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pork belly porchetta

December 4, 2014

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“How about Italian?”

It was November 2013 and we were, as ever, discussing the theme for our next Christmas feast. No matter that we’d just ingested three birds and a table heaving with French pastry.

“We could have fresh pasta! And pizza!”

“Ooh, tiramisu! And gelato!”

“Aperol Spritz!”

And with that, the theme was decided – though the menu took far longer to piece together.

We held our annual Christmas feast just over two weeks ago, the girls, our partners and I – in the sweltering heat of an unseasonably hot day no less. But as each person burst through the door of our apartment, the heat was forgotten in light of the gleaming mass of meat that sat resting on my kitchen counter.

“Oooh!” came the cry as I moved it from roasting rack to carving board.

“Aaaaah!” I heard as I carved that first piece off to reveal the perfectly cooked interior.

“You need to give me the recipe” came the request from the girls, and, as it turns out, from many of you who saw that first delectable photo on instagram. (More pointedly, “We want one for Christmas too” came the request from both sides of our family, so there’ll be two more come the 24th and 25th!)

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But before porchetta, there was menu planning. And, luckily for everyone involved, before menu planning, there was a magical honeymoon in Italy where Koji and I ate our way from Milan to Vernazza. From Lucca to San Miniato. From Florence to Napoli, all over Sicily and back to a tiny corner of Rome where our stomachs finally ran out of room.

And all the while, we planned our upcoming Italian Christmas feast.

“Do you think we could make this at home?” asked Koji, as we sat on the sidewalk in Ortygia.

“I wonder how they make it so tasty” he pondered as we sliced into bistecca in Florence.

“Maybe we could make something like this?” he suggested as we twirled strands of silken spaghetti around forks before spearing the ends into chunks of fresh porcini in the Tuscan hills.

And then, one day came, “This. You’re making this. I don’t even care how.”

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It was an unseasonably grey day when we set out from Lucca for Sienna.

“There’s a market near the fort. It’s only held in the mornings, but if we get the car now, we should be able to make it. It’s not a long drive” said Koji over breakfast.

It drizzled as we dragged our bags along the city walls towards the car hire office.

The rain plummeted down as we loaded them into the boot of our tiny Fiat 500.

The care hire attendant shook his head.

“This weather. It is not common for Italy in September. We do not rain so much. It is the strangest weather we have had in years.”

The streets turned into streams as we circled for parking around the fortress walls and our feet were submerged as we made our way to the marketplace.

“We made it all the way here. We might as well enjoy it!” said Koji, ever the optimist.

I was unconvinced.

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Forty Euro and some terribly ineffective bargaining later, we found ourselves in possession of one umbrella (for him), a pair of very sturdy gumboots (for me) and a brand new outlook on the day ahead.

We wound our way through the rain splashed stalls, weaving in and out of bedraggled shoppers and laughing as the canopies shifted, dumping water on the heads of unsuspecting passers by.

There were tables of knick knacks, racks of clothing and boxes and boxes of shoes. Trestles groaning under the weight of vintage glassware, tablecloths in bright yellows and reds hanging from rafters. Electronic goods and dolls lying side by side.

And then, as we made our way past some pot plants, there was a smell.

“This way!” I said, nose forward, splashing through puddles.

Down a ramp, through a parking lot, under a bridge and then! There we were in the middle of the fresh food quarter. Piles of tomatoes from tiny cherry tomatoes, through to giant, mangled green gods of the vine. Buckets of salty olives in green and black. Platters of anchovies. Sardines. So many mushrooms.

Salami hung alongside legs of pancetta and giant wheels of pecorino lay alongside mounds of fresh ricotta.

But the smell was past all of this, and I needed to find it.

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There, at the end of the strip, two large trucks with the sides opened to show the wares within. And within, oh! Large, glistening pigs, their middles a spiral of fatty meat and something green and spicy, their skin like toffee.

I took a deep breath as I mustered the courage to make my way to the front of the queue.

“Questa?” said I, index finger extended towards the glistening meat.

“Porchetta!” 

A grin. He was clearly used to bumbling tourists, but not little Asian ones with Australian accents that gleefully butchered the Italian language whilst ordering food.

“Uno… Uno centi? Cento. Uno cento grammi! Per favore.” I flashed a hopeful smile.

The grin turned into a chortle.

“Ahh! Un cento grammi! OK!” 

Slivers of porchetta were sliced from one end onto a sheet of waxed paper and bundled up into a bag. I fumbled around for a note and received a surprisingly large amount of change back.

“Grazie! Grazie mille!”

(At least I knew how to say thank you.)

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Confidence buoyed, I turned to the stall across the way.

“Porchetta. Un cento grammi, grazie.” said I, with such confidence that the response come in a dazzling stream of Italian that had me completely overwhelmed.

“Non. Non capisco.” came my defeated response.

A pause.

“Bag?” 

“Oh, yes. Grazie.”

We retreated to a spot under the bridge, where the rain barely dampened our excitement. Reaching into the bags, we pulled out pinches of tender, salty pork. Spicy with chilly, fragrant with fennel seed. Tender and moist.

The skin was only faintly crunchy, but we chewed on it anyway, us two slightly soggy honeymooners with greasy hands and tingling lips.

“This,” said Koji, on that unseasonably rainy September day in Italy, “You’re making this. I don’t even care how.”

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It was an unseasonably hot November morning when I finally put the porchetta in the oven. Three and a half hours of oven time on a day slated to hit 40C. In an apartment with one fan, one fridge and no air conditioning.

My face just about melted every time I opened the oven door. My hair was plastered to the back of my neck as I crouched by the glass front to watch the skin bubble and pop.

It took a cold shower (and a stiff drink) before I could sit back and look at the porchetta objectively, without the additional heat caused by its roasting clouding my frazzled nerves.

It was the most delicious roast I’d ever made.

Moist and tender. Crisp and flavoursome. We eyed each other off for the final piece and unashamedly scraped the board for the final scraps, dragging bread through the juices that pooled on the board.

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pork belly porchetta
Recipe type: Main
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-10
 
I've had so many people ask for the recipe (and both sides of the family have already requested it for Christmas dinner!) You'll need to start the recipe at least one day ahead and will need overnight fridge space and all morning oven space, so plan accordingly. It might be tricky getting a pork belly this big, but if you ask your butcher nicely in advance, they'll usually be able to get one in for you.
Ingredients
  • 2.5kg pork belly (skin on)
  • 1 full kettle boiling water
  • 1 tbsp salt (for the rub)
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds (for the rub)
  • ¼ tsp ground white pepper (for the rub)
  • 1 tbsp fennel seed
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes or 3 small dried birds eye chillis
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • ¼C picked fresh oregano leaves
  • ½ bunch parsley
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp olive oil + a bit extra for drizzling
How to make it
  1. Take your pork belly and place it skin side up on a chopping board. Get a (clean) stanley knife and set it so that just a couple of millimetres of knife edge are sticking out. We want to cut through the skin, but not so deep that it goes into the meat itself. Turn the pork belly so that the long end is facing you. Now, slash the pork belly skin in the same direction, from end to end along the length of the belly. It's ok if you don't get cuts that go right from one end to the other, as long as they're all facing the same direction (ie: not a cross hatch).
  2. Put the pork belly in the sink on a rack so that it is sitting off the bottom of the sink. Pour a whole kettle of boiling water all over the skin. You'll see the skin start shrinking up so that the fat underneath is exposed. Pat the skin and belly dry with paper towels.
  3. Next, prepare the rub by grinding the salt, fennel seeds and pepper together in a mortar and pestle. Alternatively, grind the fennel seeds coarsely in a spice grinder before stirring the salt and pepper through. Rub the fennel salt all over the skin of the pork belly, getting it into the cracks.
  4. Prepare the filling by grinding the fennel seed, chilli flakes and pepper together until they are a powder. Add the salt.
  5. Wash the fresh herbs. Pick the leaves off the rosemary and oregano and discard any woody stalks. Chop the parsley off the tougher parts of the stem, leaving the softer stem attached to the leaves. Chop the fresh herbs and peeled garlic roughly, then add the zest and juice of a lemon and the spices before either pounding it to a paste in a mortar and pestle or whizzing it together into a paste in a food processor. Add up to 3tbsp of olive oil to help it all stick together.
  6. Pull the pork belly out of the fridge and lay it skin side down on a dry board or plate so that the long side is facing you. Cut a strip of meat about 4cm wide off the short side of the belly, leaving the skin and fat below it intact.
  7. Spread the paste onto the meat remaining on the belly then put the strip of meat you cut off on top of the paste and roll the whole thing up like you would a sushi roll. Use kitchen string to secure everything in place.
  8. Put the pork belly on a rack and place it, uncovered, in the fridge for at least four hours if not overnight so that the skin can dry out.
  9. The next day, or when you're ready to cook, preheat your oven to 130C. Put the pork belly roll onto a wire rack in a roasting dish so that the air can circulate all around it, drizzle it with a bit of olive oil and roast in the oven for at least 3 to 3 and a half hours or until a thermometer inserted into the middle reads at 70C. Mine took a touch over three hours, so check it from time to time after that.
  10. Remove the belly from the oven and crank it right up to 250C (or as close to that as your oven goes). Rotate the belly onto its side and put it in the oven, watching it carefully. The skin will start to blister and pop. Once the skin looks crackly, pull it out, rotate the belly so that the other side is facing up and repeat to crackle before taking it out of the oven to cool.
  11. Let the pork belly rest for at least 20 minutes on the rack before carving. You can use all of the rendered fat in the bottom of the roasting dish to cook the most delicious onions, but that's a recipe for another day.

 


  • #1
    koji
    December 4th, 2014

    Mmmm….. porchetta. Looking forward to eating this for two more christmas dinners this year.

  • #2
    December 4th, 2014

    this is bloody amazing, i think i should do this instead of ham for christmas!

  • #3
    December 12th, 2014

    I do adore your storytelling (RJ would certainly enjoy the porchetta, I won’t tell him about it or I’ll have to make it ;D)

Shez