Learn all about the ‘Chew & Melt’ experience of capicola (gabagool)
by The Ripe and Ruin @ flickr
Regardless of where they come from, we can all agree that cured meats are the best! Whether you prefer them served on a platter or a grilled sandwich for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, there is just something addictive about them.
On this topic, we are here to dive into the world of capicola: what is capicola meat? What makes it different from other cold meats? And, what exactly goes into preparing it?
So what is capicola?
Capicola is nothing new in the world of cured meats. However, there are several names that describe this Italian delicacy. You may or may not know capicola by the name of capocollo, cappacuolo, coppa meat, or better yet, ‘gabagool.’
In a nutshell, cappacuolo is a traditional Italian-Corsican pork cold cut. It is a distinctive cured meat easily noticeable thanks to its vivid red color and unique marbling.
Cappacuolo is a type of salumi considered by many as the cousin of both sausage and prosciutto.
The story of how ‘capicola’ became ‘gabagool.’
Out of the different variations of the word capicola, gabagool might be the weirdest sounding and most used. Gabagool originated and is the most used in the United States. The pronunciation of ‘gabagool’ actually first mutated from the word capicola and has been used by Italian Americans, especially in New York City, where it became a well-known stereotype.
So, ‘gabagool’ resulted from the descendence of different Italian regions that immigrated to America and the development of their accents. But, the name gabagool became a phenomenon and came to be so famous thanks to “The Sopranos,” a widely popular TV show.
Origin of the capicola meat
Gabagool is known as a whole-muscle Salumi since it is made from large pork shoulder meat and neck meat cuts. The word capicola, in Italian, is a blend of the two words “capo” (head) and “collo” (neck), which literally explains from where the capicola meat is derived.
Specifically, the capicola meat is taken from the pig’s muscles running from the neck to the 4th or 5th rib of the shoulder (which is the top part of the loin). So, the gabagool origin is ‘coppa meat,’ the muscle right behind the back of the pig’s head, at the top of its shoulder.
The coppa meat is a crowd favorite cut that is barrel-shaped and often used for preparing meat products. The coppa meat cut has a 3 to 6-month shelf life and should be strictly refrigerated after being butchered.
The process of making capicola (gabagool)
Like many other salt-cured cold portions of meat, cappacuolo is simply spiced and smoked pork cured in a natural casing. However, to make the perfect gabagool, the best way is to follow traditional Italian techniques that make coppa meat the fantastic dish that it is.
To start, Italians pay incredible attention to the pigs they chose when making cappacuolo (the animal must weigh 300 pounds and be eight months old, at least).
Then, the pig’s loin meat is carefully cut, de-boned, and separated from the fat.The resulting cappacuolo cut (which must be covered by a 3-4 millimeter layer of fat) is delicately seasoned with a variety of flavors, such as wine (red or white), garlic, and paprika, as well as herbs and spices of choice. Salt & pepper, fennel, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sugar are also traditional Italian ingredients used to prepare the meat for curation.
The next step consists of carefully massaging the capicola meat using a salt rub. Then the capicola meat gets refrigerated for a few days to a few weeks, which gives the meat the time necessary to absorb everything.
Next, the capicola meat is washed with water and vinegar. It must be then pressed and covered in black pepper. After this lengthy process, cappacuolois ready for curing by being stuffed into a natural casing. It is recommended for cappacuolo to be hanged for at least 100 days to cure into the flavorful delicacy that it is. These 100 days can vary, reaching up to 1 year.
Gabagool is also often smoked and sometimes slow-roasted (slow roasting capicola results in a variety known as ‘Coppa Cotta.’
So, is making cappacuolo a delicate long process? Yes. But is the result rewarding? Totally!
Experience the capicola (gabagool) taste
Cappacuolo offers a fantastic balance of meat and intramuscular fat thanks to its cut.
The capicola meat origin results in an extraordinary taste stemming from its nearly perfect fat to lean ratio (30% to 70%).
Unlike some of the other cold cuts (such as ham), the fat stored in the pork neck makes cappacuolo a soft, tender, and juicy delicacy.
Simultaneously, capicola is slightly smoky and very delicately spicy (spicy capicola is a achieved by using a variety of spicing recipes) while also being so fatty (not in an overwhelming way) that it melts in your mouth.
Gabagool is also known for having a perfectly balanced amount of visible white fat, which is essential to its texture and softness.
Due to its chewy texture and bold flavors, cappacuolo should be sliced thin.The resulting slices and their saltiness make the perfect pair for bread, wine, cheese, crackers, and even fruit.The combination of the fact that this is an air-dried meat having an outstanding aroma with a robust fatty flavor unarguably makes gabagool one of the most beloved Italian cured meats.
Capicola ham: A boiled capicola-style ham coated with spices
Capicola ham, also known as ham capocollo or ham-capi, is a different variation of your typical capicola. Capicola ham consists of spiced and boiled ham. This is essentially why it is known as a cross between capicola and ham.
Capicola ham can be used in similar ways but results in very different taste effects.
Like capicola meat, you can eat capicola ham in many different ways. Capicola ham is so easy and classy that it can be your go-to for breakfast, lunch, as well as dinner. It also works amazingly as an appetizer (being wrapped around cheese).
Hot capicola is the American-made version of capicola meat. Hot Capicola (spicy capicola) has a nice kick to it. The spicy capicola taste is achieved by adding hot red pepper seasoning.
Hot capicola is often expensive and is considered a gourmet food at local delis.
Spicy capicola can be easily made at home and can be turned into sweet if it is seasoned using black peppercorn instead.
The battle of the pork cold cuts: capicola vs prosciutto
Generally,capicola and prosciutto are known to be similarbecause they are both cold-cuts derived from pork, and they are also used in similar dishes. In fact, when cut correctly, cappacuolo tends to have a similar texture to that of prosciutto, the Italian dry-cured ham.
However, it is where the meat comes from that makes the two different, as prosciutto comes from the pig’s hind leg and thighs, while cappacuolo comes from the animal’s neck and shoulder.
Additionally, cappacuolo is not brined as ham often is. Instead, it is kept dry and sliced thin to accentuate the brilliant pork flavors. Also, unlike capicola, prosciutto has to cure for anywhere from 9 months to 2 years.
Aside from this, prosciutto and capicola can be used interchangeably. Nevertheless, they are going to taste different as cappacuolo offers an entirely different array of unique flavors.
Is capicola the same as salami?
Despite having similar sizes and shapes, capicola and salami have very different flavor profiles, especially since salami undergoes a unique fermentation process that gives it a mildly acidic taste. Conversely, capicola does not ferment, so it totally lacks the acidic flavor.
Also, cappacuolo is whole-muscle pork meat, while salami has a sausage-like preparation process. Finally, unlike capriola, the process of making salami is much complicated. It involves many details to worry about (such as grinding the meat beforehand).
A capicola recipe to make your own at home
Quick & easy cooked spicy capicola recipe:
As cappacuolo is expensive and oftentimes hard to find, we thought that learning how to make your capicola might come in handy. When made following our homemade spicy capicola recipe, this Italian delicacy can be a game-changer in your kitchen.
To make an incredibly tasting cappacuolo, starting with the freshest meat possible is quite essential.
- Place the sea salt, sugar, red pepper flakes, and pink curing salt in a grinder.
- Place the meat on a flat surface (or in a big bowl) and massage it using the rub you made and make sure to evenly distribute.
- Wrap your pork in an airtight plastic wrap.
- Leave to refrigerate it for (at least) 5 days.
- After the 5 days, flip your capicola meat over so the bottom side is up, and refrigerate again for another 5 days.
- 5 days later, unwrap the capicola meat.
- Rinse with cold water to remove all the spices.
- Set it aside and proceed to prepare the last rub for your spicy capicola. To make this, mix your selection of well-ground spices (coriander seeds, fennel seeds, red pepper, and black peppercorns).
- Blot the coppa meat with a paper towel, then spread out your rub onto your chosen work surface.
- Roll your coppa meat in it, and make sure to coat all its sides.
- Stuff the spicy capicola into a ham-stuffing funnel.
- Preheat the oven to 250° Fahrenheit and place a water-filled pan on the oven’s middle rack.
- Place the capicola meat on a roasting pan and place it on the top rack of the oven.
- Cook 2 hours, an hour for each side, until its internal temperature reaches 145 to 150° Fahrenheit.
- Finally, remove your spicy capicola from the oven and place it on a large plate, uncovered.
- Let refrigerate for 4 hours.
Making unique dishes using any capicola recipe
Coppa meat is an incredibly versatile cold meat. For instance, it can be served alone on a platter or as a core ingredient for different meals during the day, both for main courses and appetizers. You can use coppa meat for lunch when making the stuffing chicken breasts or spicy capicola slices on top of your favorite pizza or pasta. Coppa meat can also be mixed into your omelet or be used as the main ingredient for breakfast sandwiches.
Below, we have handpicked some of our favorite capocollo recipes that will help you get started with cooking using this Italian delicacy.
Capicola recipe #1: Wood grilled capicola panini
Coppa meat is undoubtedly one of the most delicious meats you can stuff your sandwich with, and our personal favorite is the panini capicola recipe.
This recipe is aimed to make the biggest Italian-inspired panini possible, improvising the Italian sandwich press on the grill, using spicy capicola. The resulting coppa meat sandwich will be an impressive dish to prepare at a party, able to serve 10 to 15 people.
For this capicola recipe, vegetables are essential:
- ¼ cup (60 ml) balsamic and red wine vinegar.
- 2 cups (475 ml) extra-virgin olive oil.
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes.
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano.
- 2 shallots, minced.
- 1/2 cup (30 g) chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley.
- Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper.
- 6 red onions, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick.
- 10 plum tomatoes, cored and sliced,1/4 inch (6 mm) thick.
- I fennel bulb, tops, and core removed, sliced paper-thin (preferably using a mandolin).
For the sandwiches:
- 2 loaves Italian-style bread, about 1 1/2 feet (45 cm) long.
- 2 pounds provolone, thinly sliced.
- 2 pounds hot capicola, thinly sliced.
- 2 pounds Mortadella, thinly sliced.
- 2 pounds Genoa salami, thinly sliced.
- 30 pepperoncini, stems removed and sliced 1/4 inch thick.
- 6 roasted red peppers, peeled, seeded, and cut into large pieces.
- 10 leaves romaine lettuce, washed and patted dry.
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil for brushing bread.
- 6 to 8 bricks, wrapped in foil.
- The most crucial step is marinating the vegetables, so the high notes and richness of the vinaigrette stay within the sandwich. To make the vegetables, mix the balsamic and red wine vinegar, olive oil, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, shallots, and parsley in a medium mixing bowl.
- Liberally season with salt and pepper. Here, you certainly want it to be a little on the salty, peppery side.
- Add onions, tomatoes, and fennel.
- Toss to coat the vegetables with the vinaigrette
- Then, let sit for 5 minutes.
- Toss again, and let sit for 5 minutes more.
- To make the panini sandwiches, start by slicing the loaves in half lengthwise, then cut in half and lay their bottoms.
- Cut-side up on the counter or a large jelly-roll pan.
- Build the panini by evenly layering the cheese and the capicola meat slices on top of the bread.
- Spread the pepperoncini and roasted peppers evenly on top.
- Strain the marinating vegetables and evenly spread them over your panini.
- Reserve the marinade vinaigrette to use for dipping when sandwiches are done.
- Place the romaine leaves over the vegetables and top each sandwich with the other piece of bread.
- Light your grill using a chimney half full with hardwood lump charcoal.
- Let the fire die down before you start grilling.
- When you can hold your hand over the fire for 15 to 20 seconds, it is time to begin grilling.
- Place the coppa meat panini on a clean grill rack over the coals.
- Place a large sheet pan on top of the sandwiches, and place the bricks on top of the pan.
- Cook for 5 minutes, then carefully remove the bricks.
- Using spatulas and preferably the help of someone, delicately turn the panini over.
- Replace the sheet pan and bricks and cook for 5 minutes more.
- Again using your spatula, remove the panini and place it on a large cutting board.
- Using a serrated knife, cut along a diagonal into 2 to 3-inch pieces.
- Serve hot, either drizzled with reserved vinaigrette or using the vinaigrette as a dipping sauce.
Capicola recipe #2: Chicken pasta with sage and Capicola sauce
This capicola recipe is to make the perfect hearty pasta that warms the body and satisfies big appetites, serving at least 4 people.
For the sauce:
- ¼ cup olive oil.
- 2 plump garlic cloves, minced.
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots.
- 2 ounces thinly sliced capicola, cut into thin matchsticks.
- 5 to 6 tablespoons minced fresh sage.
- 1 & ½ cups chicken stock.
- Coarse salt (kosher or sea salt).
- 14 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded inch thick;
- 1 teaspoon olive oil.
- 12 ounces penne or other short tubular pasta, cooked according to the package directions, tossed lightly with olive oil, and kept warm.
- 4 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (optional).
- Sprigs of fresh sage and/or curls of pecorino Romano (made by scraping a vegetable peeler over a chunk of cheese) (optional).
- To start preparing the sauce, begin by warming the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- Stir in the garlic, shallots, and coppa meat and sauté for a couple of minutes until the garlic and shallots have just softened.
- Add the fresh sage and give it a stir or two, then pour in the stock.
- Bring to a simmer and simmer until the sauce is reduced by about one-third.
- Taste and add salt as you wish.
- Meanwhile, sprinkle the chicken with salt and spray with vegetable oil.
- Let sit for about 20 minutes covered at room temperature.
- Fire up the grill, bringing the heat to medium (4 to 5 seconds with the hand test).
- Grill, the chicken, uncovered for 10 to 12 minutes total. Turn onto each side twice, rotating the breasts each time to get crisscross grill marks.
- You will detect that the chicken is ready when it is white throughout but still juicy.
- Cut the chicken into neat small strips about the length of the pasta.
- Toss the pasta, sauce, grated cheese, and chicken together in a large serving bowl.
- Drizzle with the extra virgin oil, if you like. If you want to also get a little fancier, garnish with sage or curls of cheese or both.
- Serve warm.
Capicola and safety
Like any other deli meat, there is a reason why cappacuolo is so addictive; as you might have guessed, this is because capicola is packed with salt! Since this is the case, before integrating it into your dietary habits, it is crucial to be aware of the nutritional facts of capicola.
28 grams of cappacuolo contains about 8 grams of protein, 80 calories, 5 grams of fat, 1 carbohydrate, and a shocking 540 mg of sodium. The latter amount is unusually high for such a small serving. This mainly why capicola must be consumed in careful moderation. On the other hand, if used carefully, capicola is perfectly fine for a low-carb or even a Keto diet.
On another note, many tend to be concerned regarding the preparation process of cappacuolo that involves dry-curing pork. But, we are here to tell you that eating capicola is absolutely safe to eat. This is because the heavy salt triggers evaporation inside the capicola meat, making it an impossible place for any bacteria to reside in.
To end, capicola is the tastiest, most versatile cold meat (and not to mention authentic) that you could have. However, we do not recommend you to go overboard with it.
Our verdict is that, when done correctly and eaten in moderation, it will give whatever capicola recipe you make an undeniably unique salty and rich flavor.