How To Easily Make Delicious Capicola At Home
The charcuterie board has become a popular menu item, pairing cured meats alongside cheeses, olives and pickles, and artisan breads. Home cooks are also preparing their own charcuterie board to serve to guests – and many are taking it one step further by making their own cured meats.
If you want to make your own cured meat, capicola is a good place to start.
Why capicola? Capicola meat is a traditional Italian cold cut.
Made from boned, rolled pig meat you'll find capicola sold in most delicatessens and specialty meat shops around the world. Curing capicola at home is easy and results in a delicious, delicately spiced meat that you can then serve on a charcuterie board, on its own in a sandwich, or in other recipes.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to make capicola, including capicola recipes to inspire you.
First Off - What Is Capicola?
Capicola is a traditional cured pork meat also known as cappacuolo and capricola. The word is a combination of “capo”, meaning head, and “collo”, meaning neck. This is because the meat is dried and cured from the neck and shoulder area of the pig. Once cured, capicola meat is usually served thinly sliced and tastes much like ham or prosciutto.
One of the differences between capicola and ham is in the way the meat is cured – ham is usually brined where capicola is dried. One variation of cappacuolo is a capicola ham, where the meat is boiled and cured with spices and packed in water. There are many other variations to how capicola is prepared – these differences are often dependent on the region of Italy where the meat is cured.
And What Is Capicola Meat Exactly?
Although there are different varieties of the cold cut, one of the basic capricola meats is seasoned with red wine, garlic, herbs, and spices. The herbs are often native to each specific region of Italy. In the Mediterranean areas of the country, one type of capicola is smoked with thyme, laurel leaves, almonds, and Mediterranean spices. In the Piedmontese region of Italy, capicola is made by slow roasting the meat to produce a dry coppa that is slightly chewier than other versions.
After seasoning, the meat is salted and rolled into a natural casing and then hung up so it can cure for 3 to 6 months. In some regions of Italy, before being hung to dry, the meat is first rubbed with a spicy blend of paprika to give the cured meat some heat and a slightly different flavor.
Much of the capicola made in North America is spiced with red pepper or black peppercorn to give the meat a sweeter heat. Sliced thinly, you’ll often find capicola featured in deli sandwiches or used in an appetizer.
One of the reasons that capicola is so popular is for these delicate flavors and fatty texture which makes the meat so tender. A good cut of capicola is defined by a good balance of pork meat and white fat.
What Is Curing? Is It Required?
The concept of curing meat is simple – it’s a process used for preserving meats. Meats have been cured for thousands of years either by smoking, salting, or drying the meat.
Without refrigeration, curing meat was necessary to preserve food so it could be eaten year-round. While all meats can be cured, curing pork results in a tender and delicately flavored meat that is often considered to be a delicacy.
Curing meat is done by removing the moisture from the meat. When the moisture is drawn out, the meat takes on a new texture – the process also stops the growth of bacteria, preserving the meat and making it safe to eat.
The process of curing is done using a combination of salt, sugar, and nitrites. In addition to these ingredients herbs and spices can be added to the curing mixture to add additional flavors. The curing mixture is rubbed onto the surface of the meat, mixed into the meat, or dissolved in water in which the meat is brined. When curing large pieces of meat, this brine is often injected into the muscle of the meat.
The process of smoking can also be added to the curing of meat, which adds a smoky flavor. This smoky flavor can be further enhanced by using different types of wood chips, such as apple or oak.
How To Make Capicola From Scratch (Our Secret Recipe)
Here’s how to make capicola at home without using a lot of ingredients or equipment. This recipe uses the traditional pork neck however, if you’re unable to find pork neck, you could use a pork loin to get similar results.
An ingredient in this recipe that may be unfamiliar to you, is Prague powder. The powder is used to safely cure meats at home. The mixture contains a blend of 93.75 percent table salt and 6.25 percent of sodium nitrite. The salt in Prague powder pulls the moisture out of the cells of bacteria in the meat and helps in the curing process. Sodium nitrite is a natural element found both in soil and some vegetables such as spinach. Rated as non-toxic and essential in the safe curing of meats, it helps to prevent the growth of bacteria. You can purchase Prague powder, or other curing brands such as Modern Cure and Insta Cure, at specialty kitchen stores or online.
Ingredients for Capicola Meat
- 1Place the black pepper and juniper berries into a spice grinder and grind until fine. Or place the black pepper and juniper berries onto a wooden cutting board and crush them carefully using the side of a large knife. Put into a medium sized bowl.
- 2Add the rest of the dry ingredients, including the Prague powder, and blend together.
- 3Place the pork neck onto a flat surface and pound lightly. Then start rolling tightly, keeping the two edges as even as possible.
- 4Using butcher’s twine, tie around the boned rolled pig meat to hold it firmly in place. This will also help the roll to keep its shape while the meat is curing. The rolled meat will have an even balance of fat and meat throughout so that when it’s cured, the dried coppa will be tender and easy to cut across the grain.
- 5Place the rolled meat onto a cookie sheet or into a roasting pan. Sprinkle the dried rub over the meat, turning the roll and patting the rub into the surface so it’s evenly coated all over. The rub on the pork should be thicker than a rub you would you use on meat that you’re about to cook.
- 6Open a vacuum bag and carefully place the meat inside. Use a vacuum packer to tightly seal the bag. If you don’t have a vacuum bag and sealer, you can use a plastic freezer bag – consider double-bagging.
- 7Place the bag into the fridge and cure for 7 to 10 days. Turn the bag over at least once a day while the meat is curing.
- 8Once the meat has finished curing, take the pork out of the bag – rinse the meat thoroughly using cold running water. Pat the surface of the meat dry using paper towels.
- 9Optional – rub the capricola with paprika.
- 10Place the meat onto a rack and place in a sanitary environment where the temperature is from 57°F (13.9°C) to 65°F (18.3°C), and the humidity is 60 to 70 percent. You can purchase specialty chambers for drying and curing meat that monitor the temperature and humidity for you. As part of the curing process, a crust will form on the outside of the capicola.
- 11Let the capicola age for 5 to 6 weeks. Remove from the rack and cut away the butcher’s twine. Slice thinly to serve.
Note: Before beginning the curing process, weigh the pork. As a rule of thumb, once cured the capicola should have lost 35 percent of its starting weight. This is due to the moisture in the meat being drawn out.
Smoking Cappacuolo For Added Taste
Another way to cure capicola is by smoking. Here’s how to make capicola using a smoker:
- 1For this recipe, pork butts are used. Use boneless, lean pork butts that weigh about 3 to 4 pounds each. Trim some of the fat, leaving about 50 percent of white fat to get the correct marbling throughout the capicola.
- 2Rub each pork butt using a spice and herb rub of your choice. Place a layer of the dry curing rub into the bottom of a plastic or glass container. Place a layer of pork butts on top. Sprinkle more of the rub on top of the pork butts and add another layer of meat if you’re making a large amount of capicola. Cover and seal the container tightly.
- 3Place into the fridge or cooler, ensuring that the temperature is 36°F (2.2°C) to 46°F (7.8°C). Keep chilled for at least 25 days.
- 4After 10 days, rotate the bottom layer of pork butts to the top. Add additional dry cured rub mixture between each layer before sealing the container and placing back into the cooler.
- 5After 25 days, remove the pork butts from the cooler and wash thoroughly in cold water. Use paper towels to pat dry. Sprinkle with ground pepper and crushed fennel seed for added flavor.
- 6Stuff each pork butt into pork casing. Prick the casing where needed to release any trapped air. Hang each casing onto smoke-sticks for the smoker.
- 7Leaving the dampers open on the smoker for air flow so the casings dry, smoke the pork butts for 10 hours at 90°F (32.2°C). After 10 hours, once the casings are dry, you can close the dampers of the smoker to achieve a light smoke. Smoke for another 15 to 18 hours.
- 8Remove the pork butts from the smoker and dip them in boiling water for a moment so that the casing shrinks securely around the capicola.
- 9Place on a rack and put into a dry room with a temperature of 70°F (21.1°C) to 75°F (23.8°C), and the humidity is 60 to 70 percent. Dry for at least 20 days before slicing into the capicola ham.
How to Make Capicola At Home With Unique Flavors
Curing and making dry coppa at home lets you vary the types of herbs and spices you add to cure the meat. The following rubs give capicola ham and meat a distinctive flavor and taste. Add them to the basic rub of salt and spices before curing.
Garlic and Fennel Seed Rub
For each 2.75 pounds of pork:
Toast the fennel and black pepper in a dry skillet for about 5 minutes to release the flavors and oils. Let cool and use a spice grinder to grind into a course blend. Mix in the garlic powder.
Juniper Berry Rub
For each 2.75 pounds of pork, blend together:
How To Make Hot (And Spicy) Capicola
If you prefer a hot and spicy capicola, you can easily add more heat by modifying the herbs and spices used. Here are two capicola recipes that add a lot of spice and heat to the boned rolled pig meat. As with other flavor combinations, add the ingredients for each recipe to the basic salt mixture for curing.
Chipotle Spicy Rub
For each 2.75 pounds of pork, blend together:
Red Chili Capicola Rub
For each 2.75 pounds of pork, blend together:
Capicola Recipes To Die For
Now that you know how to make capicola at home, here are some recipe ideas using cured dry coppa.
Capicola Antipasto Platter
An antipasto platter is a good way to start a meal or to serve on its own. The platter should have a balance of different meats, cheeses, and vegetables along with a variety of breads and oil for dipping. After you’ve made capicola at home, make it the star of the antipasto platter by pairing it with strong cheeses and other cured meats such as pancetta, salami, and soppressata.
For cheeses use a combination of provolone, manchego, pecorino, and a strong Swiss cheese. Add a mild mozzarella along with sliced tomatoes and roasted red peppers. For other vegetables choose pickled eggplant and zucchini, artichoke hearts, and marinated mushrooms.
Round out an antipasto platter with breads such as a fresh French loaf or a dark rye. Have bowls of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic oil for dipping. Other good bread choices include Italian breadsticks or whole grain garlic or poppyseed crackers.
Because of its similarity to pepperoni, cappacuolo is a good addition to pizza.
Pair capicola on top of a pizza with red onions and mushrooms.
Use a mild cheese, such as mozzarella or fontina so that the capicola is the main flavor of the pizza. For a lighter pizza during the summer, use capicola with asparagus, braised radicchio, and parmesan cheese.
Capicola Mushroom Pasta
Capicola meat adds a distinctive taste to pasta dishes, with its balanced combination of pork meat and white marbled fat.
- 1Sauté the capicola in a skillet for about 5 minutes until crisp. Remove from the skillet and drain on a paper towel.
- 2Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet and add the mushrooms. Sauté until tender and browned.
- 3Add shallots to the pan and sauté until tender and translucent, about 2 minutes.
- 4Add chicken stock and turn down the heat to low. Bring the stock to a simmer and cook until reduced, so that only a thin layer of stock remains, about 10 minutes.
- 5Cook fettuccine in a pot of boiling salted water until the pasta is al dente, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- 6Drain and transfer the fettuccine to the skillet. Add 1 cup of the water in which the pasta was cooked.
- 7Crumble half of the capicola over top, stir and increase the heat to medium.
- 8Cook, tossing continuously, for about 2 minutes, until the liquid is thickened.
- 9Add heavy cream and simmer, coating pasta. Remove the skillet from the heat and add butter, mixing gently to combine.
- 10Season with salt and pepper if needed. The capicola should be salty enough, so taste before adding.
- 11Serve with the remaining capicola sprinkled over top.
Knowing how to make capicola at home means that you can enjoy the many ways to serve this cured meat, including preparing your own charcuterie board for family and friends. With its wonderfully marbled texture and balance of meat and fat, learning how to make capicola is a great technique for any home cook to add to their kitchen repertoire.