Porchetta at Home

January 14th, 2009
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Just after Christmas, Tammi and I hosted our annual holiday party and here you see the guest of honor. This was my attempt at the Porchetta I watched Nate Appleman prepare at the Astor Center early last month.
While it was generally a success, I feel there was some room for improvement and I hope to try to do better in some future (smaller) attempts.
Regarding the finished product, it was very tasty. Honestly, I barely had any of the actual porchetta, which is the abdominal section of the pig. Once it cooled, I cut that part up and served it for our guests. Nothing came back, so it definitely went over well.
That said, I’m writing this as a critique so I know what I want to do differently in the future, so most of the rest of this post is going to be the challenges I had or the things I want to fix the next time around.
First thing, the lemons. this was ann idea I picked up from Appleman’s class. He mentioned that he learned this some time ago and found that the citrus added another layer that he enjoyed. I didn’t like it at all. Immediately after cutting into the pig, the strongest scent was hot citrus, which wasn’t what I wanted. I scraped out the lemons before serving the pork because I thought it was just too strong. I wouldn’t use them again in the future.
All of that also points to an issue that was entirely my fault: not enough seasoning. I sought out fennel pollen, which I manage to get a friend to source for me from his wholesaler. It’s an unusual ingredient and on the pricey side, but when used well, as they do at Porchetta in the East Village, it’s transcendental. I guessed at the amount, using a gentler hand with it because I had heard it described as being as strong as saffron. Between its strength and the 3 day seasoning time, I thought it best to be cautious with the amount I used. I should have used more. Again, it was very good, but the fennel flavor, which I wanted to be primary was more subtle than I would have liked. I think I could have used more rosemary as well, but generally I was ok with the way that flavor turned out.
Finally, the skin is always awesome, and it was great here, but it wasn’t as crisp s I would have liked, even though I finished it off at 500 for an hour. I think it would have benefitted from a rubdown with fat of some sort when I turned the heat up. I had confit on hand, so I could have used some of the fat from that, or even olive oil, I suppose.
After the jump, some photos from the prep and my notes on my first major attempt at butchery.


First, it took me much longer to do than it took Appleman, but he’s a pro and has been doing it for years, this was my first time around, so I forgive myself. Overall, it took a little over two hours.
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Cutting away around the ribs was pretty straightforward. There isn’t a lot to it. The most important thing is to try to get as much meat as possible off the ribs while cutting.
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For me the issue came when I cleared the ribs and started towards the hips. That was hard. In the end, had to go quick and dirty and remove the ribs and backbone first, then dig out the hips.
By the time I got through all that, I was not up for an excursion into the upper legs to remove those bones, so they stayed. I did get the upper bones of the front legs, but not the shoulder blades.
The other major issue I found was that my pig was leaner at 20lbs than the 35 pounder Appleman used. He also used a heritage breed, which would have blown my budget by far, while I ordered one from a latino butcher shop in Bushwick. One of these differences is probably why I found less meat left along the back after I removed the backbone. Thankfully, Appleman advised on compensating for thin areas by taking meat from thicker sections and evening it out.
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Generally, the effort was definitely worth it. I don’t know when my next try will be, but I want to do it with a whole pork belly next. I think the layering of flavors and a long seasoning time (2-3 days) will be great in a fattier, self-basting cut. I’ll be sure to document and post when I do.

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