In the US roast pork has several names: roasted pork, slow roasted pork, pulled pork, Italian pork roast, Roman Style pork roast, the list goes on. In Italy, especially central Italy around Rome, roast pork has one name, Porchetta, [por’ ketta]. According to Wikipedia, Porchetta , the Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali has designated Porchetta to be a “traditional agricultural-alimentary product” of Italy.
Traditionally, Porchetta is a major production to make. A whole pig is gutted, deboned, massaged with garlic, lemon, wild herbs like fennel, and sometimes other meats. Then it is reshaped and cooked on a spit over an open fire. It is a meal that is served for a celebration, as well as a street food sold out of vans. Currently, you can find white vans all over Italy, but especially Rome, selling Porchetta sandwiches from the van. A special occasion meal turned Italian street food for the world to love.
I have yet to enjoy a Porchetta sandwich in Italy, but I am confident someday I will. Until that time, I can make a scaled down adaptation of Porchetta in my home. You don’t need to break down a whole pig, and you don’t need a fire pit with a rotisserie to enjoy this meal. Thanks to the fortitude of Italian immigrants and enterprising chefs, like Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, us homebodies can create this Italian Roast Pork without it being a major production.
Following a recipe in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, I started making my roasted pork with a pork shoulder. I had the butcher butterfly it to easily spread the herbs throughout the pork, then refrigerated the pork to marinate overnight. I baked it in the oven the next day with root vegetables. The final result was a scaled-down Porchetta, a succulent roast pork with golden crispy skin and filled with herbs and lemon.
Judy Rodgers does not butterfly her pork shoulder. Instead, she creates pockets throughout the pork shoulder to stuff with the herbs. I thought it would be easier to spread the seasoning all over the meat with it open in one big flat piece. I also wanted to have extra herbs to rub over the top layer of fat. Did I mention the golden crispy skin? The kind you want to pick at when no one is looking. Getting extra crispy and golden skin is one of your goals creating this roast pork.
Keys to Success: Roast Pork with Lemon and Herbs
There are some key elements to keep in mind. First, Porchetta is all about the dark crispy skin. It is difficult to find pork shoulder that has not had the fat trimmed off. If you have a good butcher, then you can get quality pork with a thick layer of fat on top. Yet, if you are like me and dependent on the grocery store to supply your meat, you can still create succulent roast, but lacking some of the cracklings. Once the pork roast is tied, rub olive oil and any extra herbs over the top.
If you have a built-in rotisserie in your grill or oven, you are a lucky person. This recipe for roast pork shoulder is perfect for roasting on a revolving spit. The results will be closer to the traditional Porchetta, and you will get dark crispy skin all around your roast.
Several recipes for Porchetta have you cook the pork to an internal temperature of 180˚F/ 82˚C. However, this recommendation comes from chefs who are sourcing high-end quality pork. It is not the pork commonly available, and affordable, to the average person. Pork roast, cooked to 180˚F is a well done piece of pork. If you cook with pork sourced from a small farm that allows the pigs to graze and bred for flavor, therefore has more fat, the high internal temperature should not dry out the pork. In my opinion, most grocery stores do not sell pork containing the same amount of quality fat. If cooked too long the roast will dry out. The best practice roasting standard pork, is to finish baking when the internal temperature reaches 160˚F -165˚F/ 74˚C.
Finally, traditional Porchetta is stuffed with wild herbs. If you have fennel pollen, or know where to get some, I highly recommend substituting the fennel seed with fennel pollen. You will not need as much fennel pollen, because it is more concentrated in flavor. It is not too overbearing because there is more of a floral flavor in the pollen, than an anise one. I love to use fennel pollen in roasts. It is also great sprinkled over goat cheese. If you do buy fennel pollen, it will be worth it as there are plenty of ways to use it up.
One does not have to go to Italy to enjoy Porchetta. You can make it right in your own home. If you do, thank your nation’s Italian heritage. They brought their traditional foods with them to have and share for their new life in a foreign country, and we have all benefited from their journey.
Enjoy Porchetta in New York City.
Porchetta: Italian Roast Pork
- One 3-4 lb Boneless Pork Shoulder butterflied
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- Zest from 1 ½ lemons
- 18 leaves of fresh sage crushed and minced
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary minced
- 3 tsp fennel seeds gently crushed
- 1 ½ Tbs capers rinsed and patted dry
- Fresh ground pepper
- 1-2 lbs of assorted vegetables cut into large chunks for roasting (onions, carrots, parsnips, fennel, turnips, potatoes, etc...)
- Olive oil
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 - 3 Tbs Dry Vermouth or dry white wine
Open the butterflied pork shoulder with the top fat layer on the bottom and cut side up, and lie flat on a work surface. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt evenly over the whole section. If your pork shoulder is smaller than 3.5 pounds, use less salt. Let it rest on the counter while you prepare the herb mixture.
In a small bowl, combine the minced garlic, lemon zest, minced sage, mince rosemary, fennel seeds, and rinsed capers. Stir and crush the herbs until evenly combined. Sprinkle the herb mixture evenly over the opened pork shoulder, reserving some for the top. Roll up the pork to resemble its natural shape, with the fat side up. Secure the pork with kitchen string by tying it in 4 or 5 sections around the width at one inch intervals. Make one more loop around the length of the pork, looping the string around a couple of the tied sections so the string will not slip off. Tie the ends and secure. Trim any loose string. Sprinkle the outer surface of the pork with the remaining herb mixture and ground pepper.
Put the pork in a dish, like a Pyrex baking dish, then loosely cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.
Pre-heat the oven to 350˚F / 175˚C / Gas Mark 4
Cut the vegetables into large bite size pieces or wedges. Place the vegetables in a medium bowl. Lightly coat them with olive oil and season with Kosher salt. Toss the vegetables to evenly mix.
Place the pork roast in a 12 inch - 14 inch oven proof skillet, or medium roasting pan. Add the vegetables around the pork. Put the pan with the pork in the oven and roast until done. After 45 minutes if you notice the roast is not browning turn the heat up to 375˚F /190˚C / Gas Mark 5 until the roast starts to brown. Then turn the heat back down to 350˚F.
After one hour of cooking, turn the vegetables around in the pan to get well coated with the rendered fat from the roast. Check the internal temperature of the pork. This will help you gauge how much longer you will need to bake the pork. Put it back in the oven. At the hour and a half mark, add ½ cup of stock to the pan. If you believe the vegetables are done, remove them before you add the stock. Add any extra herbs like rosemary or sage to the liquid. Bake until the roast is done, with the internal temperature of 160F -165˚F / 74˚C. The pork will be golden brown with crispy skin.
Make the pan sauce
Separate and remove the fat from the remaining pan juices. Add about 3 tablespoons of dry Vermouth and the remaining 1/2 cup stock. Set the skillet on a burner and turn the heat to medium. Scrape the bottom and sides of the pan with a wooden spatula or spoon to dissolve all the caramelized bits. Skim off as much fat from the liquid as the sauce simmers. Carefully add any juice that has accumulated on the carving board from the pork roast to the pan juices. Taste and correct the seasoning and put in a spotted serving dish. The sauce could take around 5 - 10 minutes to make.
Remove the string that is tied around the length of the roast and the first string located closest to your carving end. Slice the pork into slices no thicker than ½ inch. Remove the strings as you carve.
Serve with the roasted vegetables and pan sauce.
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