Porchetta

True porchetta may just be the holy grail of all pork-loving foodies (a term which is probably redundant), and for years, I’ve dreamed of making it at home. Traditionally, porchetta refers to a gutted and boned whole pig that’s boldly seasoned with wild fennel, herbs and garlic, tied up, and spit-roasted over an open fire. In Italy, porchetta is festival food, but you can also find porchetta sandwiches (slices of this insanely delicious pork tucked into crusty rolls) sold by street vendors and market stalls.

Here, the best porchetta I’ve ever tasted comes from Sara Jenkins’s amazing New York City restaurant/lunch counter called, quite appropriately, Porchettta. Up until my pilgrimage to Porchetta last fall, I had always imagined the homemade porchetta of my dreams would involve a whole pig and an outdoor fire, but that’s not the way Jenkins does it. Waiting in line for my sandwich at this always-busy little place, I watched the woman behind the counter slice meat from a single roast, not a whole pig. But it was a pork roast like none I’d ever seen. There was a large eye of juicy meat in the center, surrounded by layers of melting fat, and all encased in a crackling skin. Brilliant!

Back at home, I researched and found a New York magazine article explaining the method. “She [Jenkins] uses boned-out pork loins from contented, free-rooting Hampshire hogs, wraps them in pork bellies, and seasons them with a heady paste of wild-fennel pollen, thyme, sage, rosemary, garlic, and an aggressive dose of salt and pepper. These substantial specimens are tied up with string and oven-roasted until the meat is remarkably tender and the skin has turned to something like the color and consistency of a delicate peanut brittle.” I also found a similar recipe in Bruce Aidells’s wonderful Complete Book of Pork (he calls his David’s Porchetta: Belly-Wrapped Pork Loin).

For my porchetta, I decided I didn’t want to buy a separate belly and pork loin, but I wanted to use a loin that was butchered in such a way that the belly flap remained in tact. Without going into a full exposition on pork butchery here, picture that the loin comes from the back of the piggy – it’s that big thick muscle running along either side of the spine – and the belly comes from the other side. So if the butcher bones out the loin without separating the belly flap from the back top loin, you’ll have a pork loin with a long flap of streaky belly (fresh bacon) that you can warp around. (I’ve heard that the British refer to this cut as a “long middle”, which makes certain sense as it comes from the middle of the pig, and, well, it’s long.)

Chances are you won’t find this cut of pork at a standard supermarket. I’m lucky enough to know Cole Ward, the butcher at Sweet Clover Market in Essex, Vermont. I explained to Cole what I was looking for, and just like that, he cut it for me (from a pig raised on North Hollow Farm in Rochester, Vermont). Two days before roasting, I unrolled the roast, rubbed it with ground fennel seed, garlic, rosemary, sage, and plenty of salt and pepper, and rolled it back up. To roast, I cranked the oven up to 475 for the first 25 minutes to get the skin crackling, and then turned it down to 325 so the meat would gently cook, bathed in all that luscious fat, for a full 3 hours. Then, as the meat rested (that’s what it’s doing in the photo), I tossed some potatoes in the all the glorious drippings and returned them to the oven to roast up.

A dream realized

A dream realized

My porchetta

My porchetta

In the end, my porchetta was everything I’d ever dreamed it would be – and best of all, it won’t be a once in a lifetime experience. I will be making this again – and when I do, I’ll write up a recipe for it. I promise.

16 Responses to Porchetta

  • oh my gosh – i’m drooling. There is more lamb and beef here than pork — and the pig farming industry is currently embattled here, making front page headlines in a country that treats most of its farm animals quite well. But you have made me determined to find a source for these cuts – experience tells me it will have to be the two-piece version – and try this out. thanks for the idea Molly – hope all is going well. melissa

  • Linh says:

    This looks and sounds amazing! Any chance the recipe coming soon? I’d like to make this for my roommates. I think I could figure it out from your description above but a complete recipe wouldn’t hurt. Thanks!

  • Hi Molly,

    I just got off the phone with Cole and your name came up. He has moved to a new market in Morristown Corners called Green Top Market which is on Stage Coach Road. We raise pastured pigs. My wife, our son and I have been apprenticing with Cole to learn the craft of butchering. He is wonderful to work with.

    Cheers,

    Walter Jeffries
    Sugar Mountain Farm
    West Topsham, VT

  • Mike says:

    Hi. This is just in time for me. My wife and I promised a group of students that we would try to make porchetta for them this fall, and we have been experimenting. I have a roast in the oven right now, more or less along the lines you suggest. But I have some questions: Is the skin important, or will a layer of fat suffice? Is the fennel essential? Our favorite porchetta place is near the RR station in Rome (the porchetta itself comes from Ariccia), and the owner told us that all that is used is rosemary and garlic, salt and pepper. And do you have a suggestion about amounts of garlic and rosemary to a pound of meat? Thanks (and my students will thank you too!).

  • Molly says:

    Mike –
    The skin is only important if you want decadently delicious bits of crunchy pork skin to nibble on. You can certainly make porchetta without the skin as long as there’s a generous layer of fat to baste the meat as it roasts.
    You can also omit the fennel seed if you don’t care for it. I know of recipes that use wild fennel pollen. Some also include sage, bay leaf and even lemon zest. It’s up to you.
    As for how much garlic and rosemary to use, it’s hard to be exact. I would start with about 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon per pound of each and see how that works – so a 6 pound roast would get about 2 teaspoons of each.

    I hope this helps.

  • curt mull says:

    While in Padua Italy this fall we spent some time in a wine bar and ate the best porchetta ever. I spoke with the owner and he told me they slow roast this on a spit at 300 degrees for about 2 to 3 hours turning it constantly I would like to try this but haven’t seen any recipe using this technique. any help out there?

  • Molly says:

    You can find an excellent explanation of spit-roasting (and other fire-place roasting techniques) in “The Magic of Fire” by William Rubel (Ten Speed Press, 2002). Rubel doesn’t address porchetta specifically, but you could certainly adapt the technique using the classic porchetta seasonings: garlic, rosemary, fennel, etc. The recipe in Bruce Aidells’s “Complete Book of Pork” (Harper Collins, 2004) is a good place to start for seasoning. Have fun!

  • MC says:

    My Venetian friend, Cecilia, makes a mean porchetta and your post brought back many many happy shared memories of cooking and eating with her and her family. I have her recipe which I made many times over the years and now I can dream about porchetta being made in the beautiful State of Vermont where anything seems possible, food-wise, except a long growing season…

  • Cole Ward says:

    Hi Molly, Larry,
    You’re right – I left Green Top and am now free-lancing: giving culinary butchering courses and cutting meat for individual clients. I’ve also just launched a DVD set called The Gourmet Butcher, with my friend Chef Courtney Contos, which is basically my complete beef, lamb and pork butchering course, with extras like recipes, etc. If you want to get hold of me, Larry, give me a call at 802 881 1468, or visit my website http://www.thegourmetbutcher.com.

    Love to hear from you!
    Cole

  • To follow up on Cole, I just got his DVD. It’s awesome! Our family spent 18 months apprenticing with Cole Ward in preparation for opening our own on-farm butcher shop. He’s a great teacher and knows is way all around the carcass after 45 years of doing this. I always thought someone should make a video series of his teaching and cutting and am glad it finally happened. I got the DVD this week and it’s very well done. See:
    http://SugarMtnFarm.com/blog/2011/03/cole-ward-dvd.html
    for my review and more info about the whole thing.

    Cheers

    -Walter
    Sugar Mountain Farm
    Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
    in the mountains of Vermont
    Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
    http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
    http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa

  • claudia says:

    do you have the recipe for this? i’d really like to take a look at it please… i need to make this next weekend for a crowd. i’ve done it before using a jamie oliver recipe that’s quite good. thanks in advance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *