Suckling Pig Porchetta with Fennel Pollen/Flowers

Suckling Pig Porchetta

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Porchetta is a dish that originates from Ariccia (Lazio, Rome). It consists of a log of rolled pork flavoured with garlic, rosemary, and black pepper, roasted over wood for many hours and is one of the dishes selected by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policy as a prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale. This means that only Porchetta made in Ariccia, following the process outlined by the Ministry, can be legally called Porchetta di Ariccia IGP. These processes include only the use of hand deboned female pigs, as well as being cooked in a stainless steel tube between 160° and 280° C for 3 to 6 hours. Porchetta can be found all over Italy and is often served as street food at celebratory events, with entire pigs being roasted over open fires at festivals. There is even a festival held in Ariccia called the Sagra della Porchetta di Ariccia held every year in its honour. It can also be found served as a stuffing for sandwiches many cafes, even in the US and some places in Europe.

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Whilst the original recipe for Porchetta di Ariccia IGP only calls for garlic, rosemary and black pepper, most people associate the taste of Porchetta with fennel seeds as more often than not, it is added alongside the rest of the original herbs. In fact, the most famous Porchetta shops around Italy tend to use fennel flowers/pollen as an additional spice compared to fennel seeds. As a perennial mediterranean plant, two main varieties of fennel are now cultivated all over the world. The first being Florence fennel, which is the typical fennel plant you see in a supermarket, and the second being the Common fennel, which is not consumed but harvested for its seeds. Like most cultivated agricultural plants, its wild counterpart still exists in nature and it is from these wild plants that fennel pollen/flowers are collected. Very much like saffron, the pollen/flowers are harvested by hand and then laid out to dry in the sun without the aid of machines. This also explains why the price of fennel pollen/flowers as a spice is just as expensive as saffron.

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Historical, fennel pollen/flowers were used to ward off witches in medieval times, which is why it soon became known as the Spice of Angels. It was also used to flavour absinthe, a distilled spirit, before being replaced by the cheaper alternatives of star anise and Florence Fennel. This is because both fennel and star anise contain the molecule Anethole, which gives it its characteristic flavour. Fennel pollen/flowers taste similar to fennel seeds but with an additional complexity of liquorice and citrus, as well as being many times more potent. This mean that like saffron, while both spices are extremely expensive by weight, a small amount of both spices go a long way in cooking and can therefore be somewhat justified.

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Suckling Pig, Oxfordshire

The recipe below is for suckling pig Porchetta, which is a pig that is slaughtered between two to six weeks of age (still fed on it’s mother’s milk). The taste of suckling pig is not as strong as a fully grown pig, as due to its young age, contains a much higher concentration of collagen and thinner skin that makes it perfect for roasting. Suckling pig can easily usually be pre-ordered in advance from your butcher but can also be expensive. Therefore, two recipes are provided below, one for Porchetta made from standard store brought pork belly, and one for suckling pig Porchetta. In both recipes, fennel seeds can also be used to replace the fennel pollen/flowers.

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Suckling Pig Porchetta

  • 5-8kg suckling pig
  • 500g of Skin Off Pork Belly (May not be needed, refer to recipe below)
  • 3-4g wild Fennel flowers (Pollen) or 10g of Fennel Seeds
  • 10g Fresh Rosemary/Dried Rosemary
  • 5g Dried Chilli Flakes
  • 7g Garlic Powder/1 Whole Fresh Garlic
  • Sea salt/Fine Salt
  • Freshly Ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Butcher’s Twine or Parcel String
  • Trussing needle
  1. Debone your suckling pig. *refer to the end of the post.
  2. If there are hairs on the skin of the pig, use a blowtorch to remove them.
  3. Lay the pig on its back.
  4. Finely chop up all the herbs, before sprinkling it evenly over the pig.
  5. Season the pig well with salt and pepper before drizzling with olive oil.
  6. Massage the herbs, salt, and pepper into the pig using the olive oil.
  7. If the pig is thin and lacks meat, cut the pork belly into strips and lay evenly inside the cavity of the pig.
  8. Sew together the belly of the pig using a trussing needle and string to form a cylinder. It will form into a nice packed cylinder due to the addition of pork belly to help fill the cavity.
  9. Dry the skin of the pig using a paper towel and poke several holes in the skin of the pig using a knife.
  10. Roast in an oven at 130°C for 4 hours before grilling it at 210 to 220°C for 10 minutes to crisp up the skin.
  11. Allow the Porchetta to rest before thinly slicing to serve.

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Pork Belly Porchetta

  • 3kg Skin On Pork Belly
  • 5g of Fennel Seeds
  • 5g of Fresh Rosemary/Dried Rosemary
  • 2g of Dried Chilli Fakes
  • 3g of Garlic Powder/Half a head of Garlic
  • Sea salt/Fine Salt
  • Freshly Ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Butcher’s Twine or Parcel String
  1. The day before, Lay the Pork Belly on a tray skin side up and score the skin. Generously salt the skin of the pork. Cover with a paper towel to absorb the moisture that will come out.
  2. The next day, brush off as much salt as possible from the skin and wipe it down with a paper towel.
  3. Lay the belly skin side down on a tray. Finely chop up all the herbs, before sprinkling it evenly over the belly.
  4. Season the belly well with salt and pepper before drizzling with olive oil.
  5. Massage the herbs, salt, and pepper into the belly using the olive oil.
  6. Roast in an oven at 170°C for 3 hours before grilling it at 210°C for 15 minutes to crisp up the skin.
  7. Allow the Porchetta to rest before thinly slicing to serve.
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Sarawak Black Pepper

Notes:

  • You can adjust the amount of each spice depending on your taste (especially chilli flakes)
  • Freshly ground black pepper is much more aromatic compared to pre-ground black pepper, I use Sarawak black pepper but any black pepper works.
  • Drying the skin of the pork plus adding salt onto the skin and leaving it overnight extracts water from the skin of the pork which allows it to crisp up under high heat, giving you that lovely crispy crackling.

*On deboning a Suckling Pig

The best way to get around this problem is to ask your butcher if they would kindly do it for you. If not there are many videos online teaching you how to do it. The following is my attempt to describe it using words.

  1. The Suckling Pig should already come with its innards removed. The main issue to focus on is to try and not the puncture the skin of the pig as you debone it.
  2. Use your knife to get under the ribs and slowly cut around each individual rib to free it. Be sure to keep the knife angled towards the rib bones to reduce wastage. Continue until you can free the entire rib cage from the pig. The part connecting the spine to the skin is extremely skin so be extra careful to not cut through the skin.
  3. For each of the pig’s legs, the process is similar to deboning a chicken leg. Cut from the middle of the upper leg all the way down to the trotter and heel and slowly cut around the bone to remove it. Leave the last bone in the trotter in.
  4. Follow the bones as your go along. For the two front legs, follow the bones all the way to the shoulder blade remove them.
  5. Break the spice at the Atlas joint (where the neck connects the skull), and remove the ribs in one while piece.
  6. Any meat left on the carcass can but cut off and added back into the Porchetta.

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Wine pairing

To me, the best pairing for crispy pork skin the the bubbly yeasty notes of sparkling wine. If you’ve ever had the chance to taste aged Champagne, where the mallard reaction has occurred over many years of ageing, the caramel and almost chicken soup like aroma of aged Champagne pair perfectly with with Porchetta. But of course Champagne is also not an affordable drink. And when it comes to Italian sparkling wine, or Spumante, there is plenty of selection. There are 4 major types of sparkling wines from Italy which include Prosecco, Lambrusco, Metodo Classico, and Asti Spumante.

The main wine I would recommend pairing with this dish is sparkling wine made using the Metodo Classico. Metodo Classico is a way sparkling wine is made and is identical to the méthode champenoise in Champagne. These sparkling wines are dry and very much similiar in style to traditional Champagne. The famous regions are Franciacorta D.O.C.G. and Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico D.O.C.G. in Lombardy and Trento D.O.C. next to Alto-Adige. The grape varieties used here are also identical to Chamapagne with the exception of Pinot Bianco. Prosecco is another sparkling wine made in a dry style but has fruity and floral notes. This means that although it is try, it taste slightly sweet in style. The grape variety used to make Prosecco is Glera and due to the nature of its taste, is recommended to be drunk young.

Asti Spumante D.O.C.G. is sweet and therefore not recommend to pair with this dish. It is made with Moscato grapes (aka Muscat Blanc), and has notes of honey and fresh fruits. This wine originates from Asti in Northern Italy. Lambrusco is a region in Emilia-Romagna, the name of the wine and the name of the grape variety. It is usually not made in a dry style and also not recommended to be paired with this dish. However, more recently dry styles of Lambrusco is becoming more and more coming and maybe worth a try.

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On a finishing note, I particularly enjoyed this with English Sparkling Wine, which has proven to be very good value compared to traditional Champagne, albeit more expensive than Italian Sparkling wine. This is especially true as the temperatures in Northern England become warmer and warmer, and thus more suitable for Champagne grape varieties, while still having the same soil type. I also recommend you try the Porchetta in a Ciabatta sandwich with dijon mustard, rocket or any salad leaves, fresh tomatoes and feta cheese!

2 Comments

  1. Great post. I really appreciate the research and thought that goes into such a reference piece. Now I need some pork.
    My butcher gets suckling pig reasonably frequently. Now I have a mission.

    Like

  2. Another fabulous post… Brava…. the detail, the photos and the recipes…fabulous! The photo of the sandwich reminded me of one my husband bought in Sienna…. it seemed to be filled with half a pig…it was ‘ginormous’. Fennel would have to be one of my top five favourite herbs. When I roast pumpkin I add a liberal shake over the oiled and salted veg. I am unsure if I have the courage to bone a whole suckling pig…. but glad that I have your tips just the same.

    Like

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