Porchetta is the ultimate meal for pork lovers. Crispy, crackling pork skin; fatty, melt-in-your mouth pork belly; and moist shoulder (or loin) are rolled together in every bite. It’s pork, three ways, in one amazing dish.
When made strictly according to tradition, porchetta is a massive culinary undertaking: a whole, boned-out pig is stuffed with its entrails, herbs and spices and slow roasted in a wood oven. As amazing as this may sound, it’s not exactly manageable for most home cooks. Which is why easier versions of porchetta, like this one made from pork shoulder (or loin) wrapped in pork belly, have become so popular.
This recipe for porchetta still takes a little time and effort, but boy, is it worth it. Once you hear the fatty, juicy pork crackling in the oven and your house fills with the intense, meaty aroma of porchetta you’ll know you’re in for a treat.
First, get your hands on some skin-on pork belly, which you’ll probably have to special order. This thick slab of skin, fat and meat is the most delicious part of the whole dish. Next, decide if you want the middle of your porchetta to be shoulder or loin – this recipe uses shoulder because it’s less expensive and often more flavorful. Lastly, decide on your herb and spice rub. This recipe plays it safe with a traditional blend of salt, pepper, garlic, fennel seeds and rosemary, but you can add even more flavor with fresh herbs, red pepper flakes and citrus zest.
Everything is rolled up into an impressive roast that rests overnight in the refrigerator then cooks for several hours. The skin will be so crisp that it will shatter at the touch of a knife. The inner layers of belly and meat so tender, that they’ll fall apart in your mouth. Invite some people over to enjoy the feast, but not too many. It’s likely you’ll want a little something leftover for yourself the next day.
Serves: 8 to 10
Time in the Kitchen: 45 minutes of prep, 8-12 hours of refrigeration and 3 hours of cooking time
- 1 4 to 5 pound piece of fresh, skin-on pork belly (1.8 to 2.3 kg)
- 5 to 6 pounds pork shoulder, butter-flied to an even thickness of 1-inch (ask your butcher to butterfly it for you) (2.3 to 2.7 kg)
- 2 tablespoons fennel seeds (30 ml)
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns (15 ml)
- 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary (15 ml)
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt (25 ml)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (45 ml)
Toast the fennel seeds and peppercorns in a dry skillet over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant. Let cool then pulse a few times in a coffee grinder with the rosemary until the texture is finely ground but not powdery.
In a small bowl, use a fork to mash the spice mixture with the salt, garlic and olive oil to form a paste. Other seasonings that can be added to this mixture are roughly 1/2 cup (120 ml) or more of finely chopped fresh herbs, a teaspoon (5 ml) of red pepper flakes and a tablespoon (15 ml) of orange or lemon zest.
Lay the pork belly skin side up. Using a sharp knife (or utility knife) carefully score the skin in a tight crosshatch diamond pattern, cutting down to the fat but not through it (about 1/4 inch/6 mm deep). The skin can be a little hard to cut through, but scoring it is essential if you want the skin to become as crispy as possible.
Flip the belly over, skin side down, and score the meat side in the same crosshatch diamond pattern. Rub a little bit of the spice and garlic paste all over the pork belly.
With the pork belly lying skin-side down, lay the butter-filed pork shoulder on top of it. Spread the remaining spice mixture on the side of the pork shoulder that’s facing up.
Leaving the pork belly alone for now, just roll the shoulder up as tightly as possible so it looks like a long, fat pork loin. Put the rolled pork shoulder near the middle of the pork belly and fold the belly all the way over the shoulder.
Roll it once so the two ends of the belly overlap just slightly and the shoulder is completely covered in a draping of belly fat.
**If there’s a gap on the underside because the pork belly doesn’t reach all the way around, that’s fine. Or, if you just have a small piece of pork belly, simply drape the belly over the top of the shoulder.
Once the pork belly is snugly around the shoulder, use cooking twine/string to tie the belly to the shoulder in 2-inch/5 cm intervals as tightly as possible. This is easiest with two people; one person holds the porchetta together and one ties the strings.
If the ends of the rolled pork are uneven and pork belly or pork shoulder is hanging out, use a kitchen shears to trim the ends of the belly or shoulder so they are even.
Transfer the porchetta to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan. Sprinkle a light layer of salt on top. Refrigerate the pork uncovered overnight.
The next day, bring the roast to room temperature for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 450 ºF (232 ºC)
Put the porchetta in the oven and roast for 45 minutes.
Turn the heat down to 325 ºF (163 ºC) and continue to roast the porchetta until a thermometer stuck into the middle of the roast registers between 150 ºF (66 ºC) and 160 ºF (71 ºC). This will take around 2 to 2 1/2 hours more.
Let the porchetta rest for 30 minutes before slicing thinly.
To reheat porchetta leftovers the next day, heat up slices under the broiler until the fatty layers are soft and supple again.