Slovakian Slanina Is The Spiced Bacon Of Your Dreams

All over the world, countless cultures have developed different delicious ways of curing meat. What we know in the United States as bacon has counterparts in other countries — like jamón ibérico in Spain and pancetta in Italy. While these have become increasingly popular — and, as a result, available in many grocery stores and restaurants — there is another kind of salted pork that remains under the radar, but more than deserves our attention and appreciation: slanina.

Slanina is Slovakia's take on bacon. While American bacon is often simply cured with salt, the Slovakians take it a step further by adding spices, resulting in some big, bold flavors from this relatively small landlocked central European country. In addition to salt, slanina is also cured with spices like cumin, garlic, oregano, laurel (aka bay leaf), and paprika producing a piece of meat that is savory and spicy, as well as a little bit smoky, thanks to the smoking process that takes place after curing.

How slanina is made and stored

The word "slanina" from the Czech and Slovak languages translates to "fatback" in English, a term butchers use when describing the piece of meat taken from the fat of a pig's back. This cut is itself rich in taste, but it absorbs many more layers of flavor during the curing process. Besides the addition of the spices, it is the slowness of this process that is critical to the unique taste of slanina. According to Slovakian tradition, the meat is cured over the span of at least four days. This allows the salt, cumin, and garlic to fully infuse the piece of pork. After that, the meat is smoked over beechwood for 12 to 24 hours, adding a pleasant smokiness to the final product.

Given how much time and effort goes into preparing slanina, you won't want to let any of it go to waste. Because of the high fat content of the meat, it needs to be stored properly. Keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days or up to a year in the freezer.

How to enjoy slanina

As with bacon, the ways to enjoy slanina are endless. For a little something different, try substituting slanina for your usual bacon at breakfast as a side to scrambled eggs or on a breakfast sandwich. Otherwise, take a cue from Slovakia and neighboring countries, such as Poland and Hungary, and put a few slices on a sandwich for a quick lunch. For a more leisurely meal, slanina is also a constant companion to other Central and Eastern European classics, like roasted potatoes, stuffed cabbage rolls, gnocchi, dumplings, and soup. In Romania, it's eaten barbecued with sliced raw onions. It also makes a great appetizer at happy hour as a topping for toast or served on a cured meats and cheese board with an assortment of other salty, spicy, and sweet snacks.

If you are interested in buying slanina, look for it at markets that stock European products or place an order online. In the event that you are not able to get your hands on a piece of slanina, you can take it as a source of inspiration and create a similar experience by adding cumin and garlic to another kind of fatback, such as pancetta or bacon.