I will admit that I am a bit of a snob about certain foods. No matter how strange or inappropriate the time or setting, there are certain dishes that I will always order. I have been this way since I first started working in a French kitchen at the age of 14. I had tried capicola a few times before, but really became hooked on charcuterie when I spent a few summers in Italy in my early 20’s.
Cured meats have always held my heart for a few reasons. They are salty, fatty, spicy, and rich in flavor.
Capicola is one of them. It is a dry aged pork neck. Once prepared properly, it is sliced thin and eaten as a snack with crusty bread, cheese, and condiments.
It can also stay preserved for quite a long time. This is just an added benefit to the wonderful flavor.
It is not uncommon for me to order a charcuterie board even for breakfast if given the chance. While everybody else peppers their fried eggs, the waiter hauls out a giant slab of wood littered with meats and cheeses. I cannot help but laugh at the embarrassment I cause.
For me, there is just a romantic nostalgia associated with cured meats. I always picture a group of jolly Italians gathered around a massive table. I envision them cutting paper-thin slices of meat with an ancient knife, gulping home-made wine, and singing all night. I suppose it does not always happen that way.
In this article I will explain how to make capicola by curing and aging it, so that you too can become a charcuterie enthusiast (if you are not already).
Hopefully this will open up your world to all the delicious cured meats that are out there for you to discover.
There are a few ingredients you will need in order to cook this at home:
- 5.5 lbs of Pork Neck
- 5 Tablespoons Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Prague Powder #2
- 1/2 Tablespoon Cracked Black Pepper
- 1/4 Tablespoon Crushed Juniper Berries
- 2 Bay Leaves Crushed
- 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
After you have collected all the required ingredients, it is time to start cooking.
Making Capicola at Home
Smoking meat at home can be sometimes, a difficult and complex process. The same thing can happen when you are making cured pork neck. I have tried to divide the process in only a few extra steps.
Step 1: Start by measuring out all of the dry ingredients together, including the Prague powder, salt, sugar, nutmeg, black pepper corns, bay leaves and juniper berries.
Step 2: Take the juniper berries, black peppercorns and bay leaves and place them into your spice grinder and process this until fine. If you do not have access to a spice grinder, you can crush them with the side of a knife.
Step 3: Add the ground spices to the rest of the powders and mix this together thoroughly.
If you wish, you can experiment with other flavors. Some people enjoy a spicy taste, and add cayenne powder or crushed red pepper.
Step 4: Now, take your pork neck, place it on your work surface and roll it tightly length-ways.
After you have rolled it completely, use butchers twine to tie the roll firmly. This helps the roll keep its shape. You will notice that a properly rolled capicola will have an even distribution of meat and fat when you slice it across the grain.
Step 5: After you have tied the rolled pork neck with the butchers twine, place it in a roasting tin or catch tray and sprinkle the curing mixture evenly over the meat. Pat the powder into the surface of the meat as you go until all of it has a coating. This will be thicker than a normal dry rub.
Step 6: Take a vacuum packing bag and turn it half inside out. Feed the prepared pork into the bag and unfold the bag to close it around.
Pop this into your vacuum packer and seal it up good and tight. It is a good idea to give the bag a double seal for security.
Step 7: Place the vacuum packed meat in your refrigerator for 7 days to cure.
You can also seal it in a ziplock bag, but then you must massage and flip the meat every day while it is curing.
Step 8: After the 7 days of curing time at the refrigerator, remove the prepared pork neck from the bag and rinse it thoroughly under cold running water. Use a paper towel to dry the surface of it.
Step 9: Place the cleaned prepared pork neck on a board and rub thoroughly with paprika.
Then, place the meat on a rack and allow this to age for 5 to 6 weeks at a temperature of 57°F to 65°F, and humidity of 60-70%.
It will often form a crust on the outside, but do not be concerned. This is just part of the aging process.
Serving the 'Capocollo'
After 5-6 weeks have passed, take it from the rack and start cutting the strings away from the capicola.
Cutting the roll open reveals the beautifully colored cured meat with a firm texture and an absolutely amazing aroma.
Slice the cured pork thinly by hand or machine and you're ready to taste heaven. The thinner the slice, the better the texture and flavor.
I enjoy putting together a charcuterie board including sliced capicola (along with other meats), two or three types of cheeses sliced thin, whole grain mustard, capers, fruit jam, olives, and sliced shallots. Pair with your favorite wine and you are ready to dig in.
Having cured meats several times before, I can attest that it is a labor of love.
You will find that you have a very short period of assembly, and then weeks of checking on your project.
You will probably show all your friends and family your baby capicola and imagine what flavors it will embody. Then, when it is finally ready to eat, it will disappear too quickly. You will likely start planning your next cured meat project before the last one is complete.
Curing meats can be a fun and rewarding hobby if you learn to do it right. However, keep in mind that there are many ways to cure and age meats.
This is the method from which I learned how to make capicola at home.
I suggest that you look into your different options and try a few to see which curing and aging methods you enjoy most.
Hopefully you will find a combination that will give you enjoyment for years to come.