Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Organic Meat & Dairy

Last week, we looked at the subject of organic and conventional produce and I gave you some information to help you determine which you think is best for you and your family. In this week’s Cooking Tip, I want to talk about organic meat and dairy.

First, we need to understand what the word “organic” means in relation to meat and dairy. According to the USDA’s website:

  • The USDA organic label on dairy or meat products means that the animals … were raised in living conditions that accommodated their natural behaviors, without being administered hormones or antibiotics, and while grazing on pasture grown on healthy soil. Thereafter, the meat or dairy product is processed without any artificial colors, preservatives, or flavors before being packaged to avoid contact with any prohibited, nonorganic substances.” As part of this, the use of GMOs is prohibited.
  • The basic rule is to allow natural substances and prohibit synthetic. For livestock, however, vaccines play an important part in animal health, especially since antibiotic therapy is prohibited.
  • Yearly organic inspections are required including, but not limited to, seed sources, soil conditions, crop health, weed and pest management, water systems, inputs, contamination and commingling risks and prevention, and record-keeping.
  • Producers must use 100% organic feed, but they may provide allowed vitamin and mineral supplements.
Image by Penny from Pixabay

Are there any benefits of eating organic meat/dairy? Medical professionals at the Cleveland Clinic believe there are health benefits linked to choosing organic. However, they temper this by stating that “it’s not certain that eating organic foods will make a difference in one’s health.”

Possible benefits:

  • Reduced exposure to pesticides and insecticides.
  • Increased exposure to omega-3 fatty acids as livestock fed through grazing usually have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Lower levels of cadmium in organic grains.
  • Increased levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial micronutrients.
  • Less exposure to bacteria in meat.
  • Less exposure to antibiotics and growth hormones.

According to Healthline, there are pros and cons to organic milk.

Image by Penny from Pixabay


  • Organic cow’s milk is higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids than conventional milk. However, once again, these differences may only be marginal and not offer more nutritional benefits than conventional milk. Also, some experts say this improved fatty acid content is due to farming practices that allow cows to graze and forage and not the organic farming itself.
  • Organic milk has lower levels of drug residues (including antibiotics & growth hormones) than regular milk, although the amounts in regular milk are still considered safe. As for antibiotics, researchers at the University of California, Davis explain that there are never any antibiotics in any type of milk. This is due to policies in place by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and American Veterinary Medicine Association that control drug use. For more detail, see this article.
  • Organic milk has a longer shelf life due to the pasteurization processes it undergoes.


  • Organic milk is lower in iodine and selenium, two nutrients that are important for thyroid health.
  • Organic milk is slightly higher in calories.
  • Organic milk has a higher saturated fat content.
  • Organic milk is more expensive.


  • Both have comparable levels of calcium, potassium, and sodium.

Although the discussion of the environmental impacts of organic versus conventional farming is outside the scope of this Tip, if you are interested, here is a very well-researched article on this subject by researchers at the University of California at Davis. Let me just say it is not as clear cut as organic proponents say it is. As with so many topics, the truth is more nuanced.

I hope this article and the one about produce will help you determine if and when you wish to pay the increased cost associated with organic foods. It is a very personal decision but one that should be made with the data required to make an informed decision.

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Brining your turkey – is it worth it?

How do you cook your Thanksgiving turkey? Do you brine it or do you use a different method of preparation? What brining is, how to do it and whether it is worth it is the subject of this Cooking Tip. I am posting this Tip early with the hope that it will help you decide if it is something that you want to do this Thanksgiving.

Brining your turkey became popular a few decades ago and chefs everywhere proclaimed its usefulness and home cooks fell in step. However, it is not nearly as popular as it once was for a number of reasons. Even chefs who were once great proponents have fallen off the “brining bandwagon”. Before we investigate why this is so, let’s look at what it is and what it is supposed to do. I will start with the procedure for wet brining and then discuss a nice alternative of dry brining at the end.

A wet brine is basically just a strong solution of salt and water. It is said to have three goals – producing meat that is tender, juicy and well-seasoned. As your turkey (or other protein) sits in this solution, salt is drawn into the meat and the protein structure of the meat changes. This reduces its toughness and increases its capacity to hold on to water and stay juicy. It also seasons the meat all the way to its interior.

Brining is not a difficult process but you must adhere to the instructions. You need to take the following items into consideration. I am not going to list actual recipes as you can find them anywhere. Instead, I want to talk about some general principles. With those, you do not necessarily need a recipe.

Ratio of salt to water

  • This is the most important factor in successful brining.
  • Most experts recommend a 5-8% salt solution. This should be done by weight, not volume, although most recipes will have done the math for you.
  • Cooks Illustrated likes a 9% solution as their tasters liked the extra salt.
  • Many scientific studies have shown that the maximal moisture absorption occurs at 6% and this is the ratio that Serious Eats recommends.
  • Pay attention to what type of salt you are using if you are measuring by volume. A cup of table salt is going to weigh much more than a cup of kosher salt. Also, the weight can even vary among brands of kosher salt. Therefore, if you are making your own brine without a recipe, grab a kitchen scale and measure it correctly. Otherwise, note which salt your recipe specifies.


  • Your turkey must be totally submerged in the solution. Depending on how large your turkey is, this can be difficult to achieve.
  • For smaller birds, a large stock pot may work.
  • Some people use coolers, other use plastic bags or some other large container. I must advise caution with these methods, though, due to the next concern – that of keeping it cold.


  • Since your turkey is going to be brining for a long time, it needs to stay cold (under 40°F) during this entire time. That is not a problem if you have space in your refrigerator.
  • If not, you need to ensure it stays properly cold. If you live where the weather is cold, your garage may be a viable alternative. However, stay vigilant and check that the water solution stays cold.


  • Most recipes will give you a range of times for brining. Although you always want to brine for at least the lower time, you do not need to go to the longest time. Most of the salt movement happens within the first 4 hours.
  • You can brine in less time by using a more concentrated salt solution. For example, Cooks Illustrated’s normal brine using ½ cup table salt per gallon of water recommends a time of 12-14 hours. However, if you increase this to 1 cup table salt per gallon of water, they recommend reducing the brining time to 4-6 hours.


  • After brining, the turkey needs to be thoroughly dried. If you are short of time, you can just pat it dry.
  • For crispier skin, let it sit in the refrigerator, uncovered, for a few hours or even overnight.


  • Do not brine kosher or self-basing (enhanced, injected) turkeys as they have already been treated with salt.
  • Many recipes add aromatics and sweeteners to the brine. These are totally unnecessary as they only will flavor the skin.
  • Turkey is not the only protein that you can brine but you can do the same with chicken, pork, etc.

If brining has been so popular, why would you not do it? Here are two main reasons.

  1. It is a hassle – see the technique discussion above.
  2. It washes out the turkey flavor. The added moisture that you get from a wet brine is mostly water that is absorbed into the turkey. This can lead to a watered down turkey flavor.

What is the alternative?

  • First, do not over-cook your turkey. Use care and an instant read thermometer to help you get a safe but not dry turkey.
  • Try spatchcocking your turkey. The downside of this is that you do not have the entire, pretty and golden turkey to put on your table.
  • Dry Brine
    • A dry brine is basically pre-salting your protein for an appropriate amount of time. See this Tip for more info on this.This method helps a turkey to retain its natural moisture without adding any water, leading to more intense flavors. Adding baking powder to the salt can help the skin to crisp up and brown better.Here is a basic dry brine – Mix ½ cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 6 Tbsp Morton’s kosher salt with 2 Tbsp baking powder. Pat turkey dry and sprinkle salt mixture on all surfaces. How much of this mixture you use will depend on the size of your bird. Set it on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered 12-24 hours. Proceed with roasting, without rinsing, but do not add any additional salt.
    • The proponents of this measure feel that Kosher salt is a must for easy sprinkling and prevention of clumping as it falls evenly over the surface.

So, there you have it – the pros and cons of brining. I hope this Tip helps make your Thanksgiving dinner prep just a bit less stressful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Sausages – so many varieties!

In last week’s Cooking Tip, I discussed why and how you would go about making your own sausages. I realize that probably very few of you will pursue this and would prefer to buy them. Because of that, I want to explain the different types of sausages so you will be informed when you go to the store.

There are different ways that people categorize sausages. Let’s start with the most basic categorization.

  1. Fresh sausages – these are raw sausages and must be cooked before eating. After purchase, they can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for a few months. Breakfast sausage, Italian sausage and Mexican chorizo are three common varieties of fresh sausage.

  2. Cooked sausages – these have been fully cooked by some method. Even though they can be eaten without any heating, it is often recommended that they be cooked or thoroughly heated before consuming. They also should be refrigerated or frozen. The label should tell you whether they have been cooked or not.

  3. Cured sausages – also known as preserved sausages, they have been treated with salt and other chemicals to not only extend storage life but also to add flavor. They need no further cooking and also do not require refrigeration until they are sliced. Examples are pepperoni and Spanish chorizo.

Another categorization would be by type of meat such as pork, beef, poultry, game, seafood or vegetarian.

Sausages can also be categorized by country of origin. Wikipedia lists about 60 countries and each of them have one or more sausages listed for that country. Let me mention just a few of the most common.

United States

  • Breakfast sausages – usually made from pork and typical seasonings include sage, maple syrup and bacon.
  • Hot dogs – also known as a frankfurter after its German origins, this has been the quintessential baseball park sausage in the US since the 1900s.
  • Andouille – originally from France, it is now mostly associated with Cajun cuisine. It is usually pork-based and flavored with Cajun flavors of garlic, pepper, onions and wine.


  • Bratwurst – there are said to be over 40 varieties of bratwurst. They are most likely to be mild and often incorporate baking spices in the sausage.
  • Knockwurst – a garlic-flavored sausage made from beef and/or pork.
  • Liverwurst – made from liver and other organs, usually pork but can be beef.


  • Italian – sweet & hot. The latter contains hot pepper flakes whereas the former contains sweet basil. The word “sweet” does not mean it will taste like a dessert, only that it is not hot. The other seasonings will vary by recipe but often contain fennel.
  • Spanish Chorizo – this is a cured pork sausage that includes paprika for red coloring.


  • Mexican Chorizo – this is a raw pork sausage and seasoned with typical Mexican spices. It can vary in its level of spiciness. Some stores may carry beef or poultry versions.

Eastern European

  • Polish Kielbasa – in Polish, “kielbasa” means sausage. In our stores, this will be a longer pork sausage, typically shaped like a “U”.


  • Bangers – one of the things that make these different than American sausages is the presence of a filler. In Britain, it is a wheat-based filler known as rusk.
  • Cumberland – a traditional British sausage that is typically long in shape and spiced with pepper.
  • Black pudding – known as blood sausage in other countries, it contains cooked, congealed blood that is mixed with fat and grains. It is known as Boudin in France.


  • Lap Cheong – this is the Cantonese word for sausage and is a smoked, sweet and salty pork sausage seasoned with soy sauce and rice wine.

This is just a brief listing of some common sausages that we all probably recognize. However, there are so many different varieties and flavors out there. In my freezer right now, I have British bangers, Bratwurst, Italian (sweet and hot), smoked jalapeno cheddar, chicken with pineapple and bacon and wild boar & pork with apricot and cranberry. That final one is my favorite. What’s yours?

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Ever thought of making your own sausage?

Even though I try to limit my intake, I absolutely love sausage. My husband says it must be my German heritage coming through. I am not sure about that but there are not many sausages that I don’t enjoy eating. Because of that, I always think I should be spending more time making sausages at home. Making your own sausage can be fun but there is quite a bit to think about. That is the subject of this Cooking Tip. This will be more of an overview of sausage making. If you intend to become serious about making sausage, I would recommend investing in some books by experts.

You may first ask Why would I want to make my own sausages? Other than the satisfaction of trying and successfully learning a new skill, you know what exactly is in those sausages you are eating. Also, you can control the fat content to what you like. Finally, you can be creative and come up with your own flavors that you cannot buy in the store. Read on for what equipment and ingredients you will need as well as an outline of the actual process.


  • Meat grinder
    • This is not absolutely necessary but you will obtain a much better texture by using one. You can get a stand-alone meat grinder or an attachment for your stand mixer.
    • You can use a food processor but be careful that it doesn’t heat up the meat too much. Also, because of the final texture of the product, this method is better suited for patties rather than the links that are produced by stuffing the meat into casings.
  • Bowls
    • You will want one to hold the meat and a larger one that will be filled with ice that you can place the smaller one into. It is important to keep everything very cold.
  • Sausage stuffer
    • Unless you want to just make a patty shape, you will need a sausage stuffer. Once again, there are stand-alone stuffers but there is also an attachment for your stand mixer.
  • Pricking tool
    • Used to remove air bubbles. You may also use a small sterilized skewer or needle.
  • Food scale, preferably one that weighs in grams.
  • Food thermometer – to ensure the sausage is cooked to a safe temperature.


  • Meat
    • Although pork is the most common, sausages can also be made with chicken, beef, lamb, goat, game meat and seafood. You can also make vegetarian sausages.
    • You want an ideal balance of lean meat, fat and liquid. Too little fat and you get a dry sausage. Too much fat and it will be greasy. This can vary based on personal preference but a good place to start is 75% lean and 25% fat. The final sausage should also contain about 10% water.
    • If using pork many experts use pork butt but others use pork shoulder.
  • Added fat
    • You do not always need to add fat but, at times, your recipe will specify this to ensure the correct ratio.
    • What is often recommended is “back-fat”, a solid fat that comes from along the back of the animal. However, belly fat will also work.
  • Fillers
    • Some recipes will specify some sort of filler that acts as a binder.
    • It might be bread, rice or something known as “rusk” — a non-yeasted hard bread.
  • Salt
    • This is not a time you want to “wing it” with the salt as it is essential for a number of reasons. First is its role in bringing out flavor. It also helps to discourage microbial growth. Finally, it aids in the final texture and ability to bind.
    • Experts vary a bit on how much salt to use. They recommend anywhere between 1½% to 3% with most advising 2%.
    • Another piece of salting advice is to salt the meat up to 8 hours before grinding. In testing, this resulted in juicier meat.
  • Other seasonings
    • Although salt is essential, the other spices are up to you.
  • Curing agents
    • If you wish to make dried or semi-dried sausages, you should read up on curing agents like Prague Powder or Morton’s Tender Quick mix. These contain potassium nitrate.
  • Sausage casings
    • These are not required if you wish to make patty-shaped sausages but you will need them for the rope-like shape.


  • First, I highly recommend you wear gloves, especially for the mixing and stuffing part.
  • This is also a time to be very organized and have all your equipment and ingredients gathered together and ready to go.
  • One of the most important pieces of advice is the importance of always keeping everything cold.
  • Cut the meat into cubes. To make this easier, you may want to put the meat into the freezer for a short time before cutting it and again afterwards to ensure it is easy to grind. Chilling also helps to counter the heat that will be created by the grinding process. After cubing, spread out on a baking sheet and freeze for 30-60 minutes, until the surface of the meat feels crunchy but it is not frozen solid.
  • Place in grinder and grind with the recommended grind plate. Catch the meat in a bowl placed over another bowl that has been filled with ice.
  • Season the meat and knead together for about 5 minutes. There are those who prefer to season the cubed meat before grinding. If you do this, put the seasoned meat into the refrigerator for 2-4 hours before grinding for the best flavor.
  • The mixture warms as you knead it, which helps with emulsification. When properly mixed, it will look homogenous, will feel like a paste and will start to stick to the bowl. Some recommend putting a small amount in the palm of your hand, turning your hand over. If the meat sticks to your hand, it has been properly mixed. This is the point when you would fold in any ingredients such as bacon, nuts or dried fruit.
  • To test whether the seasoning is to your liking, fry a small amount and taste, adjusting the seasonings as you desire. This process of frying a small amount can also help you evaluate its texture. If it is crumbly and releasing fat as it cooks, it needs more mixing. When done, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate again.
  • Stuff the casings, if using. Follow the instructions on your machine for this step. Realize that it will take some practice before you get good at it. Once you are skilled at this, you probably will be able to twist the sausages into links as they are coming off the stuffer. However, there is nothing wrong with just stuffing a longer link and tying off the end. Then, twist the length you want in one direction and the next one in the opposite direction until all the links are formed.
  • After stuffing the sausage into the casings, look for any air bubbles and prick them with a small sterilized skewer, needle or pricking tool.
  • Finally, either cook them to enjoy for your dinner or freeze them for future use.

As I mentioned in the beginning, this is just a short primer to help you decide if you want to venture into the world of making your own sausage. If you do, I would seek out some books on sausage making for more detailed instructions. I like the book Sausage Making by Ryan Farr for the great description and photographs of the actual process. I am not a fan of many of the recipes but there are many other sources for those.

There are so many different types of sausage to try to make, or buy if you prefer. Stay tuned for the next Cooking Tip for a primer on all the sausages there are out there to enjoy.

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Throw a Tapas Party

This is the third in a series of Cooking Tips on Spanish cooking. First, I talked about the Spanish ingredients you will want for authentic dishes. Then, we delved into the world of one of the most popular Spanish dishes – Paella. If you asked people what food other than paella they associated with Spain, the answer would probably be Tapas. So, in this Cooking Tip, I would like to talk about what Tapas are and how to throw your own Tapas party.

Tapas are not really a type of food but a style of eating. They are small plates that are typically consumed at bars before lunch and dinner. The origins are not entirely clear but many say it began as a slice of ham or chorizo placed over the mouth of a wineglass and served complimentary. The verb tapar means “to cover” and some say this was originally done to keep flies out of the drink. For an in-depth discussion of the possible origins of tapas, see this article from Spain Food Sherpas.

In Spain, a person does not visit a tapas bar for the purpose of eating but rather to socialize along with a bite to tide them over during the long hours between lunch and dinner. What can constitute a tapa varies greatly. It might only be a dish of olives. Some places serve different sizes with the tapa being enough for one person. If called a media ración, it should be enough for 2 people to share and a ración would be even larger.

Here in the US, Tapas restaurants have become very popular and I have eaten in some excellent ones. However, they might be more accurately termed “Small Plate” restaurants. Even though they serve tapas-sized dishes, they might not be traditional Spanish dishes. In my opinion, that is a not necessarily a bad thing. Just do your research if you are looking for something traditional.

Traditional Spanish tapas are fairly simple. It might be a dish of olives or a meat/cheese plate or it could be more. They might be hot or cold. Here are a few of common tapas.

  • Marinated olives
  • Marcona almonds
  • Cheese and meat board – Serrano ham, Spanish chorizo, Manchego cheese, Cabrales cheese, quince paste, olives, fruit, baguette.
  • Tortilla Española – also known as a Spanish omelet. Typically made with potatoes, onion, and eggs. Some recipes include ham or chorizo. It can be served hot or cold.
  • Patatas Bravas – crispy fried potatoes covered with a spicy tomato or a creamy garlic sauce
  • Gambas al ajillo – shrimp sauteed in olive oil and abundant garlic.
  • Gambas Paco Alcalde – shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce
  • Croquetas (croquettes) – A lightly breaded and filled bite. The filling might be mashed potatoes and ham, wild mushrooms, seafood or cheese.
  • Chorizo al Vino – Spanish chorizo cooked in Spanish red wine and served with crusty bread.
  • Pincho morunos – skewers of pork marinated in spices and then grilled.
  • Ensaladilla rusa – a type of Russian (yes, Russian) potato salad made with mayonnaise, eggs, potatoes and carrots. Sometimes tuna and peas are added.
  • Albóndigas – meatballs, typically served with different sauces.
  • Empanadas – A crispy dough surrounding a variety of fillings.
  • Piquillo Peppers filled with Shrimp or Tuna
  • Dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon
  • Chorizo lollipops – these may not be the most traditional tapa but they are simple and delightful. Make a sugar syrup, place sliced chorizo on a skewer and carefully dip in the syrup, allowing the excess to drip off.

My husband and I often find that the best dishes when we eat in a restaurant are the appetizers, not the main course. Ordering a number of appetizers is very common and popular. This is essentially what a tapas restaurant does. If you do not have that kind of restaurant or you would like to turn your home into that restaurant, consider throwing a tapas party. Even better, book me to come to your house and do a Tapas Cooking Party!

Here are some tips for hosting your own tapas party.

  • For an intimate gathering, you may want to serve the tapas at a leisurely pace starting with lighter ones and progressing to more filling ones.
  • For larger parties, bring out most of tapas at the beginning so guests can help themselves. If the tapas need last minute prep and are meant to be eaten as soon as they are served, space them out over the night and pass them around as they come out.
  • You may or may not want plates. Tapas that require forks/plates are better for smaller gatherings. For large groups, you will want to mostly serve finger foods.
  • Present a variety of tastes and textures.
  • Choose at least one from each of the following categories:
    • Cold/marinated
    • A tapas in a sauce
    • A tapas with bread/pastry
    • A tapas that is fried, baked or grilled at the last minute
  • Balance the tapas as far as vegetables, seafood and meat

Now you have sufficient information to have not only a great Tapas party but with the prior two Cooking Tips, you can also serve paella as well as experimenting with other Spanish food. Have fun!

Cooking Tips · Ingredients · Techniques

Paella — Spain in a pan

This is the second Tip in this series on Spanish cooking and is about Paella, one of the national dishes of Spain. It is a very popular dish and I just became aware that it even has its own emoji. 🥘 It would be good to review my prior Tip on Spanish ingredients before diving into how to make Paella.

Paella was originally called arroz a la valenciana, roughly translated “Valencian rice”. The name of paella was given to this dish towards the end of the 19th century, being named after the distinctive pan in which it is cooked. As the original name implies, the dish originated in Valencia, Spain and paella cooks from that area have had their own version since the 1800s, paella valenciana. It originally contained rice, beans and spices along with chicken and snails. Later people began to use rabbit, pork and duck. Some will say that anything other than paella valenciana is simply un arroz en una paella – a rice in a paella pan.

As with so many dishes, there is not just one recipe for paella but there are some common threads. First and foremost, paella is a rice dish. It does usually contain meat and/or seafood although there are also vegetarian versions. However, it is really all about the rice.

If you read much about paella from experts, they will mention certain “rules” for making this dish. However, if you look at recipes or watch videos, you will see there are just as many versions that break all or most of those rules. If you choose to try paella, I want you to have as much success as possible. We will, therefore, start with some of the traditional recommended elements.

Paella pan

As I mentioned before, the name paella refers not only to the dish but to the pan in which it is made. It is a wide, shallow pan with sloping sides and two handles. It is typically made of thin, conductive metal. There are different sizes depending on how many servings there will be. The rice should be in a thin, even layer of about ½ to ¾ inch thick. Advantages of a paella pan are that the rice is in contact with all the wonderful flavors at the bottom of the pan, the rice is able to cook evenly and have quick evaporation resulting in a dry texture with separate grains of rice. Finally, the pan heats and cools quickly so that when the pan is removed from the heat, the rice in the bottom stops cooking immediately.

Most of us home cooks will probably not have a paella pan and will use another pan we already have. However, purists will say that a dish made of similar ingredients but cooked in a different pan is un arroz (a rice) and not a paella.

You may use one or two large skillets, preferably made of stainless steel or aluminum. Avoid cast iron or other heavy skillets that retain heat too much. Because of the limitations of the size of our cooktop burners, don’t use a pan larger than about 12 inches. You can, though, use two skillets. The method of cooking is described below but, if using two skillets, cook the meats and sofrito in one and then divide this between the two skillets, add half the liquid and carry on with the recipe.

A paella pan does need a wide, powerful and uniformly distributed heat source. Traditionally, it is cooked over a wood fire, often with a special frame to hold the pan. Just as most of us will not have a paella pan, we will want to use our cooktops rather than a wood fire. Just realize that the burners will not be an exact fit and you may need to move and rotate the pan to get even cooking.


You do not want to use just any rice. Rather, you want a short- or medium-grained rice. This type of rice is able to absorb abundant liquid, up to three times its weight, which is more than your typical long grain rice.

Spanish short-grain rice is almost round, its length is only slightly longer than its width. Medium-grain will be a bit longer as compared to its width. Both have a high degree of pearling, which is the concentration of starch in the middle of the grain and gives it its very white color. It also allows for the great absorption and ultimate creaminess of the dish.

Spanish rice is sometimes named for the region where it is grown and sometimes for the rice variety. Some of the regions are Calasparra, Valencia and Delta del Ebro. The short-grain Bomba rice is a particular variety that is grown in all three regions and is the one most often recommended for making paella. It is said to be a little more forgiving in the cooking process and therefore, especially recommended for beginners.

None of these rices will most likely be present in your average supermarket. You will have to look for them in international markets or online. Some non-Spanish options that produce decent results are CalRiso, Calrose, California Blue Rose, Japanese short-grain rice and Italian short-grain rices such as Carnaroli and Arborio.

A standard serving of rice is ½ cup (100 gms) of uncooked rice per person. The amount of rice you use will determine the size of the pan that is needed. When everything is in the pan and the rice is in a thin layer, the liquid should ideally reach the pan’s handles. Here are recommended pan sizes for varying serving amounts.

  • 2-3 people – 12 inches
  • 2-4 people – 14 inches
  • 4-5 people – 16 inches
  • 4-6 people – 18 inches
  • 6-8 people – 20 inches
  • 10 people – 22 inches
  • 12 people – 24 inches
  • 15 people – 26 inches

Do not stretch the pan more than a serving or two beyond the recommended number or the purpose of the pan is defeated. But if you have a large group and only a moderate-sized pan, reduce the amount of rice per person from ½ to ⅓ cup and serve other appetizers and salads.

In your everyday cooking, you may use a 2:1 liquid to rice ratio but with this Spanish short-grain rice, it will be different. The exact rice-to-liquid ratio will vary depending on the size of the pan, the heat source and how dry you want the rice to be. For a dry paella, use 1 cup rice to 2 to 2½ cups liquid. Recall that the Bomba rice can absorb up to three times its weight in liquid.

If you wish to scale the recipe up or down, be sure to keep the rice-to-liquid ratio constant while the size of the pan changes for the number of servings you are cooking.

Olive oil

A mild Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (Spanish, if available) is recommended.

The Sofrito base

El Sofrito is the foundation of nearly every Spanish rice dish (see this Cooking Tip for more info). It is a slow sauté of veggies that includes one or more of onions, green or red bell peppers, garlic and tomatoes. It is gently and slowly cooked into a very soft, almost jam-like base.

Onions are not generally used in paellas as they produce a lot of liquid and can make the rice mushy. That being said, I looked at 15 different paella recipes from different sources and all but two called for onions. If you use onions, be sure to cook them thoroughly until all the moisture is gone.

Tomatoes should be peeled, seeded and finely chopped (known as concassé) before being added to the pan. Alternatively, they can be grated on a box grater. To do this, cut them in half, remove the seeds and grate, discarding the skins. You can also use canned whole tomatoes. (See this Cooking Tip for why you might not want to use canned diced tomatoes.) Strain them, reserving the liquid to add later to the cooking sofrito, and finely chop. The tomatoes must cook until the moisture has evaporated and the texture is very soft.


Saffron is what gives paella its yellow color and should not be skipped or substituted. See this Cooking Tip for a discussion of saffron. Some people will just crumble the saffron and add directly to the pan once the liquid is added. Others will “bloom” it in warm stock or wine before adding it.


Known as pimentón, there are three kinds of Spanish paprika.

  • Dulce – sweet. This is the one you want to use for paella.
  • Agridulce—bittersweet or semisweet
  • Picante – hot


This not an ingredient but a desired outcome from the cooking method. It is a slightly caramelized crust that forms on the bottom of the pan if cooked properly. It is the favorite part of paella for many people.

Meat and/or Seafood

As mentioned above, the original paella was made with chicken and snails and later with rabbit, pork and duck. In the northwest of Spain and in Portugal, chorizo sausage is added. It adds a depth of flavor and will take on whatever spiciness level is in the sausage you buy.

Outside of Valencia, the most common is what is called “mixed” or “mixta” paella and is normally made with chicken and various types of seafood. As you travel away for the coast of Spain, the paella will contain more meat, especially rabbit, and less fish.

In Murcia, Spain, they make a paella hortelana”, meaning paella of the vegetable garden. It is a vegetarian version made with veggies of your choice and often has a pesto-like sauce made with almonds, garlic and parsley added to it.


The stock in which you cook the rice is very important for imparting flavor. Therefore, you want to use a great stock, whether it is homemade or store-bought. If the latter, use one with no or low amounts of sodium. The better the stock, the better the rice will be.

Cooking Method

There are certain “rules” for cooking paella if you talk to a paella expert. However, you will see plenty of videos and recipes that break some, if not all, of these rules. I will give you recommendations that are as close to authentic as I can.

Most people begin by browning the meat in olive oil. This not only gives more flavor to the meat but also produces fond on the bottom of the pan, another flavor contributor. Don’t worry about cooking the meat all the way at this point. It will finish cooking later.

Then, as mentioned above, the veggies should be slowly cooked down into a sofrito. Most do this in the same pan, but to speed up the process, you could be doing this in on pan as you are browning the meat in another.

Paprika is then added along with the stock and saffron. (Note above note about blooming the saffron.)

Some recommend bringing the liquid to a boil and adding the rice. Others add the rice to the sofrito, let it fry for a moment and then add the boiling liquid.

Whichever you do, the rice should be cooked, uncovered, at first at a high heat for about 10 minutes and then turned down until the riced is al punto, “at the point”, meaning the rice has just a bit of bite left to it and the bright white nucleus of the kernel has almost disappeared. It will finish cooking during the resting stage.

The liquid needs to be completely evaporated at this point, which is the challenge in cooking a great paella. As the liquid evaporates, there develops the thin, crispy layer of toasted rice on the bottom on the pan, the “socarrat”.

Paella experts will tell you that after the rice is added and you ensure it is totally submerged in the stock, it should not be stirred although you can shake the pan. Stirring interferes with the formation of the socarrat and also releases the starch from the rice kernels. This is what you want with a creamy risotto but not with a paella. You want a dry rice here. Again, I have watched videos where this advice is ignored but I would recommend that you keep your stirring to an absolute minimum.

Finally, it is removed from the heat and covered to rest before being served. It is traditionally eaten right from the pan, not with plates.

If you want to make the paella ahead of time, just make it to the point where you would add the rice. Let it cool, cover and refrigerate if holding it for more than a few hours. Cover with foil to prevent evaporation. When ready to finish, remove foil, bring liquid to boil and finish.

If you want to read more about making paella by someone who learned from his Spanish mother-in-law, I highly recommend the book La Paella by Jeff Koehler.

I must admit that paella is not one of my favorite dishes. Perhaps that is because I have never eaten a truly great one. Have you?

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Cooking Healthy Proteins

In the last Cooking Tip, I talked about choosing healthy proteins. In this Tip, I want to discuss how to cook those proteins so they are delicious as well as healthy.

As I mentioned in the last Tip, other than healthy fatty seafood, most of the best choices are lower in fat. That means they can easily dry out and be unappealing to eat. To prevent this, you need to take care when cooking them.

The best way to ensure your meat is not overcooked is to cook by internal temperature, not by time or appearance. I love the Thermapen by Thermoworks but there are other good thermometers out there that are less expensive. I wrote an earlier Tip on thermometers with more information.

When you are cooking that protein, you want to monitor the internal temperature intermittently and remove it from the heat before the internal temperature gets too high. For all meats, there will be what is called “carry-over cooking”. Once you take it off the heat, the internal temperature will continue to rise a few degrees – less with smaller pieces of meat, more with larger ones. So, you should pull it off a few degrees before hitting the desired temperature.

Below are some target numbers for different proteins. For a printable chart, click here.

  • Ground meat
    • Beef, pork, veal, lamb – 160°
    • Turkey, chicken – 165°
  • Fresh beef, pork, veal & lamb – 145° with a 3 minute rest
    • Note this does not account for varying temperatures between rare and well-done.
  • Poultry – 165°
    • Some feel that legs/thighs are more tender when cooked to 170-180° as it better breaks down the connective tissue.
    • Since chicken breasts are often over-cooked and unpalatable, see this article about cooking your chicken to a slightly lower temperature but holding it for a particular amount of time.
  • Salmon
    • Wild – 120°
    • Farmed – 125°

Another way to improve flavor among beef & pork is to salt at the appropriate time, which is either a minimum of 45 minutes before cooking or immediately before cooking. If you salt in between those times, you are assured of a drier end product. For more information, see this Tip.

Now for some great ideas with actual recipes. First, I highly recommend you become skilled at making pan sauces. They can add wonderful flavor without much added sugar or fat. See this Tip for how to do this. Adding a quick and flavorful sauce to your beef, pork or poultry can easily enliven your dinner table.

Proteins do not need to be the main star of your dinner table. Why not add them to a great dinner salad? One of our favorites is this Summer Salad with Cumin-Crusted Salmon. Not only will you be eating some great fiber but also healthy seafood. The seasoning rub on this salmon is also just a great one to use whenever, not just with this salad.

How about fish tacos? Try this recipe for Fish Tacos with Black Bean Salad from AllRecipes or Salmon Tacos with Collard Slaw from America’s Test Kitchen.

Let’s move to Poultry. Have you ever noticed how large chicken breasts are nowadays? Most chicken breasts that are for sale in the store are at least 8 ounces and, at times, can weigh 10-12 ounces. If you are paying attention to portion control, you should limit your intake of meat to about 3-4 ounces per serving. So, when you see a recipe that calls for 4 breasts and it says that the recipe will serve four people, that is based on much smaller breasts. Weigh your chicken pieces before cooking and then only use the amount that will give you that 3-4 ounces per person.

Another thing to notice about chicken breasts is that they always have one end thicker than the other side. If you cook them whole, the thinner side will be overdone before the thicker end is cooked through. You can solve this problem in a number of ways. You can pound the breasts to an even thickness before cooking. You can slice the chicken into two so that one piece is thicker and the other thinner. Then, cook them, monitoring the temperature and taking the thinner one out when it is done and continuing to cook the thicker one. Finally, something that I like to do is to cut the chicken either into similarly sized strips or cubes and cooking them. This is a quick and easy technique that works great unless you wish to serve an entire breast.

The important thing is not to overcook your chicken. That is best done by monitoring the internal temperature. An interesting method I ran across a few years ago is this method on It is very easy and turns out great results. I like to use this method and then slice the chicken for sandwiches rather than buying the much less healthy deli meat.

Here are some other recipes that I like. First up is one from Ellie Krieger –– Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach. There is great flavor plus wonderful nutrients from the spinach and tomatoes. Serve with whole wheat couscous for another burst of nutrition. Here is a “go to” recipe for when you need a quick but tasty dinner – Caramelized Onion Chicken from Cooking Light. Note that it does contain jam, which is high in sugar. However, it only uses a small amount. For a company-worthy but healthy dinner, try this one from Epicurious – Sauteed Chicken with Shallot-Herb Vinaigrette. I will caution you, though, that the marinating time listed is too long. See this Tip for more information.

I love pork but do try to limit my intake of it. Cutting a pork tenderloin into medallions, cooking them stovetop and then making a flavorful pan sauce is something so easy to do. Pork also pairs so well with fruit. Here are a few ideas.

I am not a fan of beef and so, it is easy for me to have it only rarely. If you are going to indulge in a steak, review last week’s Tip on which cuts are best and the above info on making a pan sauce. That will allow the steak to be shown off but enhanced in a healthy way.

For an interesting take on burgers, try these Cherry Burgers. For a spicier bite, here is an interesting Southwest Burger from Cooking Light. Finally, a delicious winter dish is this Beef Tagine with Butternut Squash, also from Cooking Light.

I hope this gives you some help in putting fulfilling but still healthy meals on your table!

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Proteins on a healthy diet

We are moving forward in this series on cooking/eating healthy. After discussing some general tips, grains, breads and veggies, in this Tip I want to look into the subject of proteins. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, only 5% of U.S. adults consider themselves to be vegetarian. Therefore, I will mostly be discussing meat/seafood. I will not be discussing cooking methods in this Tip but will leave that for the next one.

There are a couple of general recommendations that almost all experts will give. First is to avoid processed meats such as lunch meats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage and jerky. Second is to eat smaller portions of fish and meats. Given that, let’s move on to the sources of animal protein.

I am sure that most of you have heard that you should limit, or even eliminate, your intake of red meat. This includes beef, pork and lamb. Why is that? That recommendation is based on the fact that red meats have more saturated fat than other protein sources. I will note that there are some people out there that do not agree with this recommendation and feel that red meat is not as bad as everyone says. However, most experts feel that consuming red meat is often linked with cardiovascular disease.

When you do consume red meats, the recommendation is to eat leaner cuts. See the following chart for the USDA’a definition of lean versus extra-lean. These numbers are based on a 3½ ounce serving and will help you when looking at the nutritional labels in the store.

Fat10 gm5gm
Saturated fat4.5 gm2 gm
Cholesterol95 mg95 mg

For beef, another recommendation is to choose “Choice” or “Select” cuts as they will have less fat than “Prime” cuts. For example, if you look at one of the most popular (although one of the fattiest) cuts of beef – Ribeye Steak – the fact content is 50% higher for Prime than Choice. For ground beef, choose a package that is labeled at least “90% lean” and, if you can find it, 93% or 95% lean.

A look at the nutritional label of different cuts can be enlightening. A package of Choice Sirloin steak shows 10 gm total fat and 3 grams of saturated fat, putting it into the “Lean” category. The same serving size of a Choice Ribeye contains 17 grams of total fat and 8 grams of saturated fat.

The reason the fattiest cuts are more popular is that fat contributes to flavor and moistness. When choosing the leaner cuts, you need to take care when cooking so they do not dry out. I will discuss this more in my next Tip.

For pork, the leanest choices are pork loin and pork tenderloin.

The leanest cuts of lamb are loin, leg and shanks.


When most of us think of healthy meat, we think of poultry. The most common poultry we eat is chicken although turkey is another excellent choice. Much of the fat found in poultry is in the skin. The same serving size of skin-on poultry can have three times or more as much fat as skinless. Because the skin can protect the meat from moisture loss, many chefs will leave the skin on when cooking but remove it before eating.

Breasts will be the leanest type of poultry. Without the skin, chicken breasts have under 2 grams fat per 3 ounce serving and less than ½ gram of saturated fat. Chicken thighs can have twice as much fat as breast but would still qualify as lean. Many feel they have more flavor and are moister. Similar cuts of turkey will have even less fat than chicken although at these low levels, the difference is minimal. The lower fat content does, though, tend to make turkey drier.


Seafood is something that most of us probably do not eat as often as we should. Although seafood can be relatively high in fat, it contains some very heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats known as omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, seafood is considered the best (but not the only) source of this type of fat. Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds. There is another type of fatty acid known as omega-6 that is often discussed in tandem with omega-3. I will wait on the discussion of this fatty acid for an upcoming Tip on Fats.

Although the above mentioned fatty fish may be healthy, they are higher in total fat than other types of seafood. If you are in the market looking at the seafood, the flesh color will give you an indication of fat content. The leaner choices are those that are lighter in color whereas the darker ones are going to contain more fat, albeit healthy fats. Below is a chart showing you the fat content in a 3 ounce serving. The amount of omega-3 fatty acids in seafood also varies with the fattier kinds containing more omega-3s. Examples include salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines. If you want more detail on this, see this article from Seafood Health Facts.

Fat ContentTypes of Seafood
High Fat (10 grams or more)Herring, Mackerel, Sardines, Salmon (Atlantic, Coho, Sockeye and Chinook)
Medium Fat (5 to 10 grams)Bluefish, Catfish, Rainbow Trout, Swordfish
Low Fat (2 to 5 grams)Tilapia, Halibut, Mussels, Ocean Perch, Oysters, Pacific Rockfish, Salmon (Chum, Pink)
Very Low Fat (less than 2 grams)Crab, Clams, Cod, Flounder/Sole, Haddock, Hake, Lobster, Mahi-mahi, Pollock, Scallops, Shrimp, Tuna

Plant sources of protein are great in that they do not contain saturated fats. Examples are beans, peas, lentils and nuts. They also provide dietary fiber and other nutrients.

Unless you are a committed vegetarian or vegan, it is good to know that both plant-based and animal protein have benefits and drawbacks. Animal foods are denser in essential amino acids and are more easily digestible.

Plant-based protein is often low in calories and high in fiber. It is, though, a little less digestible. Plant proteins rarely contain all the essential amino acids. This is not to say that you can’t get all the nutrients you need from plant foods; only that it takes effort and planning.

We all need protein although getting sufficient protein is not really a problem for most Americans. Learning how to pick and choose the best proteins is essential to a healthy diet. I hope this Tip combined with the next one on Cooking Methods will help you make better choices.

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Marinating your food – surprising revelations!

Do you use marinades in your cooking? If so, stay tuned for this Cooking Tip for some advice. When discussing this topic, the first question you may encounter is whether it is “marinade” or “marinate”? It may help to remember that marinade is a noun whereas marinate is a verb. So, the liquid mixture you make to put your food into is the marinade. You make the marinade, add your food to it and allow it to marinate for the specified time. Got that?

Now that we have our grammar lesson out of the way, let’s get to what this all means in the kitchen. A marinade is usually a flavorful liquid in which foods are soaked in order absorb flavor and maybe tenderize them. Most (but not all) marinades will contain oil, an acid and aromatics (herbs, spices, veggies).


The oil helps to emulsify the marinade, making it thicker and easier to stick to the food item. Also, many of the aromatics are fat-soluble meaning that you will get a more even flavor distribution when you use oil. The oil also helps to cook the meat more evenly.


The acid can be citrus juice, vinegar, wine, fruit juice, buttermilk, yogurt, etc. This acidic component is what some say helps to tenderize tough cuts of meat. However, if you are not careful, it can do the exact opposite. The acid causes the proteins in the meat to denature into a loose mesh. At first, water is trapped within this mesh but if the marinating time goes on too long, the proteins tighten and squeeze the water out. This results in a tough piece of meat or seafood.

To avoid this, be sure that the more delicate the piece of protein you are using, the less acid you should be using. There are different recommendations for the acid to oil ratio. One source advises to use equal parts acid and oil, unless you have a specific reason for using more acid. Another chef recommends 3 parts oil to 1 part acid. If you are making your own marinade, I would start with the lower ratio.

This is especially true for marinating seafood as the acid in the marinade will start to cook the seafood – think ceviche. If left in too long, the tender seafood can become tough as if it were overcooked. Fine Cooking recommends only 1 part mild acid to 4 parts oil for marinating shrimp.

Another risk to an acidic marinade is a mushy texture, especially if left in the marinade too long. Nik Sharma in a post on Serious Eats agrees with this but notes that yogurt-based marinades are different due to the type of acid in yogurt. Longer marinating times are much better tolerated if the meats are placed in a yogurt-marinade rather than a more standard marinade. For a very in-depth discussion of the science behind this, see his article. Another good dairy choice is buttermilk. With one of these options, you can achieve a real tenderizing effect.

Because of these concerns with acid, Cooks Illustrated recommends against using acid. Acidic marinades do, though, add great flavor, though, and so are worth trying.


Most good marinades will also contain salt. As J. Kenji Lopez-Alt in The Food Lab states, the protein myosin that is found in the muscle of the meat will dissolve in a salty liquid. This results in a looser texture that allows it to retain more moisture. Cooks Illustrated recommends 1½ tsp per 3 Tbsp of liquid, making the mixture not only a marinade but also a brine.

The Food Lab also recommends adding a protease (an enzyme that breaks down proteins) such as soy sauce. Other ingredients similar to soy are fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

Additional aromatics include items such as garlic, shallots, dried spices, herbs or chilies. Finally, sweeteners such as sugar or honey add complexity and help brown food, another flavor booster.

Other types of marinades

  • Dry marinades or rubs – these are mixtures of herbs and spices, often moistened with some oil before rubbing onto the meat.
  • Fruit-based marinade – these are considered enzymatic rather than acidic. The enzymes (proteases) within the fruit are often touted to help tenderize meat. However, these types of marinades easily make the surface of the food mushy.

You may be surprised to know that your marinades do not penetrate very far into the meat According to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, even after setting overnight in the refrigerator, the marinade does not penetrate more than a millimeter or two. He also states that the penetration rate actually slows the longer you allow it marinate. This all means that the marinade’s effect is mostly on the surface of the food item. For us home cooks, that means we can get by with shorter marinating times.

Veggies are one type of food for which marinating is a great choice. Since they are not composed of protein, many of the above cautions do not apply. Veggies are made of fiber, which helps them soak up the marinade, resulting in great flavor. Tofu acts similar to veggies.

How to marinade

You want to maximize contact between the food item and the marinade. An easy method is to put it all in a zip-lock plastic bag and squeeze the air out. You may also do it in any non-reactive bowl or container. Make sure the food is thoroughly coated in the marinade and turn it at least once to make sure all sides spend time in the marinade. Aim for about ½ cup liquid marinade for every 1# meat.

Be sure to refrigerate your food while it is marinating for food safety reasons.

Some marinades are cooked beforehand and others are not. Never use the liquid in which you have marinated meat as an uncooked sauce as it could be contaminated by the meat. If you want a sauce using the same marinade, there are two things that you can do. First, just hold some of the marinade aside for the sauce and put your meat into the remaining marinade. Or, you may cook the marinade for at least 5 minutes after removing the meat to kill any potential pathogens.

The biggest disagreement you will find is over how long to marinate. Due to the fact that the marinade doesn’t penetrate into your meat very far along with the possible detrimental effects from a long marinating time, many experts are now recommending a shorter time in the marinade. My Recipes test kitchen chef Mark Driskill feels that anything over 3-4 hours is unnecessary and maybe detrimental to your finished dish. Cooks Illustrated agrees saying it is “pointless to marinate for hours and hours”.

They, and others, recommend limiting the use of marinades to thin cuts of meat or meat that has been cut up for your dish. They say that larger cuts of meat would probably do better with a spice rub.

All that being said, we can make some general recommendations. No matter the recommendation, if your food starts to turn cloudy, you are starting to cook it. Take it out of the marinade immediately.

  • Shellfish (such as shrimp or scallops) – no longer than15 minutes
  • Other seafood – up to 30 minutes
  • Boneless chicken breast – about 2 hours
  • Pork loin – up to 4 hours
  • Lamb – 4-8 hours
  • Beef – Some will say up to 24 hours but you probably want to limit it no more than 8 hours.
  • Pork – about 6 hours
  • Kabob cuts (1½ – 2-inch cubes) – 2 hours
  • Firm tofu – 30 minutes
  • Hard veggies – 30 minutes to an hour
  • Tender veggies – 15-30 minutes

All of the above should make your decision to marinate easier when you look at some of these recommendations and when you realize that you do not need nearly as much time as you might have thought.

Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Bacon, pancetta & other cured pork products

Even though we do not eat it on a regular basis, I always have bacon in my freezer. Not only do we love the taste and how versatile it can be in cooking, my husband makes his own bacon. So, our freezer always has a nice supply.

Bacon is something that is called a “cured pork product”. Curing is a method of preserving meat by removing moisture. The process makes it less hospitable for pathogens. It starts with salt, which is often mixed with nitrites and/or nitrates. These are used to ensure that the bacteria that produces the toxin responsible for botulism cannot grow. They also speed up the curing process, are what give the meat the pinkish color and add to flavor and texture. Curing also often involves smoking. Cured meat products may be cooked as in luncheon meats or uncooked as in bacon.


In the US, bacon is a cured, lightly smoked pork belly. (In other countries, what they call “bacon” is made from other cuts of meat.) US bacon has a decent fat content but less salt than other cured pork products. Bacon can be cured in either a wet or a dry brine. The brine contains salt, sugar (honey, molasses, brown sugar, maple syrup, etc.) and a spice mixture. Nitrite is usually added either as a synthesized product (here is one example) or naturally occurring nitrates/nitrites derived from celery powder. Bacon is also smoked after the curing process.


We often refer to pancetta as “Italian bacon” but it is different. Similarly to bacon, it is made from the pork belly but is more heavily cured and has a higher salt content. It is usually not smoked but is seasoned with a mixture of garlic, black pepper, juniper berries and thyme. There is one form of pancetta that is smoked – pancetta affumicata. However, it still differs from bacon in its higher salt content and more curing.

There are two forms of pancetta – arrotolata and tesa. The former comes rolled into a log while tesa comes in a slab form, similar to bacon. Some experts recommend against buying the pre-sliced pancetta, which is often what we find in our supermarkets. They say they are usually of a lower quality and are less flavorful than pancetta that has not been pre-portioned. Of course, if that is all your stores carry, it is probably better than trying to substitute.


This product comes from the hind leg of the pig with a curing process that lasts from a few months to a few years. This is one of the products that is typically eaten without cooking.

Prosciutto (made from the back leg of the pig) or dry cured ham comes in two different styles:  prosciutto cotto (cooked) or prosciutto crudo (uncooked). The former is bright pink and has a lighter flavor than the uncooked product. Although uncooked, crudo is cured and safe to eat as is. It is redder in color and more intensely flavored.

Salt Pork

This cut comes from the lower portion of the pork belly and is usually almost all fat with only a small layer of lean protein. This product is more heavily salted than bacon.


This word comes from the Italian guancia, meaning cheek. As the name implies, it comes from the pig jowl. This product will probably only be found in specialty butcher shops. It is often flavored with black pepper and herbs. However, the meat itself tastes different than the cuts from the belly. It is an extremely fatty product and is what gives the product its unique flavor. These unique characteristics mean it is very difficult to find an adequate substitute.


This is made from the fat on the back of the pig (fatback). It is salt-cured and seasoned with herbs. This product is pure cured pork fat.


When you are thinking about substituting these products for each other, there are some differences that should be considered.

  • Fat content
    Whereas bacon and pancetta are similar in fat content, guanciale has considerably more fat. Salt pork is almost all fat while lardo is 100% fat.
  • Smoking
    Bacon is a smoked product where as pancetta and guanciale are not.
  • Salt content
    If you do not take this into consideration, you could ruin your dish with too much salt. Pancetta, due to the curing process, will have a higher salt content than bacon. Prosciutto has an even higher salt content.


Although the discussion of the safety of nitrites/nitrates is outside the scope of this Cooking Tip, I will just mention a few items for consideration.

The cancer warning from many years ago has not stood up to the test of time and scientific sources do note that there are health benefits to these chemicals. Most of the nitrites/nitrates we eat are from natural sources – mostly vegetables such as lettuce, celery, and carrots. There is a debate, though, whether the synthetically derived compounds are worse for us than the natural ones. I will leave that debate to you to investigate.

If you are a cured meat lover, you may want to try to make your own as my husband does with bacon. I, for one, am not interested in that skill as there are plenty of great products in the market. Do you have a favorite? Let me know.