Recipe from All About Roasting by Molly Stevens (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011)For years I've fantasized about making porchetta-herb- and garlic-infused pork roasted over an open fire until meltingly tender, with skin that's crisp and crackly. In Italy, where the dish hails from, porchetta almost always begins with a whole pig, which gets gutted, boned, seasoned, tied, and spit-roasted to perfection. While I can be an ambitious cook, the prospect of wrangling a whole pig over an open fire in my small (and very wooded) yard always overwhelmed me. Then came an ah-ha! moment during a trip to New York City, specifically during a visit to a popular storefront eatery aptly named Porchetta. Waiting in line for my porchetta sandwich, I watched as the cook behind the counter sliced the meat, not from a whole pig, as I had always imagined, but from a single roast, albeit one unlike any I had ever seen. There was a large eye of juicy meat in the center, surrounded by an unctuous layer of dripping fat, all encased in crackling skin. Back home, I did some research and learned that Sara Jenkins, the talented chef-owner of Porchetta, creates her version by wrapping skin-on pork belly (the part of the pig from which we get bacon) around a pork loin. Brilliant!
This version remains a fairly bold undertaking for most home cooks, mainly owing to the fact that pork belly, though super-popular with chefs, is not (yet!) a common supermarket cut. (For more on that, see Shopping for a Porchetta Roast, page 217.) Once you have the right cut, however, the only hard part is picking which of your friends and family deserve to come join you for such a delicious meal. (Do leave any fat-phobic folks off the guest list, as porchetta is hearty fare.) Serve the pork with sautéed greens (think spinach or Swiss chard) and something soft and comforting, like polenta, mashed potatoes, or white beans. Any leftover meat will make amazing sandwiches, especially when stacked on good crusty bread with braised broccoli rabe and sweet red pepper spread as shown on page 218.Serves 10 TO 12 with leftovers
Method: Combination high and moderate heat
Roasting time: 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours
Plan ahead: For the best flavor, season the pork at least 24 hours ahead of roasting.
Wine: A Nebbiolo-based red, like that bottle of Barolo or Barbaresco you've been saving for a special occasion.
- 1 center-cut pork loin with the belly flap attached, preferably with skin on (8 to 9 pounds), or 1 boneless center-cut pork loin (about 5 pounds) plus 1 pork belly (4 to 5 pounds)
- 4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced
- Kosher salt
- Coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted and ground to a coarse powder
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1. Trim the pork and score the rind. If you purchased a pork loin with the belly attached, unroll the roast so the skin side is down. Examine the belly portion and determine whether you need to trim away any of the top layer of fat. If the roast came without skin, turn it over and also trim away some of the fat from the top side if need be. All pork bellies have prodigious amounts of fat; how much you leave in place is a matter of personal preference. Ideally you want a layer just under 1/2-inch thick, so if the butcher has left more than this, use a large chef's knife to pare it down. (The fat can be saved for rendering or other use.)
If you've got a separate pork loin and pork belly, check that the outermost fat layer of the pork belly is less than 1/2-inch thick. If needed, trim it down. Next, drape the belly (skin side up) around the pork loin (without tying it), just to get a sense of how it will fit. It doesn't have to be perfect, but if it extends more than 1 inch over the ends of the loin, trim it down and save the trimmings for another use. If there's a gap on the underside because the belly doesn't reach all the way around, that's fine. Also, if you've got a separate piece of pork skin, drape this over the roast and trim it to fit (poultry shears or utility scissors are useful here).
Now arrange the belly, whether separate or attached to the loin, so it is skin side up on a stable surface and, using a box cutter, utility knife, or other razor-sharp knife, carefully (but firmly) score the rind in parallel lines about 1/2-inch apart, cutting through the rind and just into the fat (about 1/4-inch deep) without cutting through to the meat. The lines can go in any direction that appeals to you.
2. Season and tie the roast (as shown on page 216). In a small bowl, combine the garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, 2 teaspoons black pepper, the rosemary, sage, thyme, fennel, zest, and red pepper flakes. For the single-piece roast, unroll the belly flap and sprinkle the seasonings evenly over the belly and the roast, rubbing lightly so the seasonings adhere. Roll the flap around the loin; if the skin is a separate piece, drape it over, and secure the whole porchetta at 1- to 2-inch intervals with kitchen string. For the 2- or 3-piece roast, sprinkle half the seasonings all over the loin and the other half on the meat side of the belly, rubbing lightly so they stick, and then wrap the belly (skin side out) over the loin, so the belly covers the top side (fat side) of the roast thoroughly and any gap is on the bottom (or rib side). If the skin is a separate piece, drape it over the top. Secure the entire ensemble with kitchen string, tying loops at 1- to 2-inch intervals.
Season the surface of the roast lightly but evenly with salt and pepper (about 3/4 teaspoon each), getting some into the score marks as well. Set the roast on a tray or in a baking dish and refrigerate, uncovered or loosely covered, for 24 to 48 hours. Let the pork sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before roasting.
3. Heat the oven. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat to 500 degrees (475 degrees convection).
4. Roast. Place the pork seam side down on a roasting rack in a sturdy roasting pan just large enough to accommodate it. Roast for 25 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees (300 degrees convection). Continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the roast registers 140 to 145 degrees, another 3 hours or so-but it's a good idea to start checking the temperature after another 2 hours.
5. Rest and carve. Transfer the roast to a carving board, preferably one with a trough. Let rest for at least 25 minutes (the roast can easily sit at room temperature for an hour and not suffer). Carve into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick slices, removing the strings as you go and doing your best to give each serving a bit of the crackling rind. If the rind is too tough to slice through easily (or if it was a separate piece to begin with), remove it in larger chunks and transfer it to a second cutting board, where you can chop it into pieces to serve alongside the sliced roast.
Shopping for Porchetta Roast
To make this porchetta, you will have to shop at a specialty meat market, one that goes beyond the standard supermarket fare. (Plus, the best porchetta is made from well-marbled, flavorful heritage breeds of pigs not found at most supermarkets.) Basically, there are three parts to a porchetta roast: the boneless loin roast, the belly, and the skin. Ideally the butcher will be able to give you all three in one piece: the pork loin and belly with the skin still on the belly. If not, you can buy a loin and a belly (with or without the skin) separately. Constructing the roast is not difficult as long as you have some kitchen string and a little understanding of how it goes together.
The loin is the thick, straplike muscle that runs along either side of the spine (parallel to the backbone); since we're dealing with only one loin, imagine just one of those long back muscles. To grasp how the belly relates to the loin (and if it's not too macabre for you to compare your own anatomy to that of a pig), place one hand on your own back muscle right near the bottom of your ribs (that's the loin) and then slide your hand to the front of your body. Voilà-there you are, the belly. So if the butcher bones out the loin without separating the belly flap from the back, you'll have a pork loin with a long flap of streaky belly (fresh bacon) that you can wrap around the loin. (The British refer to this cut as a "long middle," which makes sense, as it comes from the middle of the pig and, well, it's long.)
I prefer the loin with the belly attached because it makes a neat porchetta. When you order the pork loin with the belly attached, ask the butcher to trim the belly fat down to just under a 1/2-inch-thick layer on the inside. Trimming the belly this way gives you the ideal balance of fat and lean. Also request a roast with the rind, or skin, attached. If the rind has already been removed, request a piece of pork rind large enough to wrap around the roast. (If the butcher shop has access to pork loin with the belly still attached, it should be able to get you a sheet of fresh pork rind as well.) Simply wrap this around the roast before you tie it in step 2 of the recipe.
Many meat markets, however, will not be able to provide you with a single pork loin-belly flap combo. In this case you'll need to buy a separate boneless loin (preferably center-cut) and a slab of fresh pork belly that closely corresponds in length so it will wrap neatly around the loin. It's impossible to give exact dimensions since every roast differs, but again, if you explain to the butcher what you're after, he or she should be able to help. The belly should be long enough to cover the loin from end to end, but it doesn't have to reach all the way around the circumference. For directions on wrapping the belly around the loin, go to step 1 in the recipe.