Even otherwise reasonable people have been known to complain about the length of the recipes in Judy Rogers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Indeed, our favorite recipe for mock porchetta (which, unless you live in the Italian countryside or know someone who butchers their own hogs, is as close as you’re likely to get to the real thing) does run to many pages. But it’s anything but complicated — especially if you’re handy with a boning knife — and it’s not even all that time consuming. Once you’ve made the recipe a couple of times, you can have the roast prepped and stuffed in less than 20 minutes; once that work is done, you’re pretty much home free.
As our very patient friends will attest, the Zuni porchetta is a dish we love so much we can’t help hauling it out for dinner parties all the freakin’ time. The glistening, heavenly scented, herb-infused pork shoulder is a stunner, its vermouth-spiked pan sauce an exercise in decadence. And, oh harried host or hostess, you can even roast your side dishes right in the same pan as the porchetta — who doesn’t like rosemary-and-pork-drippings on their fennel and potatoes? (And what is their problem?)
But the dirty little secret, the real reason why we’ll use any flimsy excuse to trot out this old favorite, is that it makes the world’s best leftovers, hands down. Thinly sliced cold porchetta is brilliant on rustic bread with a schmear of ricotta and a few grinds of coarse black pepper. Larger bits, especially those doused in leftover gravy, make a stunning filling in a hollowed-out crusty roll. A handful of moist shreds add panache to a composed salad. The possibilities are, as they say, almost endless.
Despite all these lunchy luxuries, my favorite post-porchetta meal has got to be breakfast. Once you’ve had porchetta hash — especially when served with a perfectly poached pastured egg atop it and maybe some tomato-bourbon jam on the side — you may well forget about the corned-beef sort. Like the gorgeous love-child of crispy carnitas and silky rillettes, slow-cooked porchetta hash forms a golden-brown shell that hides a meltingly soft interior.
But first, you’ve got to make the porchetta.
I beg you: Don’t be daunted by the length of the recipe. Rogers has a knack for the subtle differences between a perfect outcome and a mediocre effort, and an all-too-rare talent for translating her technique into print. It’s nearly impossible for a pro to remember all the things she does by rote, the details that we amateurs need to be told explicitly, but Rogers gets this in spades.
Such a perfect recipe needs but one minor modification: Rodgers asks you to add the vegetables to pan, surrounding the roast, right at the start. I find they’re perfectly done if you add them at the one-hour mark, when you first turn the roast. (If you put your tongs on top of the veggie bowl, you won’t forget to add them.)
– from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
2-1/2 to 3-pound pork shoulder butt roast [Anita's note: not the 'picnic' portion]
1T capers, rinsed, pressed dry between towels, and barely chopped
1T lemon zest
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
12 fresh sage leaves, crushed then coarsely chopped
a leafy sprig or two of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and crushed (about 2T, packed)
2 tsp fennel seeds, barely crushed
1-1/2 tsp freshly cracked (not ground) black pepper
1 to 2 pounds prepared vegetables of your choice:
- carrot chunks, onion wedges, quartered fennel bulbs, baby potatoes, etc
a little mild-tasting olive oil
2/3 cup rich chicken stock
a few tablespoons of dry vermouth
Trimming, seasoning, and tying up the pork (1 to 3 days in advance):
Trim any discoloration and all but a 1/4-inch-thick layer of superficial fat from the pork. Study the natural seams between the muscles on each side of the meat. Choose one that runs the length of the roast and close to the center of any face. Use the tip of a knife to gingerly separate the muscles along that seam, gradually exposing more seams, which you should then separate as well. The goal is to create lots of internal surfaces to cake with seasonings. If your initial foray doesn’t expose many internal seams, you can take a second stab at a different face, so long as you don’t cut the pork in two. Salt the splayed piece of pork evenly all over (approximately 1/2 tsp of sea salt per pound of meat).
Combine the capers, lemon zest, garlic, sage, rosemary, with most of the fennel seeds and black pepper. (You should get about 1/2 cup, loosely packed.) Spread and pack this mixture all over the excavated insides of the pork butt, making sure the seasoning falls deep into the crannies where you’ve separated the muscles. Re-form the pork butt into its natural shape and tie tightly into a uniform shape, tying 4 or 5 strings around the circumference and another around the length of the roast. Rub the remaining fennel and pepper on the outside of the roast. Collect and refrigerate any loose herbs and seasonings. Cover the pork loosely and refrigerate.
Roasting the porchetta (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toss the vegetables in a minimum of olive oil, barely coating the surfaces. Add a few pinches of salt and toss again; set aside.
Heat a 12- or 14-inch ovenproof skillet, depending on how many vegetables you are roasting, over medium heat. Place the pork roast in the pan; it should sizzle. Place in the oven.
The roast should begin to color at 45 minutes; if not, turn the heat up to 375°F until it does, then turn the heat back down.
At 1 hour, turn the roast over and add the vegetables, rolling them in the rendered fat. Work quickly, so you don’t lose too much oven heat and the roast doesn’t cool off. Turn the roast again at 2 hours and add about 1/3 cup of the stock or water.
Add any excess herbs and seasonings to the pan juices at this point and swirl the pan so they sink into the liquid. Roast for another 15 to 30 minutes, to about 185°F. The pork should be fragrant and glistening golden caramel.
Transfer the meat to a platter, tent loosely with foil, and leave in a warm, protected spot while you make the pan sauce. Place the vegetables on a separate warm plate.
Preparing the pan sauce and serving the roast
Tilt the skillet and spoon off the fat. Add the vermouth and the remaining 1/3 cup stock or water and set over low heat. Scrape and stir to dissolve the caramelized drippings on the bottom and sides of the pan. Skim the fat as the liquid comes to a simmer. Add any juice that may have trickled from the resting roast.
Slice the pork, removing the strings as you go, and serve garnished with the vegetables and a spoonful of the rich pan sauce.