It’s the week before Christmas and chances are good that most people are just thisclose to either exploding or imploding, whichever comes first. The sheer amount of nonsense and self-imposed misery people are willing to accept is mind-boggling – but we’re not here to talk about that.
Well, yeah. My blog. I CAN talk about that. I sometimes think I might implode myself if I hear one more person whinging about the commercialization of Christmas as they head out the door to shop for more presents for little Esmeralda and little Heathcliff – well, pull up your big girl/boy panties and accept responsibility for your part in that commercialization. “They EXPECT presents/ my mother-in-law will judge me/I don’t want to be Scrooge” – oh, put a sock in it. No one HAS to be out there in the mall. If you really feel that way, declare your home a commercial-free zone. Little kiddies WILL get over your giftlessness. If your MIL has a cow, tell her to give it lots of hay and milk it every morning.
The worst Christmas I ever had – and I’ve had some bad ones – I had to return a present to the store because the intended recipient died before I could give it to him. If you want to give presents, don’t think that Christmas is the only acceptable time. You see just the right veeblefetzer that Aunt Hilda would love, but it’s only April? Get it and hand it over. Aunt Hilda may not make it to December.
Where were we? Oh. Yeah. Meat and potatoes.
Among the many headaches at this time of year is the need to feed a lot of people. You’ve already had spaghetti and lasagna and take-out and bags of lettuce with bottled dressing; now you need to come up with something a little more festive but also substantial. This dish works on all those accounts. And it can be prepped ahead and left in the refrigerator until time to roast it.
I saw a friend make a roast this way, the meat balanced on top of new potatoes, and I marveled at its simplicity. The seasoning idea came from an episode of Man, Fire, Food on The Cooking Channel. Roger Mooking visited Rancho Llano Seco, which is about 70 miles south of here, where they prepared an amazing porchetta roast on a rotisserie, allowing the pork fat to drip down onto oysters. The thought makes me salivate.
For this dish I used a boneless pork roast just under 5 pounds – not a tenderloin. Ask to be certain that the pork roast you choose is ideal for the dry heat of an oven; some cuts are better suited to braising in a crock pot. To fill the 8″ X 11″ baking dish took about four pounds of potatoes. You don’t have to use pork – you could do a whole chicken, leg of lamb, or beef roast, though because they don’t take as long to cook, you’d want to start the pan of potatoes in the oven about 45 minutes before putting the meat on top.
You’ll need kitchen string and a meat thermometer.
PORCHETTA ALLA LLANA SECO
- 1 boneless pork roast, 5-6 pounds
- 4 pounds new potatoes (use a thin-skinned type such as Red Bliss, White Rose or Yellow Finn; Russets or other baking-type potatoes will fall apart)
- 2 heads of garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons whole fennel seed
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (the type you get in pizza parlors)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Broth or stock
Put the fennel seed in a small dry frying pan over medium-high heat. Shake the pan every few seconds until the seeds begin to lightly brown, pop, and smell fragrant. When they are lightly toasted, remove them immediately. if you have a mortar and pestle, pound them in that; if not, use a spice grinder. If you don’t have either one, put the seeds in a sturdy plastic bag and whack them with a hammer to break them up.
Wash and thinly slice the potatoes. Stand them on edge in a baking dish large enough to put the roast on top of the potatoes and not have any hanging over the sides.
Distribute plenty of chopped garlic throughout the potatoes; sprinkle lightly with salt and generously with freshly ground pepper. If you want, you can add another herb or two – thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc.
Unwrap the pork roast. This one was tied with string to keep it from flopping around. Snip and remove the string. DO NOT REMOVE THE FAT ON TOP! If the pork rind is still intact, leave it on too!
The boneless roast should have a flap where the bones were removed. Pull it open, so that you have a long somewhat flat roast; if necessary cut an opening so you can unfold it like opening a book.
Sprinkle the cut side with the toasted ground fennel, lots of chopped garlic, the teaspoon of hot pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.
Put a hand under each end of the flattened-out pork and carefully snap the roast back together, fat side up.
If there is a rind (skin) on the roast, score it lightly with a knife.
Cut four lengths of kitchen string long enough to go around the pork cross-wise, and two pieces to go around it length-wise. Slide the cross-wise lengths under the roast, spacing them apart, and one by one tie them tightly. Then slide the length-wise strings under the pork package and tie those. Snip off excess string.
Pour stock into the pan to about 1/2″ deep. (You can see some jellied stock on the left side of the roast here.) Put the porchetta package on top, fat/rind side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
At this point, you can put the whole thing in the refrigerator as long as overnight. Bring it out about two hours before you want to roast it.
Here is a chart from the National Pork Board detailing how long to cook pork. I usually figure about 25-30 minutes per pound at 325 Fahrenheit. This is where a meat thermometer comes in very handy. I roasted this to 160F, then took it out of the oven and let it sit about 20 minutes, covered.
All roasts will continue to cook for a while; they will firm up and be much easier to slice if allowed to rest after removal from the oven.
Snip and pull the strings off. Slice the meat. If the roast has a rind, remove it, put it on a cookie sheet and run it under the broiler (watching CAREFULLY) to crisp it; slice it and put it on the platter with the meat. Although the roast looks really spiffy on top of the potatoes, it is much, much easier to serve if you put the meat on a separate platter from the potatoes.
I think that you want a slightly sweet side dish like carrots, beets, applesauce, red cabbage, or parsnips alongside, as well as some sort of green like spinach, kale, or collards. This is a very rich dish; a big ol’ cheesecake for dessert would be too, TOO much. Some simple cookies and sorbet would be less overwhelming. And a big red wine or dark beer is appropriate.
Obviously the seasoning can be varied – one of those barbecue rubs that’s sitting around in your cupboard would work. A Mexican seasoning like toasted cumin seeds with garlic and oregano would be great, or a good curry mix. Google “dry barbecue rubs” and go wild. I particularly like the spice rubs suggested by Chris Schlesinger in Big Flavors of the Hot Sun.