Porchetta (of Ariccia, Italy [in the Province of Rome])
What lechón is to a Puerto Rican, porchetta is to an Italian. Porchetta (pronounced “porketta”) is one of those simple, affordable luxuries that countrymen crave while away in distant lands; pregnant women, in their frequent fits of raging cravings, demand of their “baby-daddies”; and the terminally ill request on their deathbeds.
Pork is a delicious meat. But when it is prepared as porchetta, it is elevated to a delicacy. The Italian delicacy of porchetta is the boneless, roasted torso of a pig. Though prepared and eaten throughout Italy, the dish is believed to have originated in central Italy, especially in the Lazio region, which includes Rome, and is most associated with the town of Ariccia.
During the slaughtering process, the pig is eviscerated, and its four legs are removed. Occasionally, the head is also removed, but it is oftentimes left intact so as to enhance the visual presentation of the dish. The animal’s ribcage is neatly cut away from the carcass, leaving only lean, fat, and skin for the making of porchetta.
Laid out skin-down onto a large, flat surface, the deboned carcass is seasoned primarily with ample salt, black pepper, fresh rosemary, fresh fennel herb, garlic, and juniper berries. (Some cooks saturate the inside of the carcass with white wine prior to applying the seasonings). A long spit—long enough to extend about one foot on each end beyond both ends of the pig—made of metal or wood is laid lengthwise atop the seasoned carcass before both sides of the carcass are brought together around the spit and sewn together, lengthwise, using a bodkin and sturdy twine. Once secured with twine, the skin of the carcass is pierced in various areas with the point of a knife so that excess melted fat can escape during the roasting process. In certain parts of Italy, such as Umbria, or in Valdarno in the region of Tuscany, prior to positioning the spit atop the seasoned carcass, the animal’s internal organs—the liver, kidneys, and heart—are laid out lengthwise, chopped or whole, in the center of the carcass such that after the roasting process and the spit is removed, the delicacy, when sliced depth-wise as is the custom (the way one would slice an orange so as to produce “wagon-wheel” rings), each slice is studded with a portion of an organ. Alternatively, the sides of the carcass may be sewn together lengthwise without a spit in the middle, then placed atop a rack so as to facilitate oven-roasting and the falling away of excess fat.
The pork is slow-roasted in an oven or on a spit in a rotisserie or above a charcoal fire for several hours until the skin attains a rich, golden-mahogany-brown color and a crisp texture. In Sardinia, where the delicacy is known as “porceddu,” suckling piglets are typically used and are slow-roasted over juniper and/or myrtle wood.
Porchetta has been selected by the Italian Minestero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali (Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies) as one of Italy’s traditional foods of cultural relevance.
Besides being sold as a popular street-food in Rome, served as the filling for “pizza bianca,” porchetta is also eaten as a meat course in many Italian households and is served as a sandwich at picnics. Porchetta is also typically sold from food vans, especially at street festivals or outdoor markets. But perhaps the grandest porchetta event of them all is the Sagra della Porchetta di Ariccia (Village Festival of Porchetta of Ariccia), held annually during the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of September.