How to Make Porchetta

How to Make Porchetta

In Time Enough for Love, which is a wonderfully strange science fiction tale, Robert Heinlein describes a competent man:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

I’m going to do my best to take on all of these, but for now one will do. And if you’re going to butcher a hog there’s no better way to do it than to turn it into porchetta, the Italian tradition of roasting a whole hog on a spit.

To learn how, you’re going to take a trip with me to Costano, Italy which is about five minutes from where I was born. Costano is known throughout Italy as one of the most famous towns in Italy for porchetta. As Murano is to glass, Costano is to porchetta.

Now, if you want to make porchetta at home but you’re not ready to go whole hog, here’s what you should do.

Ask your butcher for a pork belly, skin on, that’s about 5-6 pounds (you’ll want leftovers) and a tenderloin that’s roughly the same length as the pork belly is wide. Ask for some fresh liver as well.

Make up a mix of seasoning that is 24 parts salt, 2 parts pepper, and 1 part ground fennel. If you can get some sweet fresh wild fennel, use it!

Preheat your oven to 500ºF. Lay the belly skin side down, and season it generously with the spice mix. Add fresh sliced liver if you got it. Place the tenderloin in a third of the belly, and then roll it all up. You should have a tenderloin in the center and about two layers of belly at the thickest point.

Using kitchen twine, tie the roll of pork tightly so that it holds its structure throughout the cooking. When you’re finished, use a sharp knife to poke a few holes through the skin all around, one every few inches or so.

Roast the porchetta roll for 30 minutes before reducing the temperature to 300ºF. How long it takes to cook depends on thickness, not weight, but for a small home roast of this size you can expect about 2 more hours. Ideally, use a meat thermometer to make sure it’s 160º in the center. As the pros say, the pork is done when it’s done.

Let it rest and cool, slice, and serve with a sprinkle of salt.


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