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Pancetta with Halibut and Asparagus

If something akin to “meat butter” sounds good to you, then head to your favorite local (or online) butcher shop and ask for pancetta, guanciale or lardo. All three are fatty cuts of pork – with an emphasis on fatty – that are dry cured with salt, herbs and spices.

Guanciale comes from the jowl, lardo comes from the back and pancetta comes from the belly. The long curing time (usually a couple months or so) means these seriously tasty slabs of mostly fat marbled with a little meat can be eaten raw. This is usually done by draping very thin slices of pancetta, guanciale or lardo over cooked meat, fish or vegetables, so it melts like butter. Meaty, salty, extremely rich butter.

Especially if you plan to eat it raw, buy from butchers that sell high quality, humanely raised, pastured pork [1]. Lardo, which is pure fat, is the most butter-like (and hardest to find in stores). Pancetta and guanciale have a little more texture and meaty flavor; kind of like bacon for really hardcore pork lovers. Pancetta is sold in slabs or rolls that are often sliced to order by the butcher and guanciale is sold in slabs that are often cut to order as well.

Both pancetta and guanciale can also be cut into cubes and fried up into crispy, fatty morsels, instead of eating it raw. This recipe is the best of both worlds: raw pancetta as a silky, porky topping for halibut and cooked pancetta mixed with sherry vinegar, shallot and parsley as a dressing for asparagus. The result is a meal worthy of a special occasion but easy enough to make any night of the week.

Servings: 2

Time in the Kitchen: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

Instructions:

Slice 4 very thin slices off the piece of pancetta or guanciale and set aside. Cut the rest up into tiny cubes.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the cubes of pancetta/guanciale and cook for 3 minutes then add the shallot. Continue to cook until the pancetta/guanciale is crispy. Pour off most of the fat (keeping the pancetta/guanciale and shallot in the skillet) and set aside.

Add the vinegar and parsley to the skillet. Cook about 1 minute more, until most of vinegar evaporates, then spoon the mixture of pork, shallot and parsley into a bowl and set aside.

Pour the reserved bowl of grease back into the skillet. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Lightly salt the halibut and add it to the pan, cooking until browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. If the pan starts smoking, turn the heat down to medium. Flip the fish and cook about 2 to 4 minutes longer, until opaque in the center.

While the fish is cooking, coat the asparagus in olive oil. Lay out in a single layer in a rimmed baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil under high heat, shaking the baking sheet occasionally, and cook until slightly shriveled and charred, 6 to 8 minutes.

Plate each of the halibut fillets with two slices of raw pancetta/guanciale on top and asparagus on the side dressed with the pancetta/guanciale and parsley dressing.