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The Italian Capicola, or coppa, has many names and a distinctive, delicious taste. You might also know it as capocollo or gabagool – depending on where you’re from.
However, regardless of the name, the famous capicola is almost always prepared the same way, which is still quite a feat. After all, it’s one of Italy’s most famous and most valued culinary cuts.
If you believe that you’re up to the task and want to impress your family and friends at the next gathering, here, we’ll share everything we know when it comes to making a masterfully exquisite capicola.
Let’s start by familiarizing ourselves with the history and traditions of the Italian capicola. In fact, the coppa is a traditional Italian and Corsican dry-cured pork meat. It’s cold cut and made from the longest muscle in the pig running from the neck to the fourth or fifth rib.
The word capocollo is a combination of two words – capo meaning head and collo meaning neck. But, outside of Italy, capicola is also famous in Argentina (bondiola or bondiola curada), and North America (capicola). Italian Americans in New York popularized the word “gabagool” because of their unique pronunciation in the 19th- and early 20th-century.
Today, capicola is made in almost every region of Italy. But, Lazio, Tuscany, and Umbria are just some of the regions that commercially produce their own capicola products.
There are several varieties of the capicola, including the famous Coppa Piacentina and Capocollo di Calabria which have a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under the Common Agricultural Policy of the E.U. This status means that only products that truly originated in Italian regions can be used in the production of commercial capicola.
And, while we’re talking about commercial capicola, it’s usually seasoned with red wine, garlic, salt, and other seasons specific to the region where it originates. The meat is then stuffed into a casing made from the animal’s intestines or skin. Finally, the freshly made capicola is hung and left for up to six months to dry.
So, what’s different when making a homemade capicola? More importantly, what’s the best method for preparing a really delicious capicola? Let’s see.
What You Will Need
To prepare a traditionally accurate capicola, you’ll need several things. Of course, these recommendations are not absolutely necessary, but they’ll sure help you make a tastier capicola.
First, you may want to buy a vacuum sealer. This is a very beneficial piece of equipment that will help the meat absorb the seasons. Using vacuum sealers helps achieve consistent results when it comes to taste and texture.
Second, if you’re using a refrigerator to dry age the meat, you can buy a meat kit from Amazon. This will help you master the process of dry-aging meats at home without fuss.
How To Get Perfect Cuts
While you can cut and serve capicola to your liking, experts recommend slicing it very thin due to its dense flavors and chewy texture. It’s traditionally served with red wine (sometimes white wine), cheese, bread, and crackers. This makes it the perfect ingredient in a rich cheese board.
However, to make sure each cut is perfect, there are a few other things to consider. For instance, following online recipes to a T does not guarantee a good result, even if they’re traditional Italian methods of preparation.
The reason for this is that each cut of meat varies in weight, so you’ll need to manually calculate how much of the curating ingredients is the right amount for your piece of meat.
Here are two ratios to be mindful of.
First, use around 3% of Kosher salt. For instance, if you have around 2.3kg of meat (~ 5 pounds), you’ll need to use 68 grams of Kosher salt. The formula to calculate for different amounts of meat is simple – find the weight in kg, then multiply the mass value by 1000 to convert to grams. Then, multiply that number by 0.03 (3%). The result would be grams of salt needed for your piece of meat.
Second, use around 0.25% Instacure #2. Again, for a piece of meat that weighs around 2.3kg (~ 5 pounds), you’ll need 5.7 grams of Instacure #3. You can apply the same formula from above.
Homemade Italian Capicola
The meat used for capicola is carefully cut, de-boned then separated from the fat. Still, there should be around 3-4 millimeters of fat on the surface of the meat because that prevents the meat from drying out when seasoning. It’s important to know these things when buying meat for making capicola. High-quality meat is the foundation for your homemade capicola – without it, the outcome won’t be satisfactory even with the best recipe out there.
Once you have the piece of meat, you need to season it. There are a few ways to approach this.
The first way to do this is to rub the meat in with the seasons after which, you’ll leave the meat to sit in the refrigerator for a few days (or a week).
The second way to season your meat is to mix all the seasons in a vacuum seal bag. Insert the meat in the bag, close it, then thoroughly shake the bag until all the seasons fully cover the piece of meat. Then, leave the meat in the fridge for a couple of days (or a week).
The next step in the preparation, after the salt rest, the meat is traditionally washed with water and vinegar, pressed, and seasoned again – usually with black pepper or another spicy ingredient. It comes down to preference and taste.
Then, the meat is ready to be stuffed and cured. In commercially-produced capicola, makers use spiced animal skin or intestines as a case. However, at your home, you can use synthetic collagen-wrapped sheets or natural dried wrap sheets as an alternative.
Stuffing the meat in the casing is important not just for taste, but also for protection. The case will protect the meat from contamination and bacteria during the drying and curing process.
After this, you hand the freshly prepared capicola and wait. Experts recommend for the capicola to hang for at least 100 days. However, at home, you can roast the capicola and eat it in the next couple of hours – just follow our recipe below!
A couple of times throughout the article we’ve mentioned seasoning the meat. And, while this is very personal and depends on taste, here are some of the seasons traditionally used in Italy. But, keep in mind that seasoning also varies from region to region within Italy itself.
- black pepper;
- bay leaves;
- chili powder.
Choose the seasons that you prefer most and don’t be afraid to experiment. However, the instructions below are based on Charcutaria’s video on YouTube, which we believe is a fairly simple, yet traditional recipe. Because of this, in the instructions, we’ll recommend a specific mix of ingredients.
For this recipe, you’ll need:
- kosher salt (2-3% of total meat mass);
- instacure #2 (0.25% of total meat mass);
- sugar (1% of total meat mass) – optional;
- brown sugar – 1g;
- nutmeg – 1g;
- allspice – 1g;
- smoked paprika – 1g;
- clove powder – 1g;
- collagen sheet;
- elastic net ~50mm;
- Take your meat out on a cutting board. You can cut it in half if it’s big, but leave the fat intact.
- Rub it thoroughly with the kosher salt, then instacure, and finally with the sugar (if applicable).
- Place it in a vacuum seal or ziplock bag (no air should get in), close it, and store it in the refrigerator for 7 to 14 days. To make sure the seasons are absorbed equally from all sides, you can turn the piece of meat every day or every other day.
- After 14 days, take it out of the refrigerator and remove it from the bag. Lightly rinse off the seasons.
- While the meat dries, mix together brown sugar, nutmeg, allspice, smoked paprika, and clove powder on a plate.
- Rub the meat in the mix thoroughly and evenly.
- Wrap the meat with the collagen sheet. Be careful not to create air pockets. If that happens, press firmly until the air is removed.
- Then, wrap the meat in an elastic net ~50mm.
- Hang the capicola in a dark place with a lot of humidity (+90%) where the air temperature is around 24°C. Leave it for 3 days.
- After 3 days, move it to a cooler place – around 14°C. Keep it there until the meat has 30-40% reduced its mass. Some experts advise to keep the meat hanging for up to 100 days.
- Finally, when it’s ready, rise it with lukewarm water to clean the surface, and remove its collagen sheet.
- Cut it in tiny slices and serve.
However, for those who are quite impatient and don’t want to wait for 100 days, here’s what you can do instead.
Follow the recipe above up to step 6. Then, stuff the meat into the elastic net.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Then, fill a pan with water and place it on the middle or the bottom rack. The reason for this is that when cooking, the water will evaporate creating humidity for the coppa – it will keep it moist.
Then, take a roasting pan and place the meat in the center of it. Place the pan on the top rack in the oven and let it cook for around 1 hour. Turn the meat so the bottom can be evenly cooked and cook for another hour.
After two hours check the internal temperature of the meat. 145-150 degrees F is what you should aim for and it means that your capicola is ready – well, almost!
Before serving, place the capicola in the refrigerator and let it cool for 4 hours. Enjoy!
This is not a traditional Italian way of making capicola, but if you want something very, very similar without the waiting period, this is as close as it gets.
Nutritional Profile of Capicola
The capicola has a soft and tender texture. It’s chewy but goes amazingly with wine and cheese. Most adults who love cured meats would agree that capicola’s delicate flavor is a perfect addition to any sandwich or a wonderful snack. But, is it good for our health? And, based on its nutritional profile, how often should you eat capicola?
Based on the USDA Food Composition Databases for cooked and air-dried capicola, the nutritional values per 100g are as follows:
- Energy: 158 cal;
- Protein: 19.3g;
- Fat: 8.77g;
- Carbohydrate: 0g;
- Fiber: 0g;
- Sodium: 930g;
- Cholesterol: 93mg.
- Energy: 123 cal;
- Protein: 19.3g;
- Fat: 3.51g;
- Carbohydrate: 1,75g;
- Fiber: 0g;
- Sodium: 1190g;
- Cholesterol: 61mg.
We can conclude that capicola is a quite healthy and nutritious snack. However, because of its high salt content and cholesterol, it’s better to be consumed in moderation.
We believe that by now, you’re ready to give the capicola recipe a try. However, if you need a little bit of a confidence boost, the following tips might just do the tricks. Here’s what to be mindful of if you’re a true nitpicker and want to make sure everything is perfect.
Make Sure The Measurements Are Just Right
We covered the right ratios for making a delicious capicola above. The reason for this is that too much salt can make the meat very very dry, while too little can be bad for the curing process.
To make sure you nail the measurements, we recommend using a digital scale. Also, pay attention to the formulas we’ve explained and calculate the right amounts for the piece of meat you’ll be working with.
Patience Is Key
Another thing most people usually get wrong is opening the meat too early. This can happen in any of the two processes. First, some take the meat out of the refrigerator in three to five days. This will make it harder for the meat to dry during the second waiting period. Second, some people don’t want to wait 100 days for the meat to dry and are curious to see what they’ve made. However, opening it before the capicola has reduced its mass by 30-40% will result in a lump of very watery and overall bad meat.
The Elastic Net Is Not Essential
Let’s face it, the elastic band is what makes the meat look like it’s done in a very professional manner. However, the truth is, the elastic net is not essential. We’re telling you things because placing it can be a challenge. So, if it’s too overwhelming, don’t be discouraged. You can achieve the same thing with butcher’s twine or buy meat netting rolls from Amazon – they’re ready to use and you just have to slip the meat inside.
Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment With Spices
Finally, and we can’t stress this enough, don’t be afraid to experiment with the spices. Sure, it’s important to try and make the capicola as traditional as possible, but if you use species that you normally don’t eat, the result will not be satisfactory. Plus, remember that even in Italy, different regions have adopted different seasonings. Give your homemade capicola your own touch with the slightly personalized seasoning mix – that can be your secret touch.
If you still haven’t tried to make homemade capicola, we encourage you to try it. Once you give it a shot, you’ll see that all this complex process of curating meat is actually pretty straightforward. It only involves a few steps and then a lot of waiting. In fact, patience is the only necessary skill.
Plus, we all know that wine, cheese, and cured meats are an adult’s guilty pleasure. So, don’t miss this awesome opportunity to impress your friends and family with your own homemade capicola. Hey, even if it’s just for your own pleasure – we know that capicola is worth the wait!
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