Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes while stirring. Cover and let simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.
Strain liquid from pan into cooked pasta and add olive oil. Divide pasta into portions that you’d like to serve, then top with pancetta and mushrooms. If desired, garnish with Parmesan.
Roast Chicken with Pancetta
If you like mixing meats, chicken and pancetta can go quite nicely together.
We found an easy recipe for roast chicken that uses pancetta for additional flavor.
The ingredients you’ll need for this recipe are as follows:
- 1 (3 1/2–4-pound) whole chicken
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 red onions, cut into wedges through root end
- 2 pound winter squash (such as delicata or acorn), cut into 1 1/2-inch-thick wedges or rounds
- 1 1/2 ounces pancetta, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Freshly ground black pepper
First, pat your chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt, both outside and in. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and let sit for one hour to allow the salt to permeate.
Place a rack in the upper third portion of an oven and set a cast-iron skillet or baking dish on the rack. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Toss onions, pancetta, squash, and oil into a large bowl to coat. Season the mixture with pepper and salt.
Once the oven heats, pat the chicken dry again and lightly coat with about half of the remaining oil. Sprinkle with a dry rub if you’re using it.
Drizzle the remaining oil into a hot skillet and place the chicken in the center, arranging the squash mixture around it.
Roast your chicken until the vegetables are golden brown and the thickest part of the chicken breasts read 155 degrees Fahrenheit on a thermometer. This will take about an hour.
Let your chicken rest in the skillet for up to 45 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board and carve it.
Serve with veggies.
Final Thoughts on the Best Pancetta Substitutes
Pancetta is a delicious addition or main attraction to any dish. Its unique pork flavor and great texture make the cured meat a dynamic food to cook with.
However, if you find yourself out of pancetta or are looking for a substitute to make a meal vegetarian or vegan, there are many subs out there to choose from.
From prosciutto, to bacon, to meat alternatives, to olives, there are multiple foods out there that resemble pancetta and can help you create a similar dish that you were striving for.
If you want the closest thing to pancetta, prosciutto is the best option. Its lack of smokiness and similar texture makes it the most logical pancetta substitute.
If you want the same pork flavor and are okay with a bit of smokiness in your dish, bacon is the way to go. Just be sure to boil it in oil for a little while to get rid of some of the smokiness, if desired.
If you’re a vegetarian or are looking for a meatless option, meat alternatives like veggie bacon and olives are great options. These foods can even be packed with protein, just like pancetta.
Overall, pancetta is a versatile food known for its deliciously unique flavor. It can be added to many dishes or prepared on its own for a scrumptious snack or main course meal.
When cooking with pancetta or any alternatives to the cured meat, be sure to follow recipes closely to get the best possible result. Whether you buy it in slices or cubes, pancetta is one of the best pork products out there.