Porchetta Style Pork Shoulder

Having moved from New York City to San Diego a little more than a year ago, I’m amazed by the frequent sales my local Ralph’s grocery has on meat: sales like 2 for 1 on chicken, 50% off on shell steak, and the one responsible for this post $1.99/pound on fresh pork shoulder.

When I saw a well cut four-and-a-half-pound shoulder roast for a $9 and change, I couldn’t resist. Although I’ve never made one before, I’ve often read how tasty they are especially when cooked low and slow.

Because my husband had been asking me for a porchetta-style roast and thinking that I could fulfill his request with this bargain pork shoulder, when I got home I started to look through Italian cookbooks for a recipe, but had little success. Perhaps this cut of meat isn’t popular in Italy. I then went online and found several recipes using pork shoulder that were based on this popular Italian street food.

A true porchetta, like those seen in Rome’s Piazza Navona during the holidays, is a gargantuan spectacle. Its made from the full carcass of a 100 pound pig and stuffed with its prepared entrails along with herbs like rosemary and sage, wild fennel, garlic, citrus, salt and pepper. Roasted whole, typically in huge bread ovens, it’s often served cold at street fairs in central Italy, especially in the regions of Umbria and Lazio

Scaled-down home versions of porchetta are typically made with a pork loin rolled into pork belly and seasoned with herbs and citrus. You can find a video of one being made here.

The roast I made yesterday, however, is a much simpler version that only approximates a true porchetta but nonetheless does deliver a lot of its intoxicatingly delicious flavors. I adapted my version from a New York Times recipe as well as one from Food and Wine.

There’s minimal preparation, but with the overnight marinating and more than four hours of cooking, it’s a two-day affair. Indeed, the only difficulty with this dish is waiting patiently for so long while the enticing aromas whet your appetite as the meat roasts.

The most significant changes I made to The Times recipe were influenced by the one on the Food & Wine website. They included increasing the amount of fennel seed from 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds to 3 tablespoons of finely ground ones and adding a cup of dry white wine to the pan just before the final hour of cooking. This final step, which you may choose to skip, adds moisture but may also slightly reduce the crispiness of the scored-fat cracklings. I should also point out that my cooking times were influenced by a reader’s comment to the Times recipe.

Porchetta Style Pork Roast  (Adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark in The New York Times.)


1 (4.5 -pound) bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder roast, fat trimmed to 1/4-inch thickness
¼ cup chopped fennel fronds
¼ cup chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves
5 garlic cloves, grated or mashed to a paste
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons finely ground fennel seed
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine (optional)

1) Using a very sharp knife score skin and fat all over pork, taking care not to cut down to the meat.

Scoring the fat

2) In a mini food processor, combine fennel fronds, rosemary, sage, garlic, lemon zest, salt, ground fennel seed, red pepper flakes and black pepper. Pour in oil. Pulse until it forms a paste.

The processed rub

3) Rub all over pork, making sure to press the run into the scored fat. Tie with kitchen string at 2-inch intervals.

The rubbed and tied roast

4) Transfer to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

5) Remove pork from refrigerator 1 hour before you want to cook it. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Transfer pork to a lightly greased roasting pan and roast for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 275 degrees and cook an additional 3 hours.

Roast ready for the oven

6) Remove from the oven and add 1 cup of white wine to the pan around the roast. (Do not pour the wine over the roast.)

Adding wine to the pan

7) Return the roast to the oven and cook for 1 hour more or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 180 degrees, which will yield tender meat that is easy to slice. (The onion half, shown below, was added with the wine, but since it really didn’t do much for the dish, it’s not included in the recipe.)

The finished roast

8) Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

On the cutting board

I served the pork with Italian style roasted potatoes.

Sliced Roast & Potatoes

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir

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