‘Slice of pork in bread’
During May there are many birthdays to celebrate, one in particular came with a luncheon menu request for a ‘slice of pork in bread’, a nostalgic nod to memories of eating pork salad sandwiches. I decided I would cook a porchetta, the traditional Italian rolled and stuffed joint of pork, typically sliced and served in bread (with or without salad). It’s a big and complex joint to roast – not for the faint-hearted, but perfect for a special occasion.
The first task in making a proper porchetta is to order the pork joint; a large and special cut from the belly. Near us are some very fine butchers, including the award-winning Bevan’s. It was there that I recently ordered a Florentine steak (a type of thick T-bone) for a birthday barbecue. At the time the butcher seemed quite informed and not at all fazed by someone ordering a steak ‘three fingers thick’ or talking about standing the steak on the bone over the fire at the end of cooking.
‘I’m Francesco’, said the butcher. Brilliant! I was ordering a Florentine steak from an Italian – what could be better. When I returned to pick up the steak, Francesco and I chatted again. His parting shot was, cook it well, and enjoy the company!
Clearly, Francesco would also know about porchetta, so I put in my order. When I arrived to collect my pork joint I was treated to a demonstration. This was not a simple belly of pork as many recipes specify. This was a piece of art. With great pride, Francesco placed the large rolled-joint on the counter and then impressively unfolded, concertina-style, four joined flaps connected either side to the middle. Even the other butchers stopped to admire the show. We were all looking at a prime specimen of genuine porchetta; bones carefully cut away; the loin still attached. It was a spectacular joint and most skilfully prepared for stuffing and rolling.
Then Francesco said he had a recipe from Rome, if I would like to try it. Of course, and he presented me with his detailed hand-written set of instructions. It’s not every day that you buy a piece of meat together with a personal recipe from the butcher.
The porchetta – and Francesco’s recipe – were wonderful; unfortunately, for various reasons, the special occasion had to be cancelled. Cooking a joint of pork without any guests is rather like playing football in a stadium without any fans, it seems pointless. But a porchetta will never go wasted or unappreciated. We carved it up and distributed portions among the family, we had it as a roast with vegetables and gravy the next day, and later made our traditional leftover pork rissoles. Finally, I put a good piece in the freezer, where sometime soon we may still enjoy a special occasion for a ‘slice of pork in bread’.