Porchetta with ”Jason’s” Pear Mostarda
Feeds 6-8 normal people
First off, it’s POOR-KET-UH. Just like bruschetta is actually BREW-SKET-UH. When combined, ch takes on a K inflection in Italian. Does it matter that you present this to your guests as POR-CHET-UH? In my book, it’s a little cringeworthy but in the grand scheme of the universe there are greater culinary sins. Chicken Alfredo, for example, is definitely more offensive.
I know the suspicion and dread cooks have when, out of the blue, they are faced with a new chef. A quiet cook is usually a scheming cook from my experience. If, on my first day as chef of an existing restaurant, none of the line crew are interacting with me, give me perfunctory answers to probing questions or won’t meet my eyes when we talk, I know the deal. Cooks are a sensitive lot. They are in assessment mode. That guarded attitude is masking an irritation and wavering resentment. Pledging blind allegiance to the ‘FNG’, or Fucking New Guy, just doesn’t happen. Pulling cooks out of their shells takes time. But I needed to assert my culinary authority immediately, lest the mutinous thoughts start marinating in their brains plunging me into a nightmare scenario of covering multiple stations while simultaneously trying to defibrillate the restaurant.
This dish did the trick.
This also marked the first of many staff collaborations to come at Ciao Italia, Durham. I could tell immediately that let’s call him Jason, one of my inherited cooks, was going to be the first to sew dissent if I didn’t give him an outlet for his creativity. He spoke well of the previous chef (a complete shock to me after hearing rumors about him) and talked the talk. Jason knew all the chefs and food trends currently swirling around the modern world and had cherry picked his favorites at his last chef job in LA. He had strong opinions, knew how to sous vide, had lived and trained in Italy and felt the current menu didn’t reflect a rung on his culinary ladder to greatness. I tasked him with coming up with a condiment for the porchetta. His pear mostarda was a perfect study in the Italian idea of a condimenti agrodolce (sweet and sour condiment) cozying up to fatty meats.
The collaboration between new and old iterations of the restaurant felt like hitting a home run on my first time at bat.
Ingredients (for the porchetta):
- 1-3-4 lb. pork belly (you can do this will a huge 12-15 lb. belly, but this recipe works best with a smaller one)
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons finely ground fennel seed or fennel pollen (use a coffee mill or spice grinder to grind the fennel seeds until the resulting powder resembles table dust)
- 2 oranges, zest and juice
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- ½ cup good olive oil (I use California Olive Ranch brand)
- Butcher’s twine
- ½ sized sheet tray
- ½ sized baker’s cooling rack
- Lay the belly out, skin-side up, on a cutting board large enough to hold it. Score the skin horizontally across the widest part. Your cuts should be about ½ inch apart. You can do the cool crosshatch pattern, but we don’t on the outside.
- Score the inside of the belly in big diamond shaped crosshatches. Don’t go too deep. Maybe a couple centimeters.
- Massage the minced garlic and orange zest into the meat, squeeze the oranges over the meat, then generously season the belly with the ground fennel, salt and pepper.
- Using the butcher’s twine, tightly truss the belly (watch a YouTube video). If you roll it tightly, you may find that some of the skin gets tucked into the inside. If so, unroll the thing and carefully cut that section of skin off without losing too much meat. The last thing you want to eat is undercooked pig skin.
- Refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours before moving on to the next step.
- After 24 hours, remove the porchetta from the fridge and allow it to come up to room temperature for an hour.
- Drizzle olive on the thing and massage it in. Then, season the whole thing well (no grandma pinches here) with salt. NO PEPPER. Pepper will burn up during the final step.
- Roast at 300F for 4 hours. You can go longer but don’t exceed 5 hours.
- After 4 hours, crank the oven up to 450F and roast until the skin pops up and makes cracklin’. Be careful, you don’t want 2 days of anticipation to be for nothing. Rest 20 minutes before removing the string, slicing and serving.
Jason’s Pear Mostarda
- 1 cup yellow mustard seeds (you will have plenty left over for other purposes)
- ¾ cup sherry vinegar (not sherry)
- 1 cup water
- 3 Bosc pears, peeled and chopped into ¼ inch dice
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2-3 tablespoons Dijon style mustard
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 2 small saucepans
- 1 small handheld strainer
- 1 small mixing bowl
- Bring the sherry vinegar and 1 cup of water to a boil and add the mustard seeds. Simmer for 30-30 minutes. Strain and discard liquid.
- Bring the 2 cups of water, brown sugar and lemon juice to a simmer, then add the diced pears. Cook for 10 or 15. Strain and discard liquid.
- Place the poached pear in the small bowl with 1 tablespoons of the mustard seeds and the Dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper and adjust acidity with sherry vinegar. Cool at least to room temperature before serving.
- Serve with the porchetta like you’d serve salsa with fish tacos.