What have I been doing since December?  A fine question.  The depressingly boring answer is that I've been eating quick and healthy meals of quinoa, farro, and whole wheat grains (and then guiltily binging on take-out burgers on the weekends).  Some people are uniquely blessed in their ability to take sexy pictures of grains.  Not I.

So welcome me back with my unapologetically obscene re-entry into blogging - a crispy, crunchy, herb-perfumed, juicy porchetta.  This was our Valentine's Day meal, which fit nicely into our annual tradition of cooking an ambitiously fatty meal as a demonstration of our love.

We were home in New Jersey a couple of weekends ago, and when Rob's mother asked if there was anything we needed at Fairway, I thought of the porchetta recipe I had lusted over for weeks, and blurted out, "A pork belly?"  She brought home a 6-pound slab of gorgeous fat-streaked belly, which I cut in half for the porchetta (the other half sitting tight in my freezer for some lucky dinner party invitees in the future). 

On another note, I've had more than one argument lately about the difference between pork belly and bacon.  Pork belly is a cut of meat; bacon is pork belly that has been cured and smoked.  They are not one and the same.  People should know better than to get into a debate with me about pork and expect to win. 

The inside of the belly is scored, and then seasoned aggressively with salt and a heady paste of toasted spices, garlic, and herbs.  Feel free to adjust flavors; I might try some grated orange zest next time.  

After tying it up neatly, it was wrapped in plastic wrap and sat in the fridge overnight.  It was hard to say goodbye.  

It cooked in a 300 degree oven for close to five hours.  Being the nurturing mother I am, I bathed it in its own fat every half an hour on the dot.  I even dragged a little stool over to the oven so I could watch it while reading my homework.  

After a quick skin-blistering fifteen minutes in a 500 degree oven and another painful fifteen minutes of resting, it's time to slice.  

I kept the sides simple - some garlicky mustard greens with vinegar, and potatoes roasted in pork fat are all you need.  It was worth every minute of  kneeling on the ground and staring into the oven.

porchetta recipe from Serious Eats
serves 12-15 (I halved the recipe, and it yielded seriously amazing leftovers)

1 whole boneless, rind-on pork belly, about 12 to 15 pounds
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
3 tablespoons whole fennel seed
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary, sage, or thyme leaves
12 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane grater
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Toast the fennel seeds and black peppercorns in a small skillet over medium-high heat until aromatic, about 2 minutes.  Transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder grind until roughly ground.  Add the microplaned garlic and the chopped herbs; mix to combine into a paste.

With the skin face down on a cutting board, take a sharp knife and score the flesh in diagonal lines.  Turn the knife 90 degrees and repeat, creating a diamond pattern in the flesh. 

Season the flesh liberally with salt and rub the spice mixture all over the flesh, pushing it into the crevices.  

Roll up the belly into a tight log and place seam-side down at the top part of your cutting board. Cut 10 - 12 pieces of kitchen twine long enough to go around the pork and lay them vertically on the cutting board, about 1-inch apart.  Lay the pork seam-side down across the twine, and tie them tightly, starting from the outermost strings and ending with the center.  Cut off any excess string at the top.  

Coat the skin with a liberal amount of salt and the 2 teaspoons of baking powder.  Wrap the belly tightly in plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge for at least a couple of hours (preferably overnight).

Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack and set the belly on top.  Roast for around 4-5 hours, or until a knife inserted into the pork shows very little resistance (aside from the skin).  Once the fat starts coming off, baste it every 30 minutes.  Mine took surprisingly long to render its fat, so don't be alarmed - just check on it every 30 minutes anyway.

Increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees and roast an additional 10-15 minutes to blister the skin.  Watch this process carefully; if your oven runs hot, it will burn quickly. 

Tent with foil and allow it to rest for 15 minutes.  Slice with a serrated knife into 1-inch slices and serve.

Leftovers make a killer sandwich.  Sear slices in a hot skillet, and lay on top of warm ciabatta rolls with some mustard, hot peppers, and some greens. 


jill said...

I can see from the beauty of the porchetta pictures, that your Valentine's Day was a searing success! This is one of the most unique and delicious looking meals that you have created to date and I can't wait to try the recipe.

saltandlove said...

Thanks Jill! Do you wish you had taken me up on the offer to keep that half a pork belly??