Many people keep bacon on hand, but rarely have pancetta in the refrigerator. Can bacon be substituted for pancetta?
Bacon and pancetta are both cut from the belly of the pig, but the products are not identical. Bacon is cured with salt, then smoked and sliced. Pancetta (sometimes called Italian bacon) is cured with salt, black pepper, and spices and rolled into a cylinder. It is never smoked.
Replacing pancetta with bacon won’t ruin a dish, but because bacon is overtly smoky, many recipes recommend blanching it before swapping it for pancetta. To test the validity of this practice, we made our recipes for Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew and Pasta with Greens and Beans, first blanching bacon in boiling water, then proceeding with the recipe, subbing the blanched bacon for pancetta.
As we prepared the recipes, we noticed that blanching had removed a considerable amount of the fat from the bacon. In fact, for the stew recipe, we had to supplement the bacon with a small amount of oil to properly sauté the aromatics. And when we tasted the finished dishes, we noticed that despite the blanching, subtle hints of smokiness remained. Even so, tasters deemed the substitution acceptable.
Our conclusion: If you want to eliminate most of its smoky flavor, blanch bacon in boiling water for two minutes before swapping it for pancetta. Because blanched bacon is not as fatty as pancetta, you may need to add extra oil to the recipe.