For our second attempt at a nice Christmas dinner (this time with my dad), I attempted to duplicate the Marchegiana porchettas that Nonni has served for holidays over the years. Basically, a porchetta (pronounced por-ketta) is an Italian pork roast seasoned with garlic and fennel seeds. For as long as I can remember, Nonni has bought them from her local butcher already spiced and bound, so I didn’t have a particular family recipe in mind, just a general taste. The Zuni Café Cookbook had a recipe that resonated, so I used that as my guide.
I took a 3.5 lb. Codman Farm pork shoulder and began by removing the bone. This is not as easy as it sounds, but you can get away with a partial hack job here since you just roll the meat back up again anyway. I say “partial” because you really want the meat to remain in one piece. However, if you get sloppy and end up with 14 pieces, just use extra string. Better yet, have your butcher do it for you. Next, I continued to open up the cut by separating as many of the natural muscle seams as possible with my trusty boning knife, again, trying not to cut entirely through anywhere. The idea is to expose as much surface area as possible to the herb rub.
The particular rub I made was a combination of salt, pepper, minced garlic, sage, rosemary, fennel seeds, capers, and lemon zest. I’m pretty sure neither capers nor lemon zest figure into the New Haven-style porchettas that Nonni gets, but I didn’t think they would hurt. I rubbed this paste on the inside of the meat, then rolled it back up, tied it, and rubbed the remaining mixture on the outside. Then I let it sit in the fridge for hours. Really, it should sit for days. The flavor just keeps getting better and better over time (you know, up until a point). But, alas, I did not have days, I had merely hours. I roasted that sucker in a 350°F oven for about 2½ hours, or until it reached in internal temperature of 170°F. Then, I took it out, let it rest, sliced it up, and made a quick pan sauce, which involved deglazing with stock and vermouth following an extremely half-assed skimming of the fat.
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.
Finally, roasting sliced fennel and onions alongside the pork is definitely the way to go. Fennel-haters, seriously, the flavor mellows so much this way. I’m convinced that 50% of people who hate fennel raw would like it cooked, either roasted in rendered pork fat as mentioned or braised in wine and sprinkled with cheese like this.
And there it is, the first of many pork posts to come in 2009. I guarantee it. But I wonder what else this brand new year has up its sleeve? Hmmmm. I’m just a little bit afraid to find out!