Can’t get a whole pig? You can still make a yummy porchetta
Traditionally, Italian porchetta is a whole pig that is spit-roasted to produce fall-apart tender, rich pieces of slow-cooked pork, aromatic with garlic, fennel seeds, rosemary, and thyme. It’s served with pieces of crisp skin on a crusty roll.
Seeing as most people don’t have a rotisserie in their kitchen, or access to whole pigs, porchetta is a tricky recipe to adapt for cooking at home.
After testing a few different cuts, we settled on pork butt, which is cut from the upper portion of the shoulder and has a good amount of fat to keep the meat moist and flavorful without making it over the top decadent (as can be the case with pork belly, another common choice).
We cut the pork butt in half to allow for even seasoning and easy slicing when serving. We seasoned both pieces with salt and then rubbed them down with a simple garlic-herb paste before sending them to the water bath.
A low-and-slow sous vide bath allowed the collagen in the meat to transform into moisture-retaining gelatin. This kept the roast juicy and tender but still sliceable. Once the pork had finished cooking in the water bath, we quickly blasted it in a hot oven to crisp up and brown the fat cap to mimic traditional porchetta’s crispy pork skin. In sum? Roast pork just got a whole lot better.
Pork butt roast is often labeled Boston butt in the supermarket. If fennel seeds are unavailable, substitute 1/4 cup of ground fennel.
Sous vide temperature: 145 F
Sous vide time: 20-24 hours
Active cooking time: 1 hour 10 minutes
3 tablespoons fennel seeds
1/2cup fresh rosemary leaves
1/4cup fresh thyme leaves
12 garlic cloves (60 grams), peeled
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 5 pound boneless pork butt roast, trimmed
Using sous vide circulator, bring water to 145 F in 12 quart container.
Grind fennel seeds in spice grinder or mortar and pestle until finely ground. Transfer ground fennel to food processor and add rosemary, thyme, garlic, 1 tablespoon pepper, and 2 teaspoons salt. Pulse mixture until finely chopped, 10 to 15 pulses. Add oil and process until smooth paste forms, 20 to 30 seconds.
Using sharp knife, cut slits in surface layer of fat on roast, spaced 1 inch apart, in crosshatch pattern, being careful not to cut into meat. Cut roast in half with grain into 2 equal pieces.
Turn each roast on its side so fat cap is facing away from you, bottom of roast is facing toward you, and newly cut side is facing up. Starting 1 inch from short end of each roast, use boning or paring knife to make slit that starts 1 inch from top of roast and ends 1 inch from bottom, pushing knife completely through roast. Repeat making slits, spaced 1 to 1 1/2 inches apart, along length of each roast, stopping 1 inch from opposite end (you should have 6 to 8 slits).
Turn roast so fat cap is facing down. Rub sides and bottom of each roast with 2 teaspoons salt, taking care to work salt into slits from both sides. Rub herb paste onto sides and bottom of each roast, taking care to work paste into slits from both sides. Flip roast so that fat cap is facing up. Using 3 pieces of kitchen twine per roast, tie each roast into compact cylinder.
Combine 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper in small bowl. Rub fat cap of each roast with salt mixture, taking care to work mixture into crosshatches. Place each roast in 1 gallon zipper-lock freezer bag. Seal bags, pressing out as much air as possible. Gently lower bags into prepared water bath until roasts are fully submerged, and then clip top corner of each bag to side of water bath container, allowing remaining air bubbles to rise to top of bag. Reopen one corner of zipper, release remaining air bubbles, and reseal bag. Cover and cook for at least 20 hours or up to 24 hours.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 F. Set wire rack in aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and spray with vegetable spray. Transfer roasts, fat side up, to prepared rack, leaving at least 2 inches between roasts. Discard twine and pat roasts dry with paper towels. Roast until exteriors of roasts are well browned, about 20 minutes.
Transfer roasts to carving board and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Slice roasts 1/2 inch thick and serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 320 calories; 153 calories from fat; 17 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 116 mg cholesterol; 320 mg sodium; 3 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 37 g protein.