Porchetta – What Pigs Were Meant For


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If this is the first time you have heard the word, Porchetta, I guarantee you it won’t be the last.

There are a lot of things you can do with a pig.  We, as a people, have been cooking pigs for hundreds of years. In that time, many great advances and achievements have been made in the field of pork cookery. And while the average guy might agree that all that time and effort has culminated into the achievement we, today, call Bacon, I would like to challenge the status quo and claim that something even better than bacon can be done with a pig – Bold statement, I know. But I think the Italians will back me up on this.

I’ll get to the description, because I know some of you are wondering what a Porchetta is. So, I’ll give you the classical definition: In classic Italian cookery, a porchetta is a suckling pig that has been opened up flat, carefully de-boned, and has had the inside meat heavily rubbed with herbs, garlic and spices. It has then been rolled up, trussed, and roasted in the oven at low heat for many hours.

The result? Incredibly fatty, juicy, soft, flavorful meat surrounded by crunchy crackling skin. The secret to this recipe is that the meat, once seasoned, has cooked in a “cocoon” of pork skin. This cocoon keeps the meat from drying out or burning, and provides it with steady supply of rendered fat from the skin throughout the entire roasting process. This breaks down the meat protein into something you really have to experience for yourself.

One could suspect that Marco Polo, upon visiting China, might have discovered Chinese roast pork, which is cooked in basically the same way, and might have brought this method of cooking back to Italy. Making this dish, actually Chinese. But seeing as the Indo-Europeans (the people that lived in Europe 10,000 years ago) were heavy meat eaters and had fire, one could also speculate that this recipe is simply a European evolution of roasting. But who cares, right? Both, China and Italy can roast pigs like champs.

Porchetta is a traditional holiday treat in Italy. In fact, the first time I had porchetta, it was as a gift we received from an Italian family. And the moment that I experienced the interplay of soft, unctuous, savory and cruchy pork all in one bite, I was hooked, and I had to find out all there was to know about this sublime dish.

Now, luckily, you don’t have perform surgery on a suckling pig to make a good porchetta. All you need are two things: fatty pork meat, and pork skin. For this recipe I used two de-boned Boston Butts, and I asked the butcher to save me a couple of pieces of pork skin (these particular ones from the leg portion of a pig). You could also make porchetta using a piece of pork belly (too much fat and not enough protein, in my opinion), or you could venture into a leg of pork which, if you’re good with a knife, you can de-skin and de-bone yourself.

But for this recipe, go to your butcher and get a Boston Butt and some pig skin.

Before I get into the recipe, I would like to add that making a porchetta is easy enough. But making a porchetta with crispy skin, is an advanced cooking technique. In order to make the skin crispy, it must first be perforated with a skin pricking tool (as you can see in the photo gallery), then it must be dried out in the fridge overnight, and then it must be crisped under the broiler, cooked at low temperature for several hours, and then crisped under the broiler again.

The skin pricking tool can be hard to find. If you have a good Chinatown in your city, you should be in luck. Otherwise, finding a good Chinese skin pricker (actually called a jaccard), will be a bit of a challenge. You can try a regular “meat tenderizer” but I have found that most meat tenderizers have needles that are too coarse, and thus do not really penetrate the pork skin. For this recipe, I took a large trussing needle and took a tediously long time to poke as many holes as I could into the skin.

Having said that, you can make a porchetta without turning the skin into crunchy pork rinds and it will still be freaking awesome! In that case, the skin will still act like a cocoon that will cook the meat perfectly inside. Half the skin will be soft and unctuous, and the other hard bits, you can discard.

Without further a due, here is the recipe.


  • 2 to 3 Lb Boston Butt pork shoulder, de-boned
  • Enough pork skin to wrap the Boston Butt
  • Salt
  • Paprika
  • Fennel seeds
  • Fresh garlic, chopped, lots
  • Dried oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Fresh parsley, chopped, lots
  • Butcher twine (string)


  1. Assure that the Boston Butt is boneless and that the skin is separated from the meat.
  2. With a chef knife, butterfly or “roll-out” the meat into a long, flat piece of meat about 1/2 inch to 1 inch thick.
  3. Rub the meat with plenty of salt and pepper. This recipe takes more salt than you might be comfortable using.
  4. Sprinkle the rest of the spices, garlic and parsley into the meat and rub them in.
  5. Roll the meat back up into a roll.
  6. Prick the skin with as many small holes as you can, either with the tip of a knife, needle or Chinese skin pricking tool. The more holes, the more the skin will crisp and become crunchy and edible.
  7. Wrap the meat with the skin and tie securely with butcher string.
  8. Place the meat on a baking rack on top of a roasting pan. Put some water into the roasting pan to catch the fat drippings and prevent an oven fire.
  9. (OPTIONAL) Refrigerate the porchetta in the fridge uncovered for up to 2 days to dry out the skin. Or, you can omit this step and go to step 10.
  10. Put the porchetta into an oven at 500°F for 30 minutes.
  11. After 30 minutes, turn the heat down to 325°F to roast for 4 hours.
  12. If after 4 hours the skin still needs a little heat to make it crackling, turn the broiler on and crisp up the skin to desired crackliness. Or, you can just take it out of the oven after 4 hours and enjoy as is.

There are many things that you can do with leftover porchetta. It’s like asking Forest Gump what to do with shrimp! Porchetta sandwiches, porchetta omelettes, porchetta scrambled eggs, re-heated porchetta, porchetta wraps, chop it up and put it in salads, soups, tomato sauce, cream sauce, have it with pasta, etc. Enjoy!