What is capicola?
Capicola is a deli of Italian origin, it can be cooked in the oven or simply by salt and drying over time. When dried, it is called coppa.
Cooked, capicola is eaten by itself as an antipasto or with other Italian cold cuts. It can also be used in a sandwich like in the famous New Orleans muffuletta. It can also garnish a sandwich with spicy provolone and vegetables cooked like Sicilians do. Or thin slices can be placed on a pizza just before baking it in the oven.
What is the origin of capicola?
Capicola is also called capocollo. All these cold meats are prepared from the pork shoulder and traditionally made in winter. Indeed, it is a period during which pigs are historically killed and cured meats prepared for the whole year. The temperature of this season favors the good conservation of the meat during its transformation.
Depending on the region, this ham can be cut in the neck from which it takes its name (coppino) or the shoulder. It is usually prepared with a piece that is around 65-70% lean.
Coppa unlike capicola is baked only by salt and drying, and it requires two months of preparation to reach maturity. Unfortunately, it is impossible to make this kind of preparation without having a suitable, ventilated and cool room, the formation of bacteria being very dangerous.
Originally, capicola and coppa are dry cured meats from the north of Italy which traveled to the south of Switzerland, and all the way to Corsica at the time of the Genoese invasions of the Island of Beauty.
How to make capicola
The advantage of capicola is that unlike most meats that require special equipment and a place suitable for the right temperature and humidity, it can very simply be prepared at home. That way, it can be seasoned to taste. Prague salt (or curing salt) ensures good preservation for at least three weeks.
First, the meat must be boned and placed in brine. The brine has the effect of penetrating the seasoning into the heart of the meat fibers and guaranteeing perfect salting which ensures the good preservation of the preparation.
After ten days in brine, the meat can be rinsed with plenty of water, dried and then seasoned again.
The cut of meat is then tied tightly to give it a harmonious shape and to ensure uniform cooking. In the case of capicola, it is then cooked in the oven for about two hours and put to rest before it can be cut into thin slices. The herbs and spices that are typically used include pepper, anise, fennel, coriander, and chili pepper, all of which give this charcuterie a unique and exceptional taste.
What are the main Italian charcuteries and the variants of capicola?
The only coppa with a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) in Italy is the Piacentina coppa (from Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna). The versions of Parma, Modena, Reggio, Mantua and Pavia benefit from a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication). The Corsican coppa also has a PDO and must use animals of the southern breed, a species endemic to the island.
Capicola ham takes different names depending on the region. Capocollo and capicollo are used in Campagnie and Calabre in the southwest. In Veneto, it is called ossocollo. In Siena in Tuscany, it is finocchiata. It is lonza in Lazio, lonzino in Marche and Abruzzo and finally, scamerita in Umbria.
In the United States, the Italian diaspora prepares a smoked version of capicola. In the famous Sopranos series, it is nicknamed gabagool.
Italy is a country where charcuterie is a true religion. There are 124 varieties.
The most famous are bresaola, capicola and coppa, cotechino, culatello, guanciale, lardo di Colonnata, luganega, mortadella, musetto, pancetta, prosciutto, different pork salamis but also goose, duck or donkey, salsiccia, soppressata, spalla, speck, ventricina or zampone.
In the north, these dry cured meats are often flavored with red wine, garlic, sage, rosemary, cloves and nutmeg. In the south, chili pepper, fennel, and anise, are generally used.
Enjoy this traditional Italian cured ham in a capicola sandwich, or sliced thin on a capicola pizza or just by itself.
- 3 lb pork coppa or pork loin
- 3 tablespoons fine salt
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes ground
- 1 teaspoon Prague powder curing salt
- For the seasoning
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1½ teaspoons black peppercorns
- ¾ teaspoon anise seeds
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes sweet or hot
- 1 elastic meat netting size 24
- Add the fine salt, sugar, ground red pepper flakes, and Prague salt into a spice or coffee grinder (or use a mortar and pestle) and grind them. It is essential that the Prague salt is evenly distributed in the ground mixture.
- Place the pork in a large bowl or on a work surface and rub all the meat with this spice blend, making sure to spread it out over the entire surface.
- Wrap pork tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 5 days.
- After 5 days, turn it over and refrigerate for another 5 days.
- After 10 days total, unpack the meat which will be firmer to the touch.
- Rinse it thoroughly with cold water to remove all the spices and set aside while preparing the seasoning.
- Add the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, anise seeds, red pepper flakes and black peppercorns in a spice or coffee grinder (or use a mortar and pestle) and coarsely grind them.
- Lightly pat the coppa with paper towels.
- Spread this spice rub on a plate or a work surface and roll the coppa in it, coating all sides well. Use all of the spice mixture to coat the meat.
- Cut a piece of elastic meat netting a few inches longer than the capicola. Stretch the elastic net and pass the coppa through it.
Preheat the oven to 250°F (120˚C).
- Fill a container with water and place it on the middle rack of the oven to create humidity while the capicola is cooking and to keep it moist.
- Place the capicola on a roasting pan with a rack and place it on the upper level of the oven.
Cook the capicola for an hour, then turn it over and cook for an additional 2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches around 150°F (65˚C). Do not overcook or the meat will be dry.
- Remove the coppa, place it on a dish and refrigerate uncovered for 5 hours.
- To taste the capicola, cut it into thin slices.
For professional-looking cold cuts, use an electric meat slicer.
To store the coppa, wrap it well in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator where it can be stored for up to 3 weeks. The sliced coppa can also be frozen for up to two months.
Prague salt is used as a preservative in cured meats, slowing bacteria and fungal growth, it is imperative not to replace it with conventional salt.