How can you possibly go wrong with pork stuffed with pork? Here piggy, piggy, piggy…
For those of you who have never heard of porchetta, it is a savory, fatty, mouthwatering, moist, boneless pork roast with a crispy crust and is THE pork dish of Italy. Traditionally, the body of a pig is gutted, deboned, and arranged with layers of stuffing, meat, fat, and skin. It is heavily seasoned. Then it is rolled, spitted, and roasted over wood for roughly 6 hours. Porchetta has been selected by the Italian Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali as a “prodotto agroalimentare traditional,” i.e. one of a list of traditional Italian foods held to have cultural relevance. The dish is said to have originated in Central Italy but came to the US with the Italian immigrants sometime in the early 20th Century. As it is with everything else, once something comes to the US, it changes. I mean, who has 6 hours to roast a pig over wood after having spent the majority of the day gutting it, boning it, stuffing it, putting it on a spit and then sewing it back up. Sheesh, this is a time intensive process. Also, once you get it cooked, who has a family large enough to devour 250 lbs of succulent, delicious roast pork? Given these various constraints, people started using suckling pigs. They’re smaller, easier to work with, less time consuming both in prep time and cooking, can be roasted in either a wood oven or a regular household oven and is perfect for a family meal. But then you have to find someone who has suckling pigs, not an easy task in DFW. So people started using pork shoulder. Finally, somebody stumbled upon the idea of using pork belly and wrapping it around a pork loin. Hmmm…let me see if I got this right. Pork belly, i.e. lardon, wrapped around juicy, moist, tender pork loin. I may have died and gone to heaven. Of course, if you tell your cardiologist you are making this for dinner he will probably tell you that you ARE going to die and go to heaven. This obviously is not a heart healthy meal but it sure is good and I would die a happy man.
So, now the question becomes how can you improve upon pork stuffed in pork roasted in the oven. As I was surfing the web looking at various porchetta recipes I stumbled upon Deep-Fried, Sous-Vide, 36-Hour, All-Belly Porchetta which answered my question. Sous vide! That’s how and that is exactly what we did. Here’s how:
- 1 large cut of pork belly, roughly 24 inches long and 12 inches wide
- 1 pork loin, roughly 4 – 5 lbs, trimmed, removing all fascia (also known as silver skin), leaving simply the eye
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 sprigs of rosemary, roughly 4 inches each, chopped
- 6 sprigs of thyme
- 1 Tbsp fresh ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp + 1 Tsp salt
- 1/2 Tbsp baking soda
First, slice your pork loin lengthwise so it lays out flat on your cutting board. Then score it.
Now, season it with 1/2 Tbsp salt and 1 tsp black pepper. Rub the garlic, thyme and rosemary into the meat making sure it is rubbed into the grooves from scoring the meat.
Roll the pork loin back up. Score and season the pork belly with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp black pepper. Now, place the pork loin on top of the pork belly and roll it up.
When rolled, tie it together with cotton cooking twine.
Now, mix the remaining 1/2 Tbsp salt and 1/2 Tbsp baking soda together. Generously rub this mixture onto and into the skin of the pork belly. The baking soda raises the pH of the pork belly which breaks down the protein in the skin thereby tenderizing it and allowing it to crisp up beautifully when frying at the end.
Next, if you are going to sous vide your porchetta, put your porchetta in a vacuum bag and seal. If you’re not into sous vide or don’t have a sous vide setup look at the notes at the end for roasting instructions.
Place the bag in a 68 C/155 F water bath and let cook for 36 hours. Yes, that’s right. I said 36 hours! Put it in the water bath and forget about it for a day and a half.
After 36 hours remove the porchetta from the watery bath and immediately immerse into an ice bath. You will notice the juice in the bag immediately congeals. When cooled, remove it from the ice bath, remove the porchetta from the vacuum bag and remove the congealed juices (also known as aspic) from the porchetta and reserve for the sauce. Because I don’t have a full deep fat fryer or a turkey fryer, I had to cut the porchetta into two pieces. This is a good thing because there is no way Baby Lady, Quickstep and I could possibly eat this much food. So we froze the other half to finish later.
Next, I heated some oil/lard in my trusty wok to 400 F. We then fried the pork loin Chinese style in the wok pouring hot oil over the top while it is frying.
When done, remove from the oil and set aside. Take the congealed juice, heat it over medium heat, add 1 Tbsp of dijon mustard and incorporate. Slice the porchetta and heat slice in a nonstick pan to get the meat to serving temperature. Serve with sauce and enjoy! We certainly did.
NOTES: If you want to try this but don’t have a sous vide setup don’t apply the salt and baking soda at the point in the manner of sous vide cooking. Instead, place the assembled pork in your refrigerator for 24 hours to allow it to air dry (48 hours works better if you can wait that long). Then, remove from the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Preheat your oven to 500°. Season porchetta generously with the salt and baking soda mix. Roast on rack in baking sheet, turning once, for 40 minutes. Reduce heat to 300° and continue roasting, rotating the pan and turning porchetta occasionally, until reach a temperature 145° F, roughly 1-1/2 to 2 hours more. If skin is not yet deep brown and crisp, increase heat to 500° and roast for 10 minutes more. Let rest for 30 minutes before carving.