What is ventrèche? Very simply, it is an unsmoked, salt-cured bacon from Southwest France, where it is a staple. Pronounced vohn-tresh, it is often referred to as “French pancetta.”
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. That’s how we offer it at D’Artagnan. This tight roll of pork belly is an ideal piece of charcuterie to use in cooking.
In fact, this is one of the rare pieces of charcuterie that needs to be cooked before eating. Nearly every recipe in the Southwest of France begins with either duck fat or ventrèche in the pan, and often both.
Diced into lardons, ventrèche is the 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 Cooking with 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 towels. 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 mixed 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 … Try carbonara with ventrèche, accented with grated Parmesan cheese and some fresh basil.
- Tarte Topper: A flaky, buttery crust makes “French pizza” something special. Topped with chunks of sauteed ventrèche, onions and a creamy blend of fromage blanc and crème fraȋche, this tarte flambé is irresistible.