My Dad, Vinnie Lista, was a true pork aficionado… he loved everything pork. Whether it was a chop, steak, tenderloin, cutlet, ribs, sausage, ham, bacon or any of the many charcuteries produced from the humble pig — Dad enjoyed them all. But his definite favorite was a simple roast pork, and often for a Holiday, instead of traditional cured and smoked ham, Dad would roast a fresh ham (which is the same shank or shoulder cut but not brined or smoked). So growing up I learned to appreciate the savory versatility of that “other white meat.”
Over the years I have made many different pork dishes, but one that I have come to really appreciate is the distinctly Italian Porchetta.
Porchetta (pronounced por-ketta) is a traditional Italian roast made from a boned whole pig — stuffed with fennel, garlic and other seasonings, heavily salted, and cooked over an open fire for up to 8 hours. The result is a crispy, fatty, juicy, salty, spicy, savory bundle of meaty deliciousness!
Originating in Central Italy, porchetta is one of those regional foods that has cultural significance and is considered a prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale (PAT) and is closely governed by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture. Porchetta is popular throughout Italy and is often associated with celebrations. Porchetta is a common street food in Rome and is often sold from food carts or vans, especially during festivals and Holidays.
Porchetta came to America with early twentieth century immigrants and has become extremely popular in Philadelphia where it is often sold as “roast pork” sandwiches served on a roll topped with cooked greens or broccoli rabe and sharp provolone cheese.
One of the characteristics of porchetta is the crispy roasted fat and skin (cracklins) that form on the outside and keeps the meat moist and tender. Many scaled down recipes (you’re probably not going to roast a whole pig) use pork belly wrapped around a pork loin — but my version uses the readily available and inexpensive pork shoulder roast (often called pork butt or Boston butt) which has enough fat to make it work.
This recipe takes a little work to butterfly the roast, season, marinate, and roast… but it is well worth the time and effort.
Prep time: Note this is a 2 day process – active prep 30 minutes
Cook time: 2-3 hours
Serves: 6-8 depending on size of roast
5-8 lb. Bone-in (or boneless) Pork Butt Roast
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – as needed
Coarse Sea Salt – as needed
Coarse Ground Black Pepper – as needed
3-4 cloves Fresh Garlic – minced
1 tsp Fennel Seeds – crushed
1 tsp Rosemary (fresh or dry)
1 tsp Sage Leaves (fresh or dry)
1 tsp Lemon Zest (fresh or dry)
1/2 tsp Oregano (fresh or dry)
1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper
Butchers Twine or 100% cotton string
1. If using a bone-in roast (least expensive) — use a sharp thin blade boning knife to remove the blade-bone being careful not to cut all the way through the meat. Then butterfly the roast so it opens up into a long rectangle — you may need to cut through some of the thicker parts as well (photo #1 above). You can find videos on how to debone and butterfly a roast on YouTube… or ask the butcher to butterfly it for you.
2. Lay the butterflied roast, fat side down on a large cutting board or your counter covered with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife score any thicker part or connective tissues to make it cook more evenly. Rub entire side of roast with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
3. In a small bowl combine minced garlic, fennel seed, rosemary, sage, lemon zest, oregano and red pepper (I used all dry herbs/spices) – sprinkle evenly over the roast.
4. Starting at the short end without the fat cap – roll the meat tightly, jelly roll style, until you have a tight roll with the seam on the bottom or side and the fat cap on top. With a very sharp knife, score the fat cap in a cross hatch pattern without cutting into the meat itself. Using butchers twine or 100% cotton string (or unflavored dental floss in a pinch) tie the roast every 2 inches (usually 2 or 3 ties) as in photo #2.
5. Place tied roast in pan (I use a disposable aluminum pan) and place in refrigerator loosely covered with parchment paper to age overnight.
6. Take roast out of refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Rub outside with olive oil and seasoning generously with salt. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
7. Place the roast in the preheated oven, center rack, for 15 minutes to sear the outside. Reduce oven to 300 degrees F and roast undisturbed another 2-3 hours until an instant read thermometer reaches at least 165 degrees. Remove from oven (photo #3) and let rest for 10 minutes before carving (photo #4).
8. Serve the Porchetta with mashed potatoes & pan seared Brussels sprouts. Magnifico!
There you have it, my version of Porchetta… I think my Dad would have loved this for Christmas dinner. Don’t be scared off by the extra work to make this, it really goes together easily. And although we don’t make it often, it is always a delicious treat, and leftovers make great Philly style sandwiches — just be sure to get some good sharp provolone from the deli to make it authentic.
Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”