Porchetta and “The Sandwich”
Porchetta in Italy is a true religion, and the most represented street food in the whole Italian Peninsula. History wants this roast to be born in Ariccia, a little town just out of Rome… and if you ask me its Wikipedia page should have a whole paragraph dedicated to this traditional delicacy that has finally and rightfully gone global!
Growing up in Italy I remember encountering Porchetta vendors on any given south-bound road trip I would take with my family. They would have their little truck parked by the curb, a few plastic chairs and tables would be set up at a fairly safe distance from car traffic, and you could smell their roasts within a mile radius… a true torture for a child traveling with a Kosher Jewish father!
He would simply drive by, my mouth would drool, my head would turn all the way around while the car would not slow down a single mile and all those truck disappeared in the distance, “One day…” I used to tell myself, “One day I will be the one driving, and I WILL STOP!”.
Luckily for me I did not have to wait over a decade to finally dig my fangs in a super-juicy piece of Porchetta. As a matter of fact, the other very common spot where to find a whole pork slowly rolling on a rotisserie in Italy is the Soccer Stadium, either on a Sunday before a game, or any time a big concert or a performance would take place: think of Porchetta Sandwich as the Italian equivalent of the Hot Dog or the Burger that Americans would consume in a parking lot while listening to the game on the radio. I never attended a Soccer match, not a fan at all, but I do remember my first Panino: it was The Cult concert, I was with two high-school class mates, we had sandwiches before and after rocking our night out! My friends could not believe that I was more impressed by that fantastic piece of meat in a bun, than actually receiving a high-five from Ian Astbury while he was getting off the stage!
Now that I have earned my culinary independence I cook Porchetta at home on a regular basis, both for family dinners and for bigger events as well, like a birthday or a screening party with friends. However, since I never have the need (or the space) to cook a whole animal in my kitchen I have developed my recipe so it can be used to produce a fantastic family roast and still yield a fair amount of leftovers that can be enjoyed in a sandwich the day after. So here you are getting two recipes at the same time: the regular roast that can be featured as an entree with some roasted potatoes and sautéed greens as a side dish, and a Tuscan Porchetta Panino that will cure your hangover the day after.
The first time I bought a Pork Butt (shoulder) at my local butcher here in LA I requested it with a bone, so I could practice some carving as well while prepping the meat. The piece of meat I got was around 8 lbs, and it had on its full fat and skin, which I believe to be the crucial element to this recipe for various reasons; the fat is responsible for most of the juices, the crispy skin is something you should not live without, and the overall look of the dish fades away proportionally to the amount of fat that gets trimmed out. In fact, when I finally decided that in the economy of time I should buy a piece of meat that was previously de-boned, I discovered that along with the bone all the skin and at least 80% of the fat was removed…. I almost cried. I asked the butcher why my pork was prepared that way, his answer was that “people like leaner meat!”. I responded that people looking for lean meat should eat poultry, possibly white meat, and then stressed that eating poultry is not “Eating Meat” the way I intend it. I agree with Mario Batali, who says that he “would only feed chicken breasts to the dog”!
Now, anytime I purchase a de-boned pork butt, I also buy a piece of pork belly as wide as my roast is, and just strap it on top of it with some twine, like a fat-parachute! This has allowed me to produce the most fantastic sauce you can imagine, rich but not heavy, and in a quantity large enough for everybody to dig their bread into the pan at the end of the dinner.
Yields: 12 sandwiches / Prep Time: 25 minutes / Cooking Time: 4 ½ hours
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Add sage, rosemary, garlic, fennel seeds, olive oil, and salt and pepper to a mortar and pestle. Mash until a paste forms.
Use a sharp knife to butterfly the pork. Follow the seams to open it up. Rub the meat with the paste into the inside cut. Drizzle the top with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roll and tie the pork, using kitchen twine, to make a compact shape. Add the head of garlic and the potatoes (cut side down) to the roasting pan. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and place the pork on top, fat side up.
Place in the oven and roast for 5 hours, until the skin is brown and the meat is extremely tender. Use a rosemary sprig to brush the meat with some additional olive oil occasionally while it cooks (every 40 minutes or so). Also add the white wine as color start appearing on the skin. Do not use all of it at once, but rather use it to keep the skin moist and to replenish the juices in the pan.
Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes before slicing. Remove butcher’s twine before slicing into ½ inch pieces. Remove garlic from the pan to cool.
Heat grill to medium high heat. Drizzle peppers with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. Grill until tender, flipping half way through, about 4 minutes per side.
Use the juice from the bottom of the pan to brush the bread. Grill bread until golden brown. Top the bread with sliced pork, grilled peppers, arugula, and roasted garlic, if desired. Slice into desired servings.
COOKS NOTE: The garlic will be soft after the slow roasting. Use it to spread on your bread. The potatoes are a nice cooks treat- eat them as a snack while you wait for your pork to rest.