Meaning “ham” in Italian, prosciutto refers to uncooked, dry-cured, thinly sliced pork leg. Prosciutto is a delicious cut of meat with a fatty and salty flavor, and while often served alone, can also play an important role in a number of dishes and appetizers.
Prosciutto meat comes from a pig or boar’s rear leg or thigh, and the cut is cleaned, salted, and dried for a few months. The salt is then washed off and the meat is cured for up to 2 years and is sometimes treated with nitrates, though the highest quality prosciutto is only treated with sea salt.
The best prosciuttos are those with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), and perhaps the most well-known variety is prosciutto Crudo di Parma, which comes from Parma, Italy. This meat gains its distinctive nutty flavor from the Parmigiano-Reggiano whey that often forms a part of the pigs’ diet.
Another famous variety is prosciutto di San Daniele, which comes from the province of Udine, which is located in the northeastern region of the country, just west of the Slovenian border. This variety, in contrast to prosciutto di Parma, is darker in color and sweeter in flavor.
However, prosciutto is not always the cheapest or most accessible ingredient to get your hands on, which is why we have put together this handy guide to prosciutto substitutes. Rest easy knowing that you can turn to these alternatives if can’t seem to find prosciutto.
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Prosciutto – taste, texture, and uses
The specific taste and texture of prosciutto depend on a variety of factors. First off, the amount of time that prosciutto is aged has an important impact on the resulting product.
Prosciutto that is aged for a shorter amount of time will have a soft, moist texture and a sweeter flavor. On the other hand, prosciutto that has undergone a long aging process tends to be drier and firmer with a subtler and more complex flavor.
The length of curation also has an impact on the color of prosciutto, as less curing time results in a pinker color while a longer curing period creates a more orange hue.
Prosciutto has a variety of uses, and while it is most often served raw as an antipasto or with other cured meats and cheeses, it can serve as a delicious addition to many dishes.
●Prosciutto is used in cooking. There are a number of recipes in which prosciutto serves as an important ingredient, perhaps the most famous being saltimbocca, or veal cutlets topped with prosciutto. It can also be an excellent addition to pasta dishes and even serves as a lovely pizza topping. Finally, it is common to wrap some prosciutto around roasted or steamed vegetables, like asparagus, green beans, or artichokes.
●Prosciutto is great with fruit. Surprisingly, prosciutto pairs especially well with a variety of fruits, given that its saltiness perfectly complements the sweetness of the fruit. It is traditionally served with cantaloupe or fresh figs, but you can also try it out with stone fruits like peaches, apricots, or nectarines.
●Prosciutto is the perfect addition to a charcuterie board. Prosciutto is perhaps most commonly served as an antipasto, or an appetizer, and is the perfect companion to other cured meats and a variety of cheeses. It balances especially well with creamy cheeses, like fresh mozzarella or ricotta, but you can’t go wrong in serving it with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The best substitutes for prosciutto
It is always ideal to use authentic prosciutto if you are able to access it, but if that is not a possibility, there is no need to fret. There are plenty of similar options that can replace prosciutto should it be necessary.
So, without any further ado, here are the top 4 best substitutes for prosciutto!
1. Serrano ham
Serrano ham is perhaps the best replacement for prosciutto given that it is such a similar product. Both Serrano ham and prosciutto come from white pigs, and while prosciutto is an Italian product, Serrano ham is produced in Spain.
Serrano ham tends to be a bit harder and less sweet than prosciutto, but due to the fact that they come from the same animal and undergo almost the same curing times, they have very similar flavors.
Another very similar alternative to prosciutto is Iberian ham, which comes from a different variety of pigs, specifically a breed that is only raised on the Iberian peninsula. However, this meat is very similar to Serrano ham, making it a perfectly appropriate substitute for prosciutto.
Some of the main differences between Serrano ham and prosciutto lie in the type of salt used to cure the meats and the diet of the pigs. While pigs that produce prosciutto consume feed and whey from Parmigiano-Reggiano, the latter of which gives the meat its nutty flavor, Serrano pigs rely on a diet of fodder and grains.
Nevertheless, these two products are very similar, and the untrained tongue will likely not even be able to tell them apart. Serrano ham is an excellent replacement for prosciutto on practically any occasion, especially when pairing with fruit and soft cheeses. You can use Serrano ham to replace prosciutto in a 1-to-1 ratio.
Another Italian meat, pancetta is a perfectly appropriate substitute for prosciutto. While prosciutto comes from the leg of the pig, pancetta comes from the pork belly, but like prosciutto, is also cured. Pancetta is cured with salt and spices, so it offers very similar flavors to prosciutto.
However, unlike prosciutto, pancetta must be cooked before consuming, despite it being cured meat. For that reason, it is best used as a substitute for prosciutto in dishes in which the prosciutto must be cooked, and it can be a delicious addition to pasta dishes or risottos.
Pancetta is also often cut thicker than prosciutto, but you can request it be thinly sliced if you are buying it from a butcher, which will give it a more similar texture and consistency to prosciutto.
Capicola also referred to as capocollo or coppa, is yet another cured Italian meat, in this case coming from the pork neck or shoulder. Much like prosciutto, it is salted and cured. However, capicola is also seasoned, often with red or white wine, garlic, and various herbs and spices.
Capicola is cured for up to six months, and both prosciutto and capicola are sliced thin and served raw. However, capicola tends to have more of a kick than prosciutto due to the fact that it is seasoned with a variety of spices.
Additionally, capicola is typically more tender than prosciutto due to its interwoven fat distribution. It is also a more affordable alternative to prosciutto, as the long production process of prosciutto can make it up to twice as expensive as capicola.
Capicola is a great replacement for prosciutto when preparing a charcuterie board or on a sandwich, though it may not be the best replacement if you are looking to pair the meat with fruit, in which case it is best to turn to Serrano ham.
Our final prosciutto alternative, bacon is perhaps the most affordable and easily accessible option. It is very important that the bacon be thinly sliced so as to mimic the consistency and texture of prosciutto, and it should be blanched in boiling water instead of fried. Just be sure to rinse your bacon before incorporating it into your recipe.
Like pancetta, bacon comes from the pork belly, so it tends to be a bit of a fattier cut than prosciutto, given that the latter comes from the hind leg. Bacon is also a cured meat, but it differs from prosciutto in that on top of being cured it is also smoked, which gives it a distinct flavor.
Bacon will work well in the same types of situations in which you would use pancetta to replace prosciutto. It can be incorporated into a pasta dish or used as a pizza topping, but it also makes a delicious addition to salads. However, bacon is not the best alternative to prosciutto when it comes to pairing with fruit, and it is also not the ideal option to incorporate into a charcuterie spread.
How to substitute prosciutto with other meats?
Substituting other meats for prosciutto is really quite simple, as a 1:1 ratio is almost always appropriate. However, you’ll want to pay close attention to how thick the cut of meat is. This shouldn’t be a problem with Serrano ham or capicola, but make sure that your pancetta or bacon is sliced thinly enough so as to properly imitate the fine consistency of prosciutto.
Each prosciutto substitute is most appropriate for a specific type of use. To begin, Serrano ham can replace prosciutto in almost any situation, given the fact that they are so similar. It is also your best option when pairing with cantaloupe or other fruit.
On the other hand, capicola goes great on a charcuterie board or in place of prosciutto on a sandwich, while bacon and pancetta are better fit for incorporating into pasta or topping pizza.