Thanks to Graham at Native Breeds for showing me this, its a real show stopper! To do it properly you’ll need a massive lump of pork – known as a ‘middle’ – this is going to comfortably feed a dozen people with the right cut of meat.
It’s a cut that comprises the loin all the way down to the belly in one piece and it’s a tricky one to find. My butcher seemed confused by this, and an online search isn’t helping much – if you’re planning on such a feast you’ll need to find a specialist I think. Usually porchetta is from a fairly young pig, maximum 6 months old, the lump we cooked came complete with spine and ribs, and so required a bit of butchering first, but nothing too tricky.
What makes ‘traditional’ porchetta special is the fact that its a meaty, but relatively dry loin, rolled with a fatty, juicy belly and lemon, rosemary, fennel and garlic. Roasting the rolled up meat allows the belly fat to permeate the loin, keeping the whole this succulent and utterly amazing!
EDIT: They sell big, bone-in pork bellies in Costco. Whilst not quite the full middle, they are all but the loin and are excellent for this recipe. I bought one for around £15 and once I had deboned it had 3kg of meat so I cut it in half, made one of these and a pancetta with the other half – both were fantastic!
Ideally you would use fresh fennel pods from your herb garden, or even fennel pollen. The fresh stuff is a lot more pungent than dried seeds and gives a fantastic aroma. However, my guess is that like most normal people you don’t have access to that, and seeing as fennel pollen is crazy expensive, then dried seeds will do, just do yourself a favour and go buy a new jar…
- Prepare the meat by removing the spine and ribs. Trim away any excess fat. You may need to strip back the skin a little to get a nice roll, take it from the loin side as this will end up in the middle. You probably don’t want more than an inch or two of skin overlap. Score the skin in a diamond pattern.
- Flatten out the meat, skin side down. You might try butterflying the loin a bit if it’s particularly thick, and season thoroughly
- Lay thin slices of butter all over the meat
- sprinkle with the chopped rosemary, garlic, fennel and lemon zest, then roll up the meat, so the loin is wrapped by the belly
- Preheat the oven to 250°C so we can give the skin an initial blast
- Truss up the meat using butchers twine (see the info panel below for help), and put in a suitably sized roasting dish, consider using a roasting rack to lift it from the bottom, or a few evenly chopped carrot blocks. (TIP: Line the dish with foil, this is gonna get messy!)
- Massage some salt into the skin and put it in the oven, immediately turn the temperature down to 150-160°C and roast for 3 hours or so.
- Spritz the crackling with lemon juice after the first half hour
This sort of cooking time would usually result in overcooked dry meat, but the fatty nature of the belly and the added butter will prevent that. The extended time will result in perfectly crisp crackling!