This thanksgiving I made a porchetta for the first time- I did quite a bit of internet research prior, finding most of the roasting temperatures and times to be quite contradictory. I took bits and pieces from various recipes, hoping for the best outcome tailored to the size of my party, oven size, timing on the big day, etc (sometimes you just have to throw yourself into it!).
All in all, I'm pretty sure I'll never need to make a turkey again. This pork was super moist and delicious, and I'm already dreaming up different flavor combinations (vietnamese lemongrass porchetta is on my mind) for future special dinners.
Here's a brief rundown of my process (the perfect size roast for a party of 6), and a photo of the result.
2 days prior, morning:
I brined a 6lb slab of skin-on pork belly and 2lbs of pork shoulder that was cut into manageable chunks, for 1.5 days. My brine consisted of simmered mixture of salt, sugar, 3 heads of garlic, peppercorns, dried rosemary, bay leaves, and a handful of tiny red dried chiles (pequin? Peperoncini? lost the label).
1 day prior, late afternoon:
The day before cooking I removed the meat from the brine, rinsed it well, and dried it completely. Next, I scored the skin of the belly with a sharp knife, in about a 1 inch grid. Flipped it over.
I toasted a few tablespoons of fennel seeds in a pan, then mixed it with fresh peppercorns and ran it through a grinder. I sprinkled this over the meaty side of the pork belly.
In my food processor I made an herby dry paste with a bunch of sprigs of fresh rosemary, fresh sage, garlic, and pepper flakes. I put my hunks of shoulder into a bowl and tossed them with this herb mixture, making sure to coat them completely.
Laying the pieces of shoulder down the center of the belly, I tied everything up as tightly as I could with twine. This step probably would have been easier with a second set of hands! I ended up with a 15" long tube about 5.5" thick.
I laid the roast in its pan, then put back into the fridge uncovered to air-dry until it's cooking time the next day.
I was expecting to serve at around 4pm that day, and the various recipes I'd looked at had cooking times varying from 11 hours at 180*, to 2.5 hours at 300*. That's quite a range!
Taking into consideration that I was looking for a roasted pork that was soft and juicy, mahogany brown on the outside, and timed in such a way that I could switch my oven over to cooking all the side dishes around 45 mins prior to serving, I chose to blast it with heat at the beginning and then slowly bring the temperature up over about 3-4 hours.
I preheated my oven to 500*, then popped the roast in for 45 minutes- until I saw obvious browning and fat rendering. I reduced the heat to slightly lower than 250, and checked the internal temp of the porchetta about every 20 mins to make sure that the temp wasn't rising too quickly.
After about 3:15 my roast hit 150* in the center (also it was noticeably easier to poke holes with my thermopen), I took it out and tented it under foil. Meanwhile I baked the rest of my sides (45 minutes?), finishing them about 15 minutes before serving. I raised the temp of the oven to around 450*, then popped the roast back in to give the outside another blast of heat before serving, for just about 10 mins.
My resulting roast was a beautiful color of brown, not too fatty, moist, herby, garlicky....I even rolled my roasted potatoes in a bit of the pork drippings to give then a glistening sheen.
What I learned from the whole process:
*While the skin was a beautiful color, it wasn't the greatest texture to eat. Parts were crispy and hard, others just hard and chewy. Next time I serve this I'll trim the skin off as I cut slices. It came away pretty easily.
*I think I'd add some lemon or orange zest to the herb mixture for brightness.
*Make sure you have a buddy available for the roast tying!
*The brine imparted quite a bit of flavor to the meat- don't ignore this step!
*It's an inexpensive way to have a beautiful roasted centerpiece- and I think it would take really well to a host of flavors.
Perhaps most importantly, recipes can be all over the place- trust your instincts and throw yourself into it!