Serafina’s Porchetta


Porchetta is a succulent Italian roast pork dish that is popular throughout Italy.  The humble porchetta is a holiday dish fit for a king.  Different cuts of meat are used to make porchetta. Traditionally it is made with suckling pig, or pork belly wrapped around a pork loin, or just a rolled pork belly; however, pork butt and shoulder with the skin on can also be used. Above all, the most important part of the porchetta is the crispy skin that surrounds the tender meat seasoned with herbs and spices.  The herbs and spices used vary but most porchetta recipes call for garlic, rosemary, wild fennel, fennel pollen or seeds, and sage. Lemon or orange zest are also used but I find either overpowering in flavor. Porchettas can also be stuffed with other ingredients such as breadcrumbs, sausage, ground pork, onions and nuts.

Making porchetta is not difficult. Having a good butcher comes in handy with the cuts of meat you’ll need, including butterflying the pork loin.  If you’re lucky, they can also score the top of the pork belly for you. I find hardest part is tying the roast together so that the ends meet.  This is where a second pair of hands comes in handy.  Using turkey skewers or toothpicks and lacing them together with twine, like trussing a turkey, helps to bring the ends together.

Although not traditional, I take this recipe up a notch by making an au jus gravy with Marsala wine.   

Leftover porchetta makes fantastic mouthwatering sandwiches.  Heat any remaining gravy in skillet and add thinly sliced pieces of porchetta.  Turn off the heat and let sit a few minutes until the meat is heated through.  Serve with crusty Italian bread rolls.  Give those sandwiches an extra special touch by topping with the traditional sauteed rapini and provolone cheese. 

Serafina’s Porchetta

Difficulty Rating:  Moderate
Makes 8 to 10 servings.

For the Porchetta
1 1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted
1 7-to-8-pound boneless pork belly with skin on (measuring about 11-inches x 13-inches)  
1 4-pound boneless center-cut pork loin butterflied (about 1/2-inch thick)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons dry Marsala (do not use sweet Marsala)
1 large onion
1 fennel bulb
2 stalks celery
2 sprigs rosemary
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 cups dry Marsala

For the Stuffing
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
6 to 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dry Marsala

For the Gravy (Optional)
1 quart chicken stock
1/4 cup dry Marsala
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary leaves
½ teaspoon sugar

Special Equipment Needed:  butchers’ twine, turkey skewers or toothpicks.

Crush the fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle or place in a small zip-lock plastic bag and crush with a mallet.  Combine with salt and pepper in a small bowl and set aside.  

Place the pork belly skin-side up on a baking sheet and pat the skin dry with paper towels.  With a sharp knife score the skin with diagonal cuts half-inch apart, being careful not to cut through to the meat.  Puncturing the skin additionally with the tip of the knife helps make the skin crispier.

Turn the pork belly over and massage the Marsala into the meat and sprinkle with some of the salt mixture. 

Place the belly skin-side up again and rub the salt mixture into the crevices. Brush off any of the mixture that is remaining on top of the skin.  Transfer skin-side up on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered overnight and up to 2 days, allowing the skin to dry out. 

Combine herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.  Open the butterflied pork and lay it on a flat surface.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the herb/garlic mixture evenly on top.  Roll tightly jelly-roll style into its original shape. 

Lay several long pieces of twine, spaced 1-inch to 1 1 2-inches apart, on a flat surface.   Center the pork belly skin-side down, with the long side facing you, on top of the twine.  Place the loin in the center of the roast.  Wrap the belly around the loin so that the ends meet.  You might have to trim the ends to make it even.  Tie the roast tightly with the twine.  For added measure you can further secure the seam with toothpicks and lace with additional twine.  Trim the ends of the twine. 

Remove the roast from the refrigerator 2 hours before roasting.  Preheat the oven to 500° F.  Roughly chop the vegetables and place on the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet with the rosemary.  Place the roast on top of the vegetables.  Rub the top and sides of the porchetta with the olive oil.  Bake for 30 minutes. Turn down the oven heat to 250° F.  Pour 1 1/2 cups of Marsala into the bottom of the pan and continue roasting. Add additional Marsala during cooking if the bottom of the pan starts to dry out.  Cook until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 135° F, approximately 3 to 3 1/2 hours. 

If the porchetta is not crispy enough on top, turn the oven heat back up to 500° F and cook a few minutes longer.  Transfer the porchetta to a cutting board and let sit for 30 minutes before cutting.

For the Gravy (Optional):  Place 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock on the bottom of the hot pan, scraping the browned bits with a wooden spoon.  Strain into a large saucepan.  Add the remaining stock, Marsala, rosemary, and sugar.  Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

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