ften referred to as “French pancetta”, ventrèche (pronounced vohn-tresh) is an unsmoked, salt-cured bacon from the Gascony region of Southwest France, where it is a staple. Ventrèche is made from pork belly (ventre means belly in French) that has been rubbed with salt, spices and garlic before hanging to dry. It can be kept in slab form so that the fat is mostly on one side or rolled tightly into a log so that the fat and muscle spiral around each other evenly, which is how we offer it at D’Artagnan. This tight roll of pork belly is an ideal piece of charcuterie to use in cooking.
Nearly every recipe in the Southwest of France begins with either duck fat or ventrèche in the pan, and often both. Whether you sear a moulard duck magret, or sauté mushrooms in the fat, be sure to make a sauce by adding wine and demi-glace to deglaze the pan. Diced into lardons, ventrèche makes a perfect start to so many recipes; it adds flavor and depth to daubes, cassoulet, coq au vin and any stew. Its uses are endless.
Tips and ideas for using D’Artagnan ventrèche:
- Salad Slam Dunk … When you want a salad to be a meal, top it with crisped chunks of ventrèche. Cut ventrèche into lardons, sauté until crisp and drain on paper toweling. Into the warm rendered fat, stir a bit of your favorite vinegar and season with coarse salt & pepper. Toss the dressing with crisp frisée or another bitter green. Top with the lardons and a soft-poached egg. Serve with fresh baguette or duck fat croutons. For an extra taste of Gascony, add shredded duck confit as well.
- Brilliant Breakfast … Sliced thin and griddled, ventrèche makes a delectable breakfast meat. Serve it crisped, alongside eggs and potatoes or as a substitute for Canadian bacon in a classic Eggs Benedict
- Souped Up … Use a whole ventrèche to flavor soups, stocks and beans.
- Cassoulet Classic … When mingled with Tarbais beans and duck meat, then slowly cooked, ventrèche is one of the key ingredients that gives Gascon cassoulet its depth of flavor.
- Glorious Garbure … Recipes vary, but all agree that a good garbure should be so thick that a wooden spoon can stand in it. And it’s unthinkable to make garbure without the addition of salty, fatty ventrèche.
- Quite a Quiche … Thinly sliced or diced ventrèche substitutes for smoky bacon in your favorite quiche recipe. The creamy custard is the perfect foil for salty ventrèche.
- Vavoom Veggies … Nothing perks up dark greens like Swiss chard the way diced ventrèche does. Butternut squash and slivers of ventrèche make ideal companions when pan roasted.
- Succulent Succotash … Try corn and lima bean succotash studded with cubes of ventrèche.
- Bard of Oven … When you cook lean meats like venison, game birds, or even chicken, barding is a great technique for imparting flavor and retaining moisture. Just slice ventrèche thinly and wrap around the meat.
- Simple Stew … Rabbit, a lean meat, makes a delicious stew when you let ventrèche infuse the broth with its distinctive flavor and fatty essence.
- Pasta with Panache … Even duck bacon carbonara needs a shot of ventrèche, which could also make a perfect pasta topper alone, accented with grated Parmesan cheese and some fresh basil.
Storage and Use
Ventrèche is sold fresh and lightly cured. Unlike other charcuterie, this one needs to be cooked before eating. To keep its shape, D’Artagnan ventrèche comes wrapped tightly in a thin plastic sleeve. Please be sure to remove that plastic inside the package before cooking it. For thin slices without the use of a deli-style meat slicer, freeze the ventrèche slightly, and see how easily a sharp knife passes through the denser ventrèche. In the package, ventrèche has a long shelf life of 30 days if kept in the refrigerator. If you use a portion and need to store the rest, be sure to keep it airtight and use within a week to ten days.