A few weeks ago, I posted a question to my Tweeps (quick, go follow @thefoodhound, then come back) asking for any autumn-y requests. I got the usual ‘things with pumpkin!’ and ‘soup!’ requests (and I’ve already delivered with pumpkin ice cream… GAH! So amazing!), but there was one unique request from one of our CrossFit Ktown coaches:
‘I want to see your take on the bacon explosion!’
Ohhhh, the bacon explosion. A bacon-wrapped sausage loaf that is also filled with… bacon. Both my deepest desire and nemesis. Let me explain.
My first introduction to a bacon explosion was at a CrossFit Ktown potluck holiday party a few years ago. CrossFitters tend to love the Paleo diet, so a lot of people brought meat. Among the plethora of meaty offerings, there was a glistening bacon explosion. People were salivating over it so much that it was hard to distinguish where the dripping grease ended and the drool began. It looked both completely awesome and completely disgusting.
As a dietitian (shhhhh, remember we don’t talk about that a lot…) who embraces many of the principles of the Paleo diet, I often find myself at odds with the portion of CrossFitters who espouse meals of meat + meat + more meat + a side of meat. Veggies, shmeggies. Oh, and make sure to include the feedlot ground beef and Jack Links jerky… because that’s so good for you. The ‘a pound of fried bacon is only the breakfast of champions if it’s served with a side of sausage’ crowd is definitely the minority, but they are kind of loud and obnoxious, and they keep the generally-sensible Paleo diet on the fringe of fad diets instead of helping the general idea of less sugar and fewer processed foods go mainstream.
[Oh my gosh, she’s lost me. I hope she gets to the porchetta part really, really soon. Snoooooooze…]
My point is that to me, the bacon explosion represents everything that is wrong with this meat-headed way of eating, and it became my whipping boy. Whipping food. Whatever. As deliciously fabulous as it sounded, I would never make it because then the only difference between me and those meat heads would be my lack of tribal tats.
But… why does bacon-wrapped sausage stuffed with bacon sound so luscious? Do I just need to get a tribal tat right now?
Luckily, I have a friend named Judith.
One day Judith (also a CrossFitter) filled me in on one of her deepest, darkest food loves: porchetta. That’s pork loin wrapped in pork belly (aka heaven). She would help fund the operation if I were to take on the task of making it one day. Um, how could I ever pass up the proposition to make pork wrapped in a giant slab of bacon?
Wait, bacon explosion is pork wrapped in bacon. Noooooooo!!!!!
I’m ruined! I’m a fraud! I have falled off my high horse and I can’t get up!!
…is what I would tell myself if I liked to admit defeat, but I don’t, so I’m just going to call bacon explosion completely plebian and porchetta, for lack of a better word, totally baller. And I only like to make baller things 😉
Instead of having a mental breakdown over the fact that I wanted to make something that was, essentially, an Italian version of my sworn food enemy, I allowed the simple request from my coach to turn my porchetta project into a bacon explosion redemption. I decided to make the porchetta for three reasons: 1. My friends asked me to; 2. To class up the (wonderfully) trashy bacon explosion; and 3. Ummmm… it’s pork wrapped in pork belly. There is no question.
Can I just start out by saying that wrapping something in a huge slab of pork belly is one of the greatest pleasures in life? Ok, maybe not the wrapping part, but knowing you are wrapping it in order to eat it after a few short hours in the oven, when it’s all crispy and juicy. That’s a one-way ticket to Pleasuretown, folks.
While porchetta looks completely intimidating, it is actually so simple to make. The biggest thing is finding a slab of pork belly and a shoulder or loin butterflied the way you need it to be. If you have a local butcher, that’s where you need to start. (And if you’re local to Knoxville, this meat came from Willy’s Butcher Shop in Bearden (belly) and Fresh Market (shoulder). Both had to be ordered in advance but were excellent!!) The rest of the work is just slathering on an herb paste, rolling it, letting it rest overnight, then roasting. That’s it!
The whole shebang does take some time to prepare, so the ultimate question is: was it worth it? I gotta be honest… and I’m not just saying this because I find spending time in the kitchen immensely satisfying… it totally was. The only part that wasn’t pure, porky perfection was that the skin was too tough in parts. I know it’s supposed to be shatteringly crispy all over, and it was like that in parts, but I am a pork piggy and I want it to be perfect everywhere. I will discuss with Willy from the butcher shop and find out if there is anything I need to consider when choosing a pork belly to allow for ethereal pork skin texture. But otherwise? Totally show-stopping holiday meal centerpiece. You will be revered as the Julia Child of your family.
So… does making porchetta make me a hypocrite? Yes and no. Yes in that I totally made pork wrapped in bacon after years of making fun of people salivating over… pork wrapped in bacon. No in that I made it with locally sourced, pastured meat, and we ate it with butternut squash gratin, Garlic-Roasted Cauliflower (aka vegetables, not sides made of meat). And of course there was dessert because you know that’s how I roll on special occasions. If eating pork wrapped in bacon isn’t a special occasion I just don’t know what is. Oink 🙂
- 1 (4- to 5-lb) piece of fresh, skin-on pork belly
- 1 (5- to 6-lb) pork shoulder, butterflied to an even thickness of 1-inch (ask your butcher to butterfly it for you- this is key to proper rolling of the whole shebang)
- 1 Tbsp ground fennel seed
- 1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for the skin
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- Combine the fennel, pepper, rosemary, salt, garlic and olive oil in a small bowl. Mix with a fork to form a paste. Set aside while you prep the pork.
- Lay the pork belly skin side up. Using a sharp knife (paring knife recommended), carefully score the skin in a tight crosshatch diamond pattern, cutting down to the fat but not through it (about ¼ inch deep). The skin can be a little hard to cut through, but scoring it is essential if you want the skin to become as crispy as possible.
- Flip the belly over, skin side down, and score the meat side in the same crosshatch diamond pattern. Rub a little bit of the spice-garlic paste all over the pork belly.
- With the pork belly still skin-side down, place the butterflied pork shoulder on top of it so that the long sides of the shoulder are lined up with the long sides of the belly (ie, so it rolls as evenly as possible). Spread the remaining spice mixture on the side of the pork shoulder that’s facing up.
- Leaving the pork belly alone for now, just roll the shoulder up as tightly as possible so it looks like a long, fat pork loin. Put the rolled pork shoulder near the middle of the pork belly and fold/roll the belly all the way up over the shoulder on each side. The two ends of the belly should overlap just slightly and the shoulder should be completely covered in a draping of belly fat. Mmmmmm.
- **If there’s a gap on the underside because the pork belly doesn’t reach all the way around, that’s fine. Or, if you just have a small piece of pork belly, simply drape the belly over the top of the shoulder.
- Once the pork belly is snugly around the shoulder, use cooking twine/string to tie the belly to the shoulder in 2-inch intervals as tightly as possible. This is easiest with two people; one person holds the porchetta together and one ties the strings.
- If the ends of the rolled pork are uneven and pork belly or pork shoulder is hanging out, use a kitchen shears to trim the ends of the belly or shoulder so they are even. Don't worry, you won't be wasting anything you cut off-- just roast it separately and take it out when it's done, which will be before the whole rolled porchetta will be done.
- Transfer the porchetta to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan. Sprinkle a light layer of salt on top. (Essential part! The salt helps flavor the skin!). Refrigerate the pork uncovered overnight. Just as an FYI, the smell of the herb paste will permeate your fridge, so you might want to have a few baking soda fridge packs on hand and move anything delicate, like whipped cream to another fridge, lest they pick up the herb flavor.
- The next day, bring the roast to room temperature for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 450 ºF (232 ºC)
- Put the porchetta in the oven and roast for 45 minutes. This blasts the skin with heat and makes it golden and crackly.
- Turn the heat down to 325 ºF (163 ºC) and continue to roast the porchetta until a thermometer stuck into the middle of the roast registers between 150 ºF and 160 ºF. This will take around 2 to 3½ hours more. **I know this wide range makes it hard to plan your meal serving time, especially if it's a holiday and you are timing many dishes at once, but the cooking really depends on the thickness of your porchetta, which will vary every time you make it. Trust me- it's worth it!
- Let the porchetta rest for 30 minutes before slicing. Tip: a serrated knife might work best to cut through the skin if it's tough.
- To reheat porchetta leftovers the next day, heat up slices under the broiler until the fatty layers are soft and supple again.
There are many versions of porchetta that employ other seasonings, like citrus zest or different herbs. Feel free to experiment with adding ½ cup or more of finely chopped fresh herbs, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and/or a tablespoon of orange or lemon zest.