Originally published in Dig Boston April 2013 issue
Though there is much debate over the specific village of origin for the majestic roast that is porchetta, it is generally accepted that its roots are firmly planted somewhere in Central Italy. Recipes have been found dating back to the 12th century, traditionally involving the highly labor-intensive process of deboning an entire pig and stuffing it with a blend of herbs, spices, and organ meats before sewing it up and roasting in a pit for lengthy periods of time. Not surprisingly, the dish was held in high regard by Roman Emperor Nero, who was allegedly overheard inquiring as to whether “anyone had checked on the roast” shortly before Rome was set ablaze in 64 A.D.
Louis DiBiccari, veteran chef and co-owner of both newly opened Tavern Road and their neighboring take-out venture, TR Street Foods, strives to mark his porchetta as the showpiece of the restaurant. He has actually gone so far as to commission video footage of the meat slowly cooking on a spit to display on the bar’s TV screens in an effort to inspire hungry patrons.
According to DiBiccari, “It (porchetta) is the perfect way to display the animal – the crispy skin with the tender belly and lean loin all seasoned just perfectly with herbs like fennel. The result is a fantastic combination of crisp, burnished skin and fat-streaked, fall apart meat.” The restaurant brings in whole Berkshire Pigs and easily plows through 4-5 whole roasts per day, between the entrée at Tavern Road and the sandwich version at TRSF. The man charged with the task of assisting DiBiccari in rolling the porchetta is 5-year veteran Rudy Bonilla, who will be schooling me on exactly how it’s done.
I am assigned to my post in the corner of the kitchen, as out of the way as a man of my size can possibly be. Bonilla appears bearing the glistening slab of pork belly, laying it out skin side up as he begins to operate, scoring with a razor blade in a diamond shaped pattern. The meat has been brined for a full day prior to this step, and DiBiccari favors a more modern preparation, with leaner bellies to create a texture more akin to ham once the roast has been sliced thin. Bonilla flips the slab over and showers the length of the porchetta with a liberal amount of parsley, citrus zest, cayenne pepper, and highly aromatic fennel pollen, before finishing with a powdery substance known simply as “meat glue.” It is then impregnated with two large pork tenderloins, and another flourish of meat glue, before the piggy bondage session begins. Bonilla rolls this bitch up and laces it shut before jamming large metal roasting skewers straight in to each open end. I’ve got to admit that even in this raw state they look absolutely delicious. In to the well seasoned rotisserie oven they go, first on high heat to crisp up the skin and then rolling on a lower setting for 2-3 hours, basting itself in it’s own luscious, sizzling fat.
Luckily, I am able to taste the finished product, which has been sliced into a multitude of paper-thin layers. The perfectly seasoned meat literally melts away in my mouth, with the pronounced flavors of citrus adding considerable brightness and providing contrast to the fat. The only things I would require to compliment something that is this flawless on it’s own is a loaf of crusty bread and an ocean of cold Vermentino. This is food for the soul.
Tavern Road | 343 Congress Street | Boston | (617) 790-0808 | tavernroad.com