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Gord’s Porchetta

My cousin, Gord, has long been an enthusiastic, adventurous and wonderful cook. We spent a lot of time together as children, since our mothers were best friends and they also married into the same big family. I have many memories of fun times spent together, particularly in the summers at Crescent Beach. When the tide was out, Gord and I would often go way out onto the sandbars to collect clams. Having unlimited energy, after the long walk, the dig, and carrying home our bounty, we would with great excitement begin the process of putting the chowder together. We had such fun then, seeking out and experimenting with ingredients and techniques, and I am delighted that we are still sharing this passion. He has contributed this story and photographs of a recent Porchetta-making experience.

“When an irresistible appetite for pork overcomes us, there is no more thorough antidote than porchetta – rolled and stuffed side of pork roasted slowly over a long period until succulent and richly flavoured on the inside while crispy beyond measure on the outside. Porchetta, by the way, is pronounced “porketta” (as in “pork”), not “porshe-etta” (as in car that attracts sophisticated women).  The Italians don’t do what they should with “ch”.  It comes out hard (think “Machiavelli” or “chianti”).  And they like to hear 2 Ts in porchetta.  That’s “porket-ta”.  This all wouldn’t matter a snout, except that only those who can pronounce it get to eat it.

“This rich delicacy is available pretty much all over Italy.  It is unfairly associated with Tuscany (probably because of its Etruscan roots) but every “pitchman” pork van in any market will have a cold porchetta for sandwich making.  None of it is as good as what you can do in your own kitchen.  Although it can take the form of a whole boneless pig or smaller piglet, it is also easily made from parts of the animal.  The most popular (and accessible) pork portion to use is the side and belly.  That’s the rectangular piece that spare-ribs and bacon are cut from which includes everything from the bottom of the loin to the opening in the belly.  It must be boneless.  Any of the great Chinese supermarkets in Metro Vancouver know what side pork is and will produce a chunk for you without requiring you to mortgage your life.  Remember though, it has to be wide enough to roll and tie (roughly 14-16 inches by however long you choose).  The one you see here was an entire side for about 30 people which we cut in half after rolling.

“One of the good things about this dish is that it defies recipe.  Instead, it is all about technique – nothing more.  Lay the pork side slab on a table and start thinking about it.  Remove overly fatty chunks (what I call “gratuitous” fat).  That’s done by trimming the sides a bit – removing any large meatless masses.  Then flip the slab over and remove some of the skin.  The skin will crisp up nicely in the oven but may be overwhelming so I remove about half of it along with some of the subskin fat.

“Flip the slab back over and stuff it.  This involves spreading your choice of stuffing material all over the exposed inside of the slab.  Be original here: candidates might be cooked and chopped spinach, several kinds of uncooked mushrooms, some peppers, lots of herbs and olive oil ground into a “battuto” or mash in the food processor, and (this really adds glutamic flavour) some sort of ground nuts (pine nuts, cashews, walnuts or even sunflower seeds).  Lots of salt (fat absorbs it) and any other spices you fancy.

“Then find a friend to help.  One of you rolls the raw porchetta and holds it closed while the other ties it at one-inch intervals.  You can also tie it end to end.  Place the resulting monster in a roasting pan held off the bottom by either a metal meat tray, or (better) on a spaced row of carrots or parsnips instead.  The result will be an indescribably delicious side dish of root vegetable braised for hours in flavoured pork drippings!

Roast the porchetta by starting it at 450º for about 20 minutes, then turning it down to 290º or less for 4 or 5 hours.  Serve with anything and enjoy it for days.”

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