Judy Rodgers Zuni Cafe Pork Roast
A very modest, very manageable interpretation of the Tuscan "big pig" that few Americans, or Italians, could ever manage at home. (It is a formidable
production even at the restaurant.) That gargantuan dish is a whole roast pig, typically stuffed with fistfuls of stemmy herbs, capers, casually chopped garlic, and
sometimes fennel or pickled gherkins, all challenged by bold doses of salt and
pepper. This diminutive porchetta is made with a small piece of pork shoulder, an inexpensive, underappreciated cut. Its mosaic of muscles provides plenty of places
to stuff the seasonings, and it has enough internal fat and connective matter to
self-baste and stay juicy as it slow-roasts. Buy, season, stuff, and tie-up your
would-be porchetta 2 or 3 days before you plan to roast it, to give the flavors a
chance to permeate the meat. Crowd this little roast with whatever root vegetables you like, choosing a larger or smaller roasting pan, depending on how many
vegetables you want.
Make sure you have leftover porchetta so you can have a sandwich of the warm meat, spread with a spoonful of fresh ricotta cheese, on a crusty bun moistened with the pan juices. Leftover bits of porchetta are also good torn into bite-sized bits and shreds, moistened with olive oil and drippings, and roasted for a few minutes in a 4000 oven. Toss with frisee or bitter greens, add a few pecans, and serve with Balsamic Onion Marmalade on crostini.
If your pork shoulder is a little larger than the 3 pounds specified, you should increase the stuffing amounts accordingly. If it is close to 4 pounds, or larger, I recommend you turn it into two roasts; to maintain the cooking times, and so you get plenty of the caramelized, chewy outside with every slice.
Minus all the Tuscan herbs and seasonings, this is a good basic pork roast method. Try it seasoned with nothing more than salt kneaded with a few crushed juniper berries. That version is excellent with sauerkraut.
For 4 to 6 servings
- One 2-1/2 to 3-pound boneless pork shoulder butt roast
- 1 tbsp capers, rinsed, pressed dry between towels, and barely chopped
- 1 tsp chopped lemon zest
- 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- About 12 fresh sage leaves, crushed, then coarsely chopped (about 1-1/2 tsp, packed)
- A leafy sprig or two of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and crushed (about 2 tsp, packed)
- 2 tsps fennel seeds, barely crushed
- 1-1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 to 2 lbs prepared vegetables of your choice: chunks of peeled carrot; onions cut into wedges; quartered fennel bulbs; chunks of peeled celery root, turnips, rutabagas, or parsnips; unpeeled garlic cloves; and/or chunks of potato
- A little mild-tasting olive oil
- About 2/3 cup Rich Pork Stock (in book p 61) or chicken stock (in book p 58), or water
- A few tbsp of dry vermouth
- Kitchen twine
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 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 (I use 1/2 tsp 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 circumferance 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.
Toss the vegetables in a minimum of olive oil, barely coating the surface. Add a few pinches of salt and toss again.
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. Surround with the vegetables. Place in the oven. The roast should begin to color at 45 mins; if not, turn the heat up to 375 until it does, then turn the heat back down. At 1 hour, turn the roast over and roll the vegetables 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 mins, to about 185 degrees. 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.
Mom does not roast the vegetables for the full 2 1/2 hours - too roasty. She puts them in for the last hour of cooking.
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.