September 24, 2010 5:00 am Published by 3 Comments


Just as when you’re sure you’ve met that special someone it’s important to meet the parents, so too should you be familiar with bacon’s extended family, just in case you’re at a Denny’s and someone tries to serve you serrano ham, you can storm out in outrage.


It’s about as Canadian as French toast is French which is to say, pas du tout. It’s better known by its other name which is “HAM.” From the meatier, leaner loin of the pig, trimmed more thoroughly than bacon, and often found contaminating otherwise tasty pineapple pizzas.


Foremost among the “ritzy” cured meats, pancetta is the Italian version of bacon and comes from the pork belly or pancia. Since it isn’t smoked, its flavor is moister and more mellow than bacon. It is important not to confuse Pancetta with Leon Panetta, who is the director of the CIA. One is ham, the other is a pig, right folks?


Not cured, not smoked, just unprocessed fat from the belly or back and sold in slabs. It’s intended purpose is to be rendered into fat for cooking or larding meats. If you fry bits of until until they’re crispy, you have “cracklings” and also probably a severe cholesterol problem.


A high collagen treat: trimmed from the edges of bacon, salt pork, fatback, and hocks. Used in soups and stews to add texture, and when deep fried, what you have is “chitlins” and also probably difficult getting up out of an easy chair.


This could be a name for an eBay-like site for selling used bacon, but is in fact the name for pieces of lower leg. Unlike bacon, they contain bone. You’re supposed to drop them in soups to add an earthy flavor, but if I wanted an earthy flavor, I’d be out snuffling around in the garden like a pig and then someone would probably make me into bacon. I can’t say I’d object overmuch.


No, it doesn’t mean someone’s taking you to court: it means someone’s serving you exquisite Italian ham. Oftentimes the pigs that get made into prosciutto are fed nothing but chestnuts, which sounds great if you’re an elf living in the woods, but apparently it helps create this meat, which needs no cooking. Proscuitto is cured for ten months. I’ve had colds that lasted almost that long. Often eaten with figs and melon by fancy people in fancy places.


That’s Spanish for “closed ham.” Oh, no wait, no it isn’t, shoot, does this keyboard have a backspace button? It comes from the Spanish for “mountain ham” or jamon serrano, and it’s similar to prosciutto. There the raw harms are cured in the mountainous Alpine air, dry and cool, and the firm ham is intended to be eaten alone. As in, without adornment, not as in social isolation, although what do you expect if you go to the top of a mountain to eat ham?


Are you in Louisiana? Then you’re probably not eating tasso. It’s a heavily spiced, smoked, cured ham and its primary ingredient is the pork shoulder. There’s a lot of hospitality in the south, so you can be sure they won’t give you the cold shoulder: it’s frequently chopped and added to jambalaya, and it’s cured with a salt-brine and cold-smoked until it is dry. Very few things in the bayou are dry, so this is an extra-special treat.


The Joy of Cooking says salt pork is “prized for its fat,” which could also be said of most of the middle part of the USA. Salt pork comes from the fatty part of the knuckle, belly, or shoulder of the pig, and it’s heavily salted but not smoked. It’s frequently removed before serving from dishes, because it’s just there to add savory richness, but you can use bacon as a substitute, so why bother?


The less said the better.

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  • Cheryl says:

    This is a great list. I had never even heard of tasso, even though I live in Houston, which is close to Louisiana and has a lot of residents who were displaced by Katrina. I guess I need to get out more.

    One thing not listed is speck, which is a cured meat from the hind leg of the pig and comes from Tyrol, a region which spans part of Northern Italy and Southern Austria. I have seen it used on Top Chef.

  • Rich says:

    Speck is awesome! it’s basically smoked prociutto, so better than prociutto. You got “chitlins” wrong. it’s not made from pork rind or trimmings of anything. where did you get that? Chitlins are deep fried pig intestines.

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