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A few weeks back, I was unwinding from a long day at work.  As usual, I go out to sit on my front porch to watch “other” people walk, run and ride their bikes!  Instead of joining them,  I prefer to wave and tell them to “have a nice day”!  I began to flip through my steadily growing stack of food magazines thinking about…what else… cooking! The 2011 September Issue of Bon Appetit burned my hand when I picked it up… I saw it was “The Restaurant Issue 2011”.  Perfect, that is what I was looking forward to reading! Sounds like a nice, relaxing, fun read? Started out that way, until I turned to the page that highlighted DISH OF THE YEAR..PORCHETTA. It was the most beautiful picture that I have ever seen…Did I know what it was? No! Looked like a beautiful stuffed pork roast to me, until I read on. It was quoted as saying, “From the food halls of Italy to the starred joints of Manhattan, chefs have elevated porchetta to its rightful place as the king of pork roasts”.   How could I have possibly not known about this???  Some stunningly beautiful pork dish that was so popular it became “DISH OF THE YEAR”?!

Mortified, enthralled and totally engaged,  I dug my iPhone out of my (tight) pocket and googled…searching for definitions…Porchetta (pronounced “porketta”. (Thank God that I now know how to at least say it!) is a savory, fatty, and moist boneless pork roast of Italian culinary tradition. Usually a porchetta is a pork loin seasoned with garlic, rosemary, fennel, citrus and other herbs, then (get this) wrapped in a pork belly. There it was…”pork belly”…that is the difference between a regular, wonderful stuffed pork roast and a porchetta!  Just to say, I have eaten small pieces of pork belly in restaurants, seen it on The Food Network and have read a lot about pork belly, but have I ever seen it in the local markets? Again, a big no! But now I am consumed with the idea of making a porchetta.

I call my son (who is my food and cooking buddy…you will hear more about our adventures together, later!) to find out what he knows about this “porchetta” thing. He doesn’t know much about it, but he sure wants to cook pork belly! So, here we go…in search of a big slab of pork to wrap a pork loin in. We both get on the phone and start calling local markets. They all have pieces of pork belly, but not a large slab. We look at each other (a lightbulb moment) and at the same time say, “slaughter-house”! Yes, they would have a large piece of pork belly. I might mention, that I have never seen a pork belly cut off of a pig and raw. I have cousins that have raised, shown and butchered hogs, but I have never seen the actual whole pork belly. Now, we just have to have it… Seems like the harder something is to get, the more you want it. One call to Prejean’s Wholesale Meats in Carencro and they say, “Yes, we have whole pork bellies…BY THE CASE…60 POUND CASES”! Bingo. Of course, we contemplate for a moment (only a moment),  sure we could deal with 60 pounds of pork belly… make a porchetta, my son was making homemade Ramen (a whole other post) and I could freeze some. Not a big deal, right? Ha! As soon as we hung up the phone, he ran out the door, as if they were giving the stuff away!

About 45 minutes later he walked in with a twinkle in his eye, carrying this big, heavy sealed box, so very delighted with himself.  Sure looked like more than 60 pounds!  As he put the box down on the table, we were like two children on Christmas Morning opening up “the big gift”. I can tell you, that I have never seen so much pork fat in my life! And it was every ounce of that 60 pounds that they said it would be. Each piece that I unfolded was huge and heavy, but beautiful. We had the missing link to making a beautiful porchetta (that I am now realizing why it is so special!). I sharpened my knife and started cutting the piece that I would use that day.  Not an easy chore, I can assure you!  That slab had to be at least 3 feet long by 2 feet wide! And there were so many of those big, heavy, stiff slabs…Some moments I felt like I was wrestling the pig that was missing that belly!   It was like that box was a bottomless pit! But I plowed through it.  I cut a piece for my son to roast for his Ramen. I cut other pieces to freeze for “future porchetta”, “future ramen”, seasoning, pork buns, soups, stock…what in the world do we have here??? Looks to me like a lot of good food, laughs and cooking in store for my family and friends. At least 60 pounds worth!

I discovered that making porchetta takes a lot of planning, days before you want to cook it. Keep in mind that it needs to sit in the refrigerator for 1-2 days after assembling it and before cooking it. You also need a total amount of about 6 hours from when you take it out of the fridge before slicing it. So cook it on a weekend, holiday or special occasion when you have several days to devote to it.

Not for the faint of heart,  but well worth it! Just make sure that you have the beverage of choice on hand because it will be a long, fun day…make sure of that…it has to be fun!!! But, if cooking is your passion and you love  to spend lots of time on wonderful food, then try it…. I served 5 adults and 2 children with a little left over.  NOW THIS IS FOOD THAT WORKS!

2011 Dish of the Year by Bon Apetit Magazine – Porchetta

1 5-6 lb piece of fresh pork belly, skin on
1 (trimmed) 2-3 lb boneless, center-cut pork loin
3 Tbsp. fennel seeds
2 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp. mined fresh sage
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
3 garlic cloves, minced
kosher salt
1/2 orange, seeded, thinly sliced

Put pork belly skin side down, arrange loin in center. Roll pork belly around loin so that the short ends of the belly meat. If any of the belly or loin overhangs, trim the meat. Unroll, set loin aside.

Toast fennel seeds and red pepper flakes in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Put spices into a bowl. Let cool. Finely grind spices in a spice mill (or finely chop) and transfer to a small bowl, along with the sage, rosemary, and garlic; set fennel mixture aside.

Set pork belly, skin side down, and using a knife, score the belly flesh in a checkerboard pattern, about 1/3 inch deep so it will cook evenly.

Flip belly skin side up. Using a paring knife, poke dozens of holes all over belly. Just keep poking lots of holes.

Using the jagged edge of a meat mallet, pound skin all over for about 3 minutes to tenderize, which will help to make the skin crispy when roasted.

Turn belly and generously salt both it and the loin; rub both with fennel mixture. Arrange loin down the middle of belly; Top with the orange slices.

Roll belly around loin; Tie crosswise with kitchen twine at 1/2 inch intervals; Transfer Roast to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet.

refrigerate roast, uncovered for 1-2 days to allow skin to air dry; pat occasionally with paper towels.

Let porchetta sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Season porchetta with salt. Roast on rack in baking sheet, turning once, for 40 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue roasting, rotating pan and turning porchetta occasionally, until an instant read thermometer inserted into center of meat registers 145 degrees. Approximately 1 1/2 – 2 hours more. If skin is not yet deep brown and crisp, increase heat to 500 degrees and roast for 10 more minutes. Let rest for 30 minutes. Using a serrated knife, slice into 1/2 ” rounds.

This takes an already wonderful piece of pork loin to a new level….Imagine biting into a moist, tender, flavorful piece of tender pork loin (seasoned to remind you of fabulous Italian Sausage with a hint of citrus) and getting a bonus of crunchy, crispy pork skin!  Just imagine…

Enjoy! If you are lucky enough to have leftovers you can make porchetta sandwiches the next day…Just warm a few thin slices, add your favorite cheese, mayo, mustard, arugula and WOW! What a treat!  On second thought,  maybe you should ensure yourself that you will have leftovers by tucking some away before its all gone!  You  might as well be eating it, because your whole house will smell like this porchetta for days!  I wish I could be with everyone to walk you through this, I had so much fun with the whole process.  My kids still call me and tease me about the 60 pounds of pork belly!  But who will be laughing when Moma is cooking! They wouldn’t dare!!!