Porchetta: A Pork Roast That Sets the Gold Standard
Over the weekend, I headed up to Napa with my friend Jen, who runs the Eat Local Challenge. On our way out of town, we stopped at The Fatted Calf, a purveyor of some of the most amazing charcuterie and sustainable meat products one might ever hope to encounter. In their meat case this particular Saturday? A giant porchetta, ready for slicing and rubbed with a variety of herbs and deliciousness.
I could not resist. I bought a share of meat that, arguably, is beyond what I should pay for a week's worth of groceries, but I could tell it was going to be worth it. Lovingly tied up in a roll and slathered with herbs and garlic, it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. I asked them to slice off enough for me and my roommate for dinner and leftovers, and they made a generous cut and wrapped it for me.
But that was not enough porchetta for one day. There was more. Right there on the counter. Already cooked, and all beautiful and delicious. Jen and I bought about a quarter pound of it to snack on outside the store after we finished our purchases, and I'll have you know that it was one of the best snacks of my life.
On Monday, my roommate, Fatemeh of Gastronomie SF, who works from home, popped the roast in the oven before I left work, and later that night, we sat down to a dinner of incredibly delicious meat. The skin crackled. The fat oozed like butter. The meat, though we let it rise to a higher temperature than recommended, still was tender and succulent.
"I cannot believe I'm sitting here eating this," I said.
"Welcome to California," said my roommate.
Indeed, I've been here nearly two years now, and it is mostly appalling that I hadn't experienced this delicious treat before. (I won't make that mistake again, I promise.)
So what is porchetta in the first place? Let's turn to Yumsugar for the answer:
"Pronounced "por-ketta," porchetta is an Italian specialty of slow-roasted suckling pig. A young, milk-fed piglet is gutted, deboned, stuffed with a mixture of garlic, herbs, and seasonings, then roasted whole in a wood-burning oven."
"You might say porketta ... I say porchetta, but no matter how you slice it.. it's absolutely scrumptious!" writes YankeeSoaper of Cucina Panzano. Along with some awesome photographs of a roasted pork head, among other porchetta-related delights, YankeeSoaper shares her family recipe for this meaty treat.
"Now I realize most of us seldom have the opportunity to roast a whole pig over charcoal nor visit Panzano in Chianti ... but you can come pretty darn close right in your own kitchen. In our family, the herb mixture is always the subject of debate and you can add whatever you prefer, but most Italian cooks would agree, rosemary, garlic, fennel, peppercorns and sage are a must. I like to prepare my porchetta the day before I am going to roast it. I find it really intensifies the flavor so much more."
If you're a slow cooker aficionado, Kathy of A Good Appetite provides instructions on how to make a version of porchetta in that work-saving device. I must say, the recipe sounds delicious, but as a devotee of the slow cooker, I have a hard time believing this recipe yields something that is exactly like this amazing dish. Still, good things can happen when a slow cooker hangs out with a cut of pig, so I fully admit I could be calling this one incorrectly.
Alice Q. Foodie of that eponymous blog tried two different porchetta dishes during a recent visit to San Francisco, and breaks them down in her informative post. She points readers in the direction of Cesar Casella's recipe, should they want to make it at home.
Tammy of Food on the Food indeed tried to make porchetta at home, with good results.
"The porchetta came out very good. Tender and tasty, but in the future I know how to make it better. More time sitting in the fridge with the rub equals more of that flavor that makes a porchetta a porchetta and not just any old pork roast. It really needs that time. A little old-fashioned courting between the herbs and the meat. Some chaperoned flirting. A little uncertainty before the culinary equivalent of a cold shower. You just have to wait. None of this rushing into anything on the first date stuff. This is old-school Italian we're talking about."
Hopefully this helps you on your way to making an incredible porchetta at home. But if you happen to do what I did, and cheat by finding an incredible vendor who is willing to set you up with an amazing, herby, fabulous cut of meat, go for it. Even if it's a regular Monday night, porchetta will make everything on your plate feel a little more special.
Photo credit for all images: Genie Gratto, © 2010 All Rights Reserved