Don’t you just love Italian cuisine? Italians really have a way with food. From pizza to pasta to salami to gelato, I find it all utterly irresistible. These are the most common, everyday Italian foods that everybody knows about, and you can get these absolutely anywhere. But there are also lots of lesser-known, more exotic Italian dishes that appeal to the epicure in me. That’s why I decided that I needed to know how to make Capacola.
One of my most exciting vacations was a brief trip to Italy. Of course, a highlight of the experience was the food. Italians are so passionate about their gastronomic delights. Food and meals play a major role in Italian culture.
Getting to sample genuine Italian fare, made by real Italians who have that unmistakable Italian passion and love for food, was such a treat. It was so tempting to try all my favorites. Luckily for my waistline, it was a short trip, with limited opportunities to indulge my food fantasies.
They say that the best way to learn about a new place and the people in it is to meet the locals and to explore with a local as your guide. No one understands the culture better than the locals, and they will have more in-depth knowledge of the best eateries than any tour guide.
While on a day trip with an Italian friend, we visited a quaint little hole-in-the-wall deli-type shop, filled with a completely mind-boggling, tantalizing array of interesting treats. It was here that I learned all about Charcuterie, which also happened to be the name of the shop.
Charcuterie (read ‘sharkootahree’ and you’ll know how to pronounce it) is the name used for a variety of Italian cured meats and cold cuts. These are usually served with other foods, like sauces, sliced vegetables, fruits, and cheeses, as accompaniments.
Charcuterie, or cured cold cuts, are often used as fillings in fabulous sandwiches. Imagine that fresh, warm ciabatta bread, filled with the most tantalizing assortment of cold meats. That’s Charcuterie for you.
These meats are also quite delicious when served cut up in salads. Paired with creamy avocado, spinach, sun-ripened cherry tomatoes, and assorted peppers and topped with a lovely garlic salad dressing, what could make for a better lunch?
I was given a few samples to try and was intrigued by the unique flavor of the chunk of Capacola that was offered to me. I walked out of the shop like someone on a mission. I knew that I just had to learn how to make Capacola.
What Does The Word ‘Capacola’ Mean?
Even the name of this dish, Capacola, fascinated me. Also known as Capocollo and Capicolla, the name comes from a merging of two Italian words, ‘capo’, meaning ‘head’ and ‘collo’, meaning ‘neck’ (and yes, for those of you who love all things to do with words, the English words ‘capital’ and ‘collar’ come from the same roots).
What Is Capacola?
Capacola, or Capocollo, or Capicolla…however you choose to spell it, is an Italian cold cut of pork, used in the best traditional sandwiches. It was originally made from the cut of meat taken from the top of the neck, hence the name.
In recent years, this particular piece of Charcuterie has evolved. Capacola is now often made from pork loins because it can be difficult to obtain the exact cut from the neck.
Capacola is usually made with lots of ‘red’ spices, like cayenne pepper, paprika, and dried red pepper flakes. It is these spices, combined with the special cut of the meat itself, that give Capacola its unique flavor.
Capacola has become very popular in America, where it is generally made using a Boston Butt roast.
What Is A Boston Butt Roast?
The Boston Butt roast is a cut of pork that comes from the top of the front-leg shoulder. The meat must have a certain amount of fat on it, in order to have the desired texture and moisture for Capacola.
Can You Make Capacola With Beef Or Any Other Meat?
After some experimentation with various cuts of beef and lamb, it became clear to me that you have to use pork to make Capacola. It does not work with any other type of meat. The flavor and texture are so unique that there is no adequate substitute.
The cut of pork that comes from the neck or shoulder of the pig is so perfect for Capacola because it has the best ratio of fat to lean meat. In order to get perfect Capacola, the meat should have 30% fat. This cut of pork is marbled, with the fat perfectly distributed.
Is It Complicated To Make Capacola?
Capacola may sound complicated and difficult to make, but it is actually fairly simple to make your own delicious capacola at home.
If you want to know how to make Capacola, traditionally there are two methods that can be used. One method is more intricate and complicated than the other.
The more difficult way is to make dry-cured Capacola. This is much more time consuming, and you will need a lot of patience for it. But if you don’t need instant gratification, and you are prepared to wait it out, it is very satisfying to make your own dry-cured Capacola.
The much simpler method is to make a cooked or baked Capacola. This is much quicker and a lot easier.
I will give you simple, straightforward instructions and recipes for both methods of how to make Capacola.
How To Make Dry Cured Capacola
When making many types of cured cold cuts, you have to be careful about keeping the temperature constant so that the fat stays cold all the time. It is difficult to prevent the outer parts of your piece of meat from getting too dry during the curing process.
Making dry-cured Capacola is a two-stage process.
I always advise vacuum sealing the meat in the first stage, in order to prevent it from drying out. When doing it this way, you avoid the risk of bacteria multiplying and the meat going off before it has dried out fully. Vacuum sealing will also enhance and improve the flavor and texture of the meat.
The second stage of the process involves leaving the meat to mature fully. This needs to be done at very specific temperatures and humidity levels. Details will be provided in the recipe.
What Piece Of Meat Is Best To Make Capacola?
Try to get the piece of pork that comes from the back of the head, at the top of the shoulder. Your butcher should be able to give you the piece of Boston Butt closest to the pig’s back. This piece is actually a muscle called the ‘Coppa’.
Be sure to go to a butcher who only sells the freshest of fresh meat. Using very fresh meat will yield the best end result because fresh meat is more likely to capture and keep the special flavor of the seasonings.
Dry Cured Capacola Recipe
- 4-5 pound piece of pork ‘Coppa’
- 4 tablespoons salt
- 3-4 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ½ teaspoons pink sea salt
- 2-3 bay leaves, crushed
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon paprika
Mix all the spices, sugar, and crushed bay leaves together in a bowl. Grind together with an electric grinder, or with a mortar and pestle, until you have a very fine powder.
Roll up your piece of pork, and tie into a very tight roll using butcher’s string. You can also use a netting roll for this stage, placing the meat into a piece of netting roll and securing the ends tightly.
Place the meat in a dish and sprinkle liberally with the spice powder, coating the meat evenly all over.
Place the spiced meat in a vacuum bag and seal securely in the vacuum packer.
If you don’t have a vacuum packer, you can place the meat in a ziplock bag. Try to expel as much air as possible from the bag before sealing it up.
Leave the meat in the fridge to cure for a week, turning the bag over once a day.
After 7 days, take the meat out and rinse it very well in cold water. Dry thoroughly in a clean kitchen towel.
Sprinkle the meat generously with paprika, rubbing it into the meat well.
The meat now needs to be left to stand for 6 weeks, at a temperature of between 55°-65° Fahrenheit, with humidity to be controlled at between 60-70%.
It will be difficult to wait for six weeks, but it will be worth the wait. Take the meat out of the fridge and remove the twine or netting. Slice the meat thinly. You now have the perfect Capacola and are ready to fill that ciabatta for the best sandwich of your life!
How To Make A Baked Capacola
Making a baked, or cooked capacola is a lot simpler and less time-consuming than the dry-cured variety. You will find it easier and a lot less finicky.
What Piece Of Meat Do I Need?
To make a cooked Capacola, you should try to use the Coppa, as described earlier. However, if you cannot get that cut, a piece of pork loin will work just as well. Because it does not have quite the same distribution of fat, it might not be quite as moist, but it will still be absolutely scrumptious.
Using a piece of freshly cut pork loin is actually the most economical way to make Capacola. If you buy your Capacola ready-made in a specialty Charcuterie store, be prepared to pay a lot of money for it. But if you can learn how to make Capacola at home, you will find that it does not need to cost a fortune to enjoy this delicacy.
Cooked Capacola is actually so simple to make that it is virtually flop proof. Provided that you have the correct ingredients and equipment, there is really very little room for error.
The secret ingredient here is pink curing salt. This is what will give the Capacola its perfect reddish-pink color, and just the right flavor.
The most essential piece of equipment in this method is the netting that we spoke about earlier. This will ensure that your Capacola retains all the flavors and holds its shape well as it cures and matures.
Cooked Capacola Recipe
For this method, you will need a # 24 netting roll. This will have just the right amount of strength to hold the meat together as it cooks, without trapping any of the juices in.
(for the curing rub)
- 3-4 pound piece of pork coppa or pork loin
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon pink curing salt
- 1 teaspoon flaked red pepper, crushed
Place all the above ingredients together in a spice grinder and grind till very fine. This can also be done by hand with a pestle and mortar.
Rub this mixture into the meat, ensuring that it is fully coated. It is important to check that all the rub has reached all the little folds of meat.
Wrap the meat tightly in cling wrap and place in the fridge for a week. Every two days, turn the parcel of meat over. This will help to make sure that the moisture remains evenly distributed through the piece of meat.
After a week, remove the meat from the fridge and unwrap it. Rinse it thoroughly under cold running water and pat the meat dry with a clean kitchen towel.
You are now ready for the next stage.
Preheat your oven to 300° Fahrenheit. You will need an ovenproof dish and a roasting pan with a wire rack.
(for the cooking rub. This can be played with and adjusted, according to your personal preference. I have given what works best for me.)
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- ½ teaspoon dill seeds
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
Grind all of the above together, either in an electric spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
Rub the spice mixture into the meat, again making sure that every little fold is covered in spice.
Now for the tricky part. You need to stuff the meat into the netting. It is easier to do this if you stretch the netting first, and then push the meat into the netting.
The most important part of the cooking process is preserving the moisture of the meat. In order to do this, you need to keep the humidity level high in the oven. Fill the ovenproof dish with water and place it on the bottom rack of the oven.
Place the meat on the wire rack on top of your roasting pan. Position this on the middle rack in the oven. Bake for 2 hours, turning halfway through so that the meat browns evenly on all sides.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool to room temperature. Place in a dish in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours.
Only when the meat is completely cold is it ready to be sliced. This is best done with an electric meat slicer.
If you do not have an electric meat slicer, you can use a knife, but it is essential that the knife is fiercely sharp. Take great care not to slice your fingers in the process.
You can now slice the meat into very thin slices, and VOILA! You have learned how to make Capacola absolutely perfectly.
Now that you have learned how to make Capacola, you may have some questions about your delicious Capacola.
What Are The Best Accompaniments To Capacola?
Capacola is yummiest when eaten as a sandwich filling, in a warm, fresh ciabatta, bagel, or any other bread that you love.
My favorite Capacola sandwich filling is actually very simple. The meat itself is so delicious that I don’t like adding too many other ingredients. I am not fond of the mingling of too many strong flavors. But that is only my personal preference.
I love a freshly baked ciabatta bread, spread thinly with garlic mayo. Add a few slices of Capacola, some shredded lettuce, a few roasted veggies, and top it all off with a slice of provolone cheese.
If you like mustard, you can replace the mayo with spicy French mustard for an interesting touch.
Must Capacola Be Kept In The Fridge?
After your hard work at making the Capacola, you will be heartbroken if it goes bad before you get a chance to eat it. Like all meat, Capacola can spoil very quickly if not kept in the fridge, so yes, please keep your Capacola in the fridge.
If you want to prepare your sandwiches in advance, these should be well-wrapped in cling wrap and should also be stored in the fridge. Take them out about an hour before eating, so that the bread is not too hard and cold when you are ready to tuck in.
How Long Can Capacola Keep?
Capacola can keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. It will remain good in the freezer for as long as 6 months if stored correctly.
How Do You Store Capacola?
Capacola should be stored in an airtight container with a tight seal. It can also be stored in a carefully sealed ziplock bag, or wrapped up tightly in cling wrap. Because it has such a strong flavor and needs to be kept in the fridge, you will want to ensure that the aroma and flavor do not transfer to other foods in your fridge. For this reason, it needs to be kept airtight.
Can Capacola Be Frozen?
Capacola can be frozen very successfully, provided it is packaged correctly. If you want to freeze all of it, you can freeze it whole before slicing it.
Wrap up the piece of meat tightly in cling wrap and then wrap in a layer of tin foil. Place in the freezer. Only slice it after defrosting, when you are ready to use it.
In the unlikely event that you have leftovers, and want to freeze them, you can freeze the remaining slices. Place them in an airtight plastic container, separating the slices with sheets of cling wrap between them. If you do not separate the slices, they may stick together and tear when you try to separate them after defrosting.
How Do You Defrost Frozen Capacola?
The best way to defrost frozen Capacola is to take it out of the freezer the night before and leave it to defrost gradually overnight in the fridge. In this way, bacteria will not be able to multiply and your Capacola will not go bad.
I do not recommend defrosting Capacola in the microwave. It may lose some of its flavor, and the texture will be too wet and soggy. You also don’t want to risk the Capacola getting too warm.
How Can You Tell If Capacola Is Off?
If you are concerned that your Capacola might have gone off, you obviously won’t want to risk tasting it. Luckily, there are other ways of checking if it has gone bad.
- Appearance – if the Capacola has gone off, it will start developing a greyish tinge and may have bits of mold growing on it.
- Smell – Capacola that is off will have a sour, unpleasant odor, instead of the appetizing aroma of fresh Capacola.
- Touch – If you suspect that the Capacola has spoiled, don’t be too scared to feel it. If it is no longer okay to eat, it will probably feel slimy. Be sure to wash your hands after handling it. Bacteria can easily be transferred to other foods.
Once you have made Capacola once, you will see how easy it is and you will be able to enjoy this Italian Charcuterie whenever you feel like it.