Ham is the thigh and rump of any animal that is slaughtered for meat, but the term is usually restricted to a cut of pork, the haunch of a pig or boar. Although it can be cooked and served fresh, most ham is cured in some fashion.
Ham can either be dry-cured or wet-cured. A dry-cured ham has been rubbed in a mixture containing salt and a variety of other ingredients (most usually some proportion of sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite), Sugar is common in many dry cures in the United States. This is followed by a period of drying and ageing. Dry-cured hams may require a period of rehydration prior to consumption. A wet-cured ham has been cured with a brine, either by immersion or injection. The division between wet and dry cure is not always hard-and-fast as some ham curing methods begin wet but are followed by dry ageing.
Dry-cured varieties include Italian prosciutto crudo (prosciutto di Parma). The United States has country ham (including Virginia ham), which might or might not be smoked. England has the York ham. Germany‘s Westphalian ham is usually smoked over juniper, in Belgium there is the smoked Ardennes ham, and from China there is the unsmoked Jinhua ham. In Bulgaria the specific Elenski but is produced. In Iran, the dry-cured Zard Kūh ham is produced.
Ham is also processed into other meat products such as Spam luncheon meat. Baked ham is also a traditional dish served on Easter.
Prosciutto is the Italian word for ham. In English the word is almost always used only for dry-cured ham which has not been cooked, in particular from central and northern Italy such as Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele. The word prosciutto derives from the Latin perexsuctum, which means “thoroughly dried” (lit., “(having been) very sucked out”). In Italian, “prosciutto” refers to the pork cut, not to its specific preparation. Italian speakers therefore make a distinction between prosciutto cotto (literally, “cooked ham”), which is similar to what English speakers would call “ham”, and prosciutto crudo (“raw ham”), the dry-cured ham which English speakers refer to as simply “prosciutto” or “Parma ham”. By default, in Italian menus (typically in pizzerias) an unqualified “prosciutto” refers to “ham” (“prosciutto cotto”), whereas “prosciutto crudo” is sometimes referred to simply as “crudo”.
Uncooked streaky bacon
Bacon is defined as any of certain cuts of meat taken from the sides, belly or back of a pig that may be cured and/or smoked. Meat from other animals may also be cured or otherwise prepared to resemble bacon, such as beef, lamb, chicken, goat or turkey bacon. In continental Europe, it is used primarily in cubes (lardons) as a cooking ingredient valued both as a source of fat and for its flavour. In Italy, besides being used in cooking, bacon (pancetta) is also served uncooked and thinly sliced as part of an antipasto. Bacon is also used for barding and larding roasts, especially game birds. Many people prefer to have their bacon smoked by using various types of woods. This process can take up to ten hours depending on the intensity of the flavour desired. Bacon may be eaten fried, baked, or grilled.
Traditionally, the skin is left on the cut and is known as bacon rind. Rindless bacon, however, is quite common. In the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, bacon comes in a wide variety of cuts and flavours. In the United States ordinary bacon is only made from the pork belly, yielding what is known in Britain as “streaky bacon”, or “streaky rashers”. In Britain bacon made from the meat on the back of the pig is referred to as back bacon and is part of traditional British and Irish breakfasts. In the United States, back bacon is called Canadian-style Bacon or Canadian Bacon. The USDA defines bacon as “the cured belly of a swine carcass,” while other cuts and characteristics must be separately qualified (e.g. “smoked pork loin bacon”).
Pancetta is an Italian form of bacon. It is pork that has been salt cured, salted and spiced (nutmeg, pepper, fennel, dried ground hot peppers and garlic are often featured), and dried for about three months (but usually not smoked). There are many varieties, and each part of Italy produces its own type. In Corsica, it is considered a regional flavour.
Pancetta can be rolled (the most common type available outside of Italy, see photograph), or straight (with all the fat on one side). The straight variety is more common in Italy than elsewhere, especially where home-made pancetta is still produced.
When served on its own, the rolled pancetta is presented in very thin slices. More often it is used to flavour other dishes, especially pasta sauces. Recipes such as all’amatriciana often contain pancetta as a substitute for guanciale, which is much more difficult to find outside of Italy.
In the United Kingdom, Pancetta is more commonly sold as packs of cubed belly (rather than rolled). It has recently gained in popularity, to the point where it is now frequently available in supermarkets.