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Porchetta, pork roast stuffed with rosemary, sage, fennel and lots of garlic, is the glorious Italian pig on a spit. I don’t go the whole hog but prepare it with pork collar, the easiest cut to handle.
Porchetta is usually shockingly mispronounced, like bruschetta: it isn’t porch, it’s pork, all right? It means ‘little pig’ and is the equivalent of English hog roast and Greek lamb roast – with the small difference of the latter being lamb.
It’s not just mispronounced outside Italy - it’s also often overstuffed. I’ve seen recipes involving breadcrumbs or even bacon - pig stuffed with pig or a go at reconstruction? For some reason, the English imagine it’s some kind of elaborate, fancy roast dish while in reality it’s pig. Half a pig. On a spit.
Thus, also the discussion which pork cut makes the best porchetta is as moot as it’s academic: all of it. So, if you choose to cook at home a miniaturised porchetta - that will be porchettina perhaps? - it doesn’t matter which cut you go for as they are all there in the original. But I personally prefer the fattier cuts – if presented with the whole hog (ha!), I’d go towards the belly and the neck (also, and technically more correct, known as collar) leaving the loin to those who like it lean and dry.
And as I said above, there’s usually too much going on inside. The classic as classics tend to be is simple: herbs, whichever you prefer, often as not rosemary and sage plus lots of garlic; that’s where Samin Nosrat and I agree completely. The seasoning however looks gorgeous if it’s swirled within the roast, and that’s where your butcher’s or your own butchering skills come into action.
It really isn’t hard as long as your knife is sharp: imagine the herby swirl in the end result and try cutting into the meat along that spiral line. Pork collar is handy because where the bone is removed, it’s the start of the flappy bit and you can continue the incision from there. See the video below.
It isn’t and shouldn’t be meltingly tender like pulled pork: it is, remember, usually served cold as charcuterie or in sandwiches so the meat must keep its shape. And, of course, to look pretty!
porchettaServings: 4-6Time: 2 hours 30 minutes plus chilling overnight
- 1 ½ kg (3 pounds) boneless, skinless pork shoulder or collar, butterflied
- 4-5 cloves garlic
- 2 tsp fennel seed
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 4-5 sprigs of rosemary
- 4-5 sprigs sage
- 3-4 sprigs tarragon
- fennel fronds (optional)
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- 3 tbsp. fine sea salt
How to butterfly the pork:
1. Peel the garlic and smash or press it into a small bowl. Crush the fennel seeds and peppercorns in a pestle and mortar and add to the garlic. Strip the leaves off most rosemary, sage and tarragon leaving a sprig of each for the roasting. Chop the leaves and fennel fronds very finely and add to the bowl with the nutmeg; stir to mix.
2. Score the outside fat in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife. Rub with half the salt. Flip over the meat and lay it open like a book, fat-side down. Similarly score the inside surface of the meat and rub with the remaining salt. Spread the herb mix over the meat and press in evenly. Roll up the meat tightly and tie with kitchen string. Refrigerate overnight.
3. The next day remove the porchetta from the fridge early enough to let it come to room temperature before cooking.
4. Preheat the oven to 220C (no fan, if possible)/425F/gas 7. Place a rack over a deep roasting tray, place the remaining herbs and a cup of water in the tray. Pat the porchetta dry with kitchen towels, wrap it in foil and place on the rack. Transfer to the oven, bottom shelf, and roast for 45 minutes. Top up the liquid in the tray as it cooks off.
5. After the 45 minutes carefully remove the porchetta from the oven, unwrap and sit back on the rack. Turn the oven down to 200C (fan assisted this time, if available)/400F/gas 4. Roast for another 1 ¼ - 1 ½ hour until the outside fat is crisp and the internal temperature is 80C/180F. The timing, excluding the initial 45 minutes, should be 1 hour per kilogram of meat.
6. Leave porchetta to rest for at least 20 minutes or until completely cooled down if serving as cold meats. Cut off the strings and slice thinly with a sharp carving knife.